Abstract: The Archaeology of the Ancient Swahili: Trade, Islam, and the Indian Ocean World

Lecturer: Jeffrey Fleisher

The ancient Swahili of the eastern African coast—from southern Somalia to Mozambique—have been long recognized as an Islamic, mercantile society that negotiated the trade between the African continent and the Indian Ocean world.  The question of who the ancient Swahili were, however, has changed dramatically over the last 25 years.  Archaeologists during the colonial period believed the Swahili to be the descendents of Persian colonists; however, since independence, archaeologists, historians and linguists have challenged this notion, and begun to explore the African roots of this complex society.  This research has shown the deep connections the ancient Swahili built with long distance traders in the Indian Ocean, the early adoption of Islam, and the means through which coastal settlements grew into cosmopolitan cities boasting elaborate mosques, tombs and palaces.  The archaeology of the ancient Swahili is a crucial part of establishing complex histories to continent that is often thought lacking them. 

 

 

Short Bibliography:

Horton, Mark. The Swahili Corridor.  Scientific American 255(9)86-93.

LaViolette, Adria. 2008. Swahili Cosmopolitanism in Africa and the Indian Ocean World, A.D. 600-1500. Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress 4(1): 24-49

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