Abstract: The DGB Sites: Monumental Architecture and Political Power in Central Africa


The northern Mandara Mountains of Cameroon and Nigeria are culturally one of the most complicated areas on the continent, with more than two dozen languages spoken sometimes at distances of only a few kilometers, with ethnic and social diversity to match. Research over the last 30 years has provided us with in formation on the prehistory of regions around the Mandara massif, but we know far less about the settlement of the mountains themselves. The discovery of the DGB sites promises to change this situation. These sites are complexes of dry-stone terraces and platforms that make up some of the most striking examples of indigenous African stone architecture between Ethiopia and Great Zimbabwe. Their function is, at this point, enigmatic, but they seem to have played a significant role in political relations in the southern Lake Chad Basin five centuries ago.

Over the last 500 years, Mandara communities were involved in complex social and economic interchanges with Islamic states, while remaining culturally distinct on the frontiers of the Islamic world. Small-scale chiefdoms and even more egalitarian societies dominate the Mandara political landscape, and seem to have done so in the past as well. Anthropologists usually think such societies are destined to evolve toward more-centralized states, but the Mandara case suggests that they can function as independent sociopolitical units over the long term. My work on the DGB sites examines the ways in which prehistoric Mandara communities maintained their independence in this very complex political landscape.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

David, N., 2004    Watch or water towers? Expedition 46(2):30-35.

David, N., 2004    The DGB-sites of North Cameroon: Watch or Water Towers?


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