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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: October 2009

4 - Western representations of urbanism and invisible African towns


The problem of archaeological invisibility

This chapter examines certain aspects of the history of thought about the origins of pre-industrial cities in an attempt to better understand why African urban expressions in the archaeological record remained unrecognized and unexamined for so long. In some cases, such as that of the Inland Niger Delta (also discussed in this volume by S.K.McIntosh), these include massive tells that are, on the face of it, difficult to overlook. How could such distinguished observers of the ground as Raymond Mauny (1961: 101–2) or Théodore Monod (1955), for example, walk over the massive site of Jenné-jeno, yet dismiss it with barely a mention? And these are only the most distinguished of the cohorts of prehistorians and natural scientists who, during perhaps a century, have yawned their way over the high and extensive tell remains of many early Middle Niger towns. I contend that they lacked the intellectual toolkit to recognize and process the evidence under their feet. They failed to recognize the town they trod upon because they did not find the expected signs of pre-industrial urbanism, namely, encircling wall and citadel (or palace or temple) reflecting coercive political organization, elite tombs or residences or other accoutrements as monuments to economic social stratification, and monumentality of architecture as monument to state ideology (R.McIntosh 1991:203).

I argue here that our deeply rooted view of the non-Western city as despotic, depraved, and a place of bondage comes out of the tradition of Bible exegesis called Yahwism (or Jahwism).