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The ancient Sahara has often been treated as a periphery or barrier, but this agenda-setting book – the final volume of the Trans-Saharan Archaeology Series – demonstrates that it was teeming with technological innovations, knowledge transfer, and trade from long before the Islamic period. In each chapter, expert authors present important syntheses, and new evidence for technologies from oasis farming and irrigation, animal husbandry and textile weaving, to pottery, glass and metal making by groups inhabiting the Sahara and contiguous zones. Scientific analysis is brought together with anthropology and archaeology. The resultant picture of transformations in technologies between the third millennium BC and the second millennium AD is rich and detailed, including analysis of the relationship between the different materials and techniques discussed, and demonstrating the significance of the Sahara both in its own right and in telling the stories of neighbouring regions.
The Maghrib has a rich tradition of archaeological studies. However, this research has been biased from the chronological and cultural points of view. This is due to different reasons, relating to both the nature of the archaeological record and the ideological and political circumstances that developed successively under colonial rule and, from the mid-twentieth century, in the modern independent states of the area.
In general, comparatively little attention has been paid to the indigenous cultures of the pre-Roman period, in particular as regards dwelling sites, which generally underlie thick stratigraphic deposits of later periods. The situation is somewhat different with regard to funerary archaeology, as North Africa, especially its eastern portion, is characterised by the existence of a surprising number and diversity of pre-Roman sepulchral monuments.
The previous chapter introduced the Garamantes, an ancient Saharan people, whose story can be traced archaeologically through the first millennium BC and first millennium AD (see also Figs 1.1and 1.2 for location maps). This chapter presents evidence on the funerary practices of the Garamantian heartlands in the Wadi al-Ajal in the Libyan Fazzan (Central Sahara). The Wadi al-Ajal is a long and thin oasis depression running for c.150 km from al-Abyad (to the south-west of Fazzan’s modern capital at Sabha) to Ubari. Our work has been particularly focused on the area around Jarma (ancient Garama, the Garamantian capital about 40 km east of Ubari). The burials in these Garamantian heartlands differ in certain significant ways from those recorded by the Italian mission at Aghram Nadharif and Fewet, and an interesting aspect of the discussion we shall develop below seeks to explain this difference.
Despite more than 150 years of archaeological research in the Maghrib and the Sahara, it is still difficult to establish a universally accepted chronological framework for Moroccan protohistory. While it is generally agreed that its beginning corresponds with the appearance of metal objects around the start of the third millennium BC, its end is much more imprecise, vague and uncertain. The Mediterranean littoral and its hinterland first entered written history around the eighth century BC, at the date of the earliest evidence for a Phoenician presence. However, the other continental regions of Morocco were not part of this schema. These areas were at the margins of ancient knowledge. During the centuries of the ‘Phoenician presence’, only the urban centres changed their character; the countryside, on the other hand, retained a protohistoric lifestyle.
Situated in the hinterland of the eastern Niger Bend in north-east Burkina Faso (Fig. 12.1), in the so-called Gourma area (that is, the bush-land on the right bank of the Niger River), the archaeological site of Kissi consists of an extensive cluster of adjacent settlement areas, including several burial grounds (Fig. 12.2). Its occupation during almost the whole Iron Age (c.third century BC to twelfth century AD) provides the opportunity to follow certain developments that local society underwent over more than a millennium. Spreading over an area of more than 300 hectares, the archaeological site lies on the northern shore of the Mare de Kissi (see Fig. 12.2), a small rainwater-fed lake, similar to – though smaller than – several other lakes in this region (that is, Mare d’Oursi c.35 km to the west, Mare de Darkoy c.6 km to the north, or Mare de Markoye c.15 km to the east, to name but the largest).
The Middle Nile (from Aswan in Egypt to Khartoum in Sudan, Fig. 6.1) is quite exceptional in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is a region where, from the beginning, archaeological frameworks have been constructed largely on the basis of cemetery excavations. This has, of course, much to do with regionally specific research histories and emergent archaeological practices associated with them. The traditions of materially rich mortuary cultures encountered in the Middle Nile, dating back to the early Neolithic period (here the sixth millennium BC), has continued to attract significant archaeological attention. Numerous, often large, cemeteries are still routinely being explored within the context of both research and rescue archaeology. Their material abundance continues to fascinate. The first extensive archaeological survey of Nubia, completed in 1911, excavated more than 8,200 graves in 151 cemeteries within a ‘survey’ area limited to the riverine oasis and covering an area of less than 250 km2.
This ground-breaking volume explores a series of inter-related key themes in Saharan archaeology and history. Migration and identity formation can both be approached from the perspective of funerary archaeology, using the combined evidence of burial structures, specific rites and funerary material culture, and integrated methods of skeletal analysis including morphometrics, palaeopathology and isotopes. Burial traditions from various parts of the Sahara are compared and contrasted with those of the Nile Valley, the Maghreb and West Africa. Several chapters deal with the related evidence of human migration derived from linguistic study. The volume presents the state of the field of funerary archaeology in the Sahara and its neighbouring regions and sets the agenda for future research on mobility, migration and identity. It will be a seminal reference point for Mediterranean and African archaeologists, historians and anthropologists as well as archaeologists interested in burial and migration more broadly.