Archaeology of Slavery in East Africa

Author: Kusimba C.M.1

Source: African Archaeological Review, June 2004, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 59-88(30)

Publisher: Kluwer Academic Publishers


African archaeology has primarily been concerned with precolonial Africa. Consequently, the archaeology of colonial and postcolonial Africa has been neglected, in spite of the fundamental importance of how Africa's relationships with Eurasia after 1488 shaped its history. Although the slave trade was an important aspect of post-sixteenth century experiences of Africans, current research methodologies make the archaeology of slavery in Africa nearly impossible because evidence of the slave trade or slavery - including slave quarters, cemeteries, holding areas, shackles, and dungeons - can be interpreted in various ways. In this article I argue that the archaeology of slavery and the slave trade in Africa is possible. Like history and economics, archaeology is well placed to investigate slavery in Africa as it already does effectively in the Americas. Using the study of defensive rock shelters in Southeast Kenya as an example, I propose that the systematic archaeology of slavery in Africa is not only possible, but also should break new grounds and develop an innovative methodology for studying slavery.