Journal of World Prehistory

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 417-466

First online:

The culture history of Madagascar

  • Robert E. DewarAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, University of Connecticut
  • , Henry T. WrightAffiliated withMuseum of Anthropology, University of Michigan

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Madagascar's culture is a unique fusion of elements drawn from the western, northern, and eastern shores of the Indian Ocean, and its past has fascinated many scholars, yet systematic archaeological research is relatively recent on the island. The oldest traces of visitors are from the first century AD. Coastal settlements, with clear evidence of ties to the western Indian Ocean trading network, were established in several places over the next millennium. Important environmental changes of both plant and animal communities are documented over this period, including the extinctions of almost all large animal species. Urban life in Madagascar began with the establishment of the entrepôt of Mahilaka on the northwest coast of the island in the twelfth century. At about the same time, communities with ties to the trade network were established around the island's coasts. From the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, social hierarchies developed in several regions of the island. During the succeeding two centuries, Madagascar saw the development of state polities.

Key words

Madagascar prehistory East Africa Indian Ocean