Journal of World Prehistory

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 213–281 | Cite as

East Africa and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean world

  • Nicole BoivinEmail author
  • Alison Crowther
  • Richard Helm
  • Dorian Q. Fuller


The Indian Ocean has long been a forum for contact, trade and the transfer of goods, technologies and ideas between geographically distant groups of people. Another, less studied, outcome of expanding maritime connectivity in the region is the translocation of a range of species of plants and animals, both domestic and wild. A significant number of these translocations can now be seen to involve Africa, either providing or receiving species, suggesting that Africa’s role in the emergence of an increasingly connected Indian Ocean world deserves more systematic consideration. While the earliest international contacts with the East African coast remain poorly understood, in part due to a paucity of archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological studies, some evidence for early African coastal activity is provided by the discovery of early hunter-gatherer sites on offshore islands, and, possibly, by the translocation of wild animals among these islands, and between them and the mainland. From the seventh century, however, clear evidence for participation in the Indian Ocean world emerges, in the form of a range of introduced species, including commensal and domestic animals, and agricultural crops. New genetic studies demonstrate that the flow of species to the coast is complex, with more than one source frequently indicated. The East African coast and Madagascar appear to have been significant centres of genetic admixture, drawing upon Southeast Asian, South Asian and Middle Eastern genetic varieties, and sometimes yielding unique hybrid species. The biological patterns reflect a deeply networked trade and contact situation, and support East Africa’s key role in the events and transformations of the early Indian Ocean world.


Maritime Trade Seafaring Genetics Biological translocations Archaeobotany Archaeozoology 



This paper reflects the activities of the Sealinks Project, funded through a European Research Council Grant, Agreement No. 206148, awarded to Nicole Boivin. We also acknowledge support from a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellowship to Alison Crowther. We thank Solomon Pomerantz and two anonymous reviewers for edits to the original manuscript. We are also grateful to Philippe Beaujard, Roger Blench, Carl Christensen, Bob Dewar, Mark Horton, Paul Lane, Edmond De Langhe, Solomon Pomerantz, Chantal Radimilahy, Leonie Raijmakers, and Paul Sinclair for useful information and discussions that have helped us to better understand the East African past and related species movements.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole Boivin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alison Crowther
    • 1
  • Richard Helm
    • 2
  • Dorian Q. Fuller
    • 3
  1. 1.School of ArchaeologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Canterbury Archaeological TrustCanterburyUK
  3. 3.Institute of ArchaeologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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