Archaeology at the micro-scale: micromorphology and phytoliths at a Swahili stonetown

  • Federica Sulas
  • Marco Madella
Original Paper


Geoarchaeological and archaeobotanical techniques are increasingly applied to the study of urban and domestic space. However, they are seldom performed as part of an integrative approach, where the soil and botanical micro-records are used together. This paper presents the preliminary results of ongoing research at Songo Mnara in Tanzania that combines customised intra-site soil macro- and micromorphological analyses, chemical analysis and the study of phytoliths. The research is part of a multidisciplinary project on the use of urban space in Swahili stonetowns. By eliciting multiple datasets from Songo Mnara, this paper illustrates the potential of integrating geoarchaeology and archaeobotany to investigate the use of space in urban contexts. The approach is a novelty within the context of Swahili archaeology and an emerging one in Africa.


Geoarchaeology Phytoliths Domestic space Swahili archaeology 



The present study was undertaken as part of the University of York/Rice University archaeological project at Songo Mnara led by Stephanie Wynne-Jones (York) and Jeffrey Fleisher (Rice). We are greatly indebted to S. Wynne-Jones and J. Fleisher for sponsoring the research presented here and also for providing constructive feedback and comments on this paper. Funding was provided through the Social Sciences Research Institute and Rice University Field School, and The Leverhulme Trust. We would like to thank the Antiquities Division, Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Tanzania for granting permit for exporting soil samples. Soil micromorphology and phytolith analyses were undertaken at the laboratories of the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, for which we thank Charles French and Lila Janik. Charles French, Miranda Semple (Cambridge) and Ruth Shahack-Gross (Jerusalem) are much thanked for having offered constructive comments on several aspects of the present work. We also would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for thorough, constructive comments that helped to improve our paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology and ArchaeologyUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Archaeology and AnthropologyInstitució Milà i Fontanals – CSIC (Spanish National Research Council)BarcelonaSpain

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