African Archaeological Review

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 181–192 | Cite as

Life in the Swahili town house reveals the symbolic meaning of spaces and artefact assemblages

  • Linda W. Donley


Swahili ethnographic information was used to interpret eighteenth-century coral house excavations in Lamu, Kenya. The author was especially interested in learning the symbolic or social meaning of durable objects that were found in archaeological assemblages. It was learned that many of the artefacts found in the excavations are related to rituals performed in Swahili houses. The spaces within the house are ranked and used to teach social position. Features of coral houses, animal remains, infant burials, shells, ceramics, and beads can be shown to have symbolic meaning within the Swahili context.


Cultural Study Position Sociale Social Meaning Symbolic Meaning Signification Symbolique 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


L'auteur a utilisé des informations ethnographiques souahélies afin d'interpréter les fouilles de maisons en corail du 18e siècle à Lamu, Kenya. Elle s'intéressait surtout à connaître la signification symbolique ou sociale des objets non-périssables trouvés dans les assemblages archéologiques. Elle a appris que beaucoup des artefacts trouvés pendant les fouilles sont à rattacher aux rituels célébrés dans les maisons souahélies. Les espaces à l'intérieur de la maison sont classés et utilisés afin de montrer la position sociale. On peut démontrer que certaines particularités des maisons en corail, les restes de faune, les inhumations de tous petits enfants, la céramique et les grains de collier ont des significations symboliques dans leur contexte souahéli.


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© Cambridge University Press 1987

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  • Linda W. Donley

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