African Archaeological Review

, Volume 24, Issue 1–2, pp 1–14 | Cite as

Diffusion in the Studies of the African Past: Reflections From New Archaeological Findings

  • Felix A. Chami
Original Article


Diffusionist theories have often been invoked to explain how ancient African cultures were formed and developed. Explanations were either in terms of waves of migrations or by infiltration by people of less African origin or people alleged to have had a high culture. This article provides new evidence for a Neolithic cultural sequence on the islands and coast of East Africa. It proposes that archaeological cultural horizons such as these should be re-examined using a revised diffusionist theory. On this basis, it can be shown that the people who were smelting iron in Sub-Saharan Africa around the first century a.d. were not marauding communities of Bantu peoples with no inclination to settle and build up empires, but of people who were well settled, and had a long history of building stable settlements and trading from Neolithic times.


Migration Infiltration Revised diffusionist theory 


  1. Adams, W. Y., Van Gerven, D. P., & Levy, R. S. (1978). The retreat from migrationism. Annual Review of Anthropology, 7, 483–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adams, W. (1982). The coming of Nubian speakers to the Nile Valley. In C. Ehret, & M. Posnansky (Eds.), The archaeological and linguistic reconstruction of African History (pp. 11–38). Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bernal, M. (1987). Black Athena: The Afro–Asiatic roots of Classical civilization vols 1 & 2. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Chami, F. (1994). Tanzanian Coast in the first millennium AD. Studies in African Archaeology 7. Uppsala: Societas Archaeologica Uppsaliensis.Google Scholar
  5. Chami, F. (1999a). The Early Iron Age on Mafia and its relationship with the mainland. Azania, 34, 1–10.Google Scholar
  6. Chami, F. (1999b). Roman beads from the Rufiji Delta, Tanzania: First incontrovertible archaeological link with the Periplus. Current Anthropology, 40(2), 237–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chami, F. (2001). Chicken bones from a Neolithic limestone cave site, Zanzibar: Contact between East Africa and Asia. In F. Chami, G. Pwiti, & C. Radimilahy (Eds.), People, contacts and the environment in the African past (pp. 84–97). Dar-es-Salaam: University of Dar-es-Salaam Press.Google Scholar
  8. Chami, F. (2004). The Egypto–Graeco–Romans and Panchaea/Azania: sailing in the Erythraean Sea. In P. Lunde, & A. Porter (Eds.), Red Sea: Trade and travel (pp. 93–104). Oxford: BAR International Series.Google Scholar
  9. Chami, F. (2006). The unity of the African ancient history: 3000BC–AD 500. Mauritius: E&D Publishers (in press).Google Scholar
  10. Chami, F., & Kwekason, A. (2003). Neolithic pottery traditions from the islands, the coast and the interior of East Africa. African Archaeological Review, 20(2), 65–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Childe, V. G. (1951). Social evolution. London: Watts.Google Scholar
  12. Chittick, N. (1974), Kilwa. An Islamic trading city on the East African Coast 2 vols. Nairobi, Kenya: The British Institute in Eastern Africa.Google Scholar
  13. Clark, J. (1967). The problem of Neolithic culture in sub-Saharan. In W. Bishop, & J. Clark (Eds.), Background to evolution in Africa (pp. 601–626). Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Clark, J. D. (1970). The spread of food production in Sub-Saharan. In J. D. Fage, & R. Oliver (Eds.), Papers in African prehistory. Cambridge: University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Coon, C. (1965). The living races of man. London: Jonathan Cape.Google Scholar
  16. Dick-Read, R. (2005). The phantom voyagers: Evidence of Indonesian settlement in Africa in Ancient times. Winchester: Thurlton.Google Scholar
  17. Diodorus Siculus, & C. Oldfather (transl.) (1961). History. (12 volumes). Loeb series).London: William Heinemann/Cambridge, Massachutts: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Ehret, C. (1982). Linguists inferences about early Bantu history. In C. Ehret, & M. Posnansky (Eds.), The archaeological and linguistic reconstruction of African History (pp. 57–65). Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  19. Ehret, C. (1998). An African classical age. Oxford: The University Press of Virginia.Google Scholar
  20. Elliot Smith, G. (1923). The ancient Egyptian origins of civilization. London: Watts.Google Scholar
  21. Fell, B. (1975). America B.C.: Ancient Settlers in the New World. New York: Demeter.Google Scholar
  22. Getis, A., Getis, J. & Fellmann, J. (2004). Introduction of geography. Boston: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  23. Gramly, R. (1978). Expansion of Bantu-speakers versus development of Bantu language in situ. An archaeologist’s perspective. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 33, 107–112.Google Scholar
  24. Harries, H. (1978). The evolution, dissermination and classification of Cocos nucefera. The Botanical Review, 44(3), 263–320.Google Scholar
  25. Harris, M. (1968). The rise of anthropological theory. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell.Google Scholar
  26. Huffman, T. 2005. The stylistic origin of Bambata and the spread of mixed farming in southern Africa. Southern African Humanities, 17, 57–79.Google Scholar
  27. Isaac, G. (1974). Notes on the Stone Age Industries. In N. Chittick (Ed.), Kilwa, Vol. 1 (pp. 255–256). Nairobi: British Institute in Eastern Africa.Google Scholar
  28. Jairazbhoy, R. (1974). Ancient Egyptians and Chinese in America. London: George Prior Association.Google Scholar
  29. Jones, A. (1971). Africa and Indonesia. Leiden: E.J. Brill.Google Scholar
  30. Kitchen, K. (2004). The elusive land of Punt revisited. In P. Lunde, & Porter, A. (Eds.), Trade and travel in the Red Sea region (pp. 25–31). Oxford: BAR International Series.Google Scholar
  31. Lacroix, W. (1998). Africa in antiquity. Nijmegen: Catholic University.Google Scholar
  32. Lane, P. (2004). The ‘moving frontier’ and the transition to food production. Azania, 39, 243–264.Google Scholar
  33. Lejju, J., Robertshaw, P. & Taylor, D. (2006). Africa’s earliest bananas. Journal of Archaeological Science, 33, 102–113.Google Scholar
  34. Macgaffety, W. (1970). Concept of race in historiography of northeast Africa. In J. Fage, & R. Oliver (Eds.), Papers in African prehistory (pp. 99–115). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Mbida, C., van Neer, W., Doutrellepont, H. & Vrydaghs, L. (2000). Evidence for banana cultivation and animal husbandry during the first millennium B.C. in the forest of Southern Cameroon. Journal of Archaeological Science, 27, 151–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Murdock, G. P. (1959). Africa: Its peoples and their culture history. London: McGraw W-Hall.Google Scholar
  37. Phillipson, D. (1985/1993). African Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Phillipson, D. (2005). African archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Pliny & Rackam, H. (ed. and trans.) (1961). Natural history. (10 volumes) (Loeb Series). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Rawlinson, G. (trans.) (1964). The histories of Herodotus. Cambridge: Dent.Google Scholar
  41. Renfrew, C. (1977). Alternative models for exchange and spatial distribution. In T. Earle, & J. Ericson (Eds.), Exchange systems in prehistory (pp. 71–90). Berkeley: Academic.Google Scholar
  42. Rodney, W. 1972. How Europe underdeveloped Africa. Dar-es-Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House.Google Scholar
  43. Sanders, E. (1969). The Hamitic hypothesis: Its origin and functions in time perspective. Journal of African History, 10(4), 521–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schmidt, P., & Childs, S. (1985). Innovations and industry during the early Iron Age in East Africa: The KM2 and KM3 sites of northern Tanzania. African Archaeological Review, 3, 53–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Simmonds, N. (1962). The evolution of the bananas. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  46. Smith, M., & Wright, H. (1988). The ceramics from Ras Hafun in Somalia: Notes on a Classical Marintime Site. Azania, 23, 115–141.Google Scholar
  47. Sutton, J. (2002). A review of: People, contact(s) and environment in the African past. Journal of African History, 43, 503–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Trigger, B. (1989). A history of archaeological thought. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  49. Vansina, J. (2003). Banana in Cameroun c. 500 BCE? Not proven. Azania, 38, 174–176.Google Scholar
  50. Wallerstein, I. (1974). The modern world systems. New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  51. Willcox, A. (1984). The rock art of Africa. New York: Holmes and Meier.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Dar es SalaamDar es SalaamTanzania

Personalised recommendations