African Archaeological Review

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 367–398 | Cite as

A Review of Ceramics from Tanzania, Malawi, and Northern Mozambique, with Implications for Swahili Archaeology

  • Matthew PawlowiczEmail author
Review Article


Typological approaches to locally produced ceramics have played an important role in the archaeology of Eastern Africa. This paper engages with that history as it contextualizes the ceramic material recently recovered from the region around the site of Mikindani on the southern Tanzanian coast with known traditions from the Kenyan and Tanzanian coast, Malawi, and Mozambique. That comparison reveals the shifting connections and interregional relationships the inhabitants of the Mikindani region forged over the past two millennia with other communities in the Indian Ocean world and the African interior. Mikindani's ceramics are shown to provide important evidence of the deep connections between the region and the African interior to the southwest during the early second millennium, at the expense of connections with coastal Swahili sites further north. This pattern is unusual for a coastal site during the florescence of Swahili society and the typical expansion of Swahili involvement in the Indian Ocean world at that time. The typological comparison of the Mikindani material and other regional traditions thus allows us to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the typological enterprise, in terms of what information is brought to light and what information is obscured.


Mikindani Swahili Archaeology Ceramic typologies Tanzania Kenya Mozambique Malawi 


Les approches typologiques dans l’étude des céramiques produites localement ont joué un rôle important dans l’archéologie de l’Afrique de l’Est. Cette méthode informe l’article suivant dans son analyse des objets en céramique découverts récemment dans la région où se trouve le site de Mikindani sur la côte sud de la Tanzanie, à la lumière des traditions connues des régions côtières du Kenya et de la Tanzanie, ainsi que du Malawi et du Mozambique. Cette comparaison révèle les connections mouvantes et les relations interrégionales que les habitants de la région de Mikindani ont forgées durant les deux derniers millénaires avec d’autres communautés le long de l’océan Indien et à l’intérieur du continent africain. Il s’avère que les céramiques de Mikindani fournissent des preuves importantes de l’existence de fortes connections entre cette région et l’intérieur de l’Afrique à son sud-ouest pendant la première période du deuxième millénaire, aux dépens de connections avec les sites côtiers swahilis plus au nord. Ce modèle est inhabituel pour un site côtier à l’époque de l’épanouissement de la société swahilie et dans le contexte de l’expansion typique de la présence swahilie dans la région de l’océan Indien durant cette période. La comparaison typologique du matériel de Mikindani avec d’autres traditions régionales nous permet donc de considérer la solidité de l’entreprise typologique, en termes des informations qui sont mises à jour et de celles qui sont occultées.



The research reported here was conducted under the oversight of the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology and the Tanzanian Department of Antiquities, where I am especially grateful to Mr. Paul Nyello. Funding was provided by the US National Science Foundation, the Explorers Club—Washington Group, and the Jefferson Scholars Foundation at the University of Virginia. I also thank everyone who worked with me in Mikindani, as well as Adria LaViolette and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA

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