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African-European Contacts in the Kongo Kingdom (Sixteenth-Eighteenth Centuries): New Archaeological Insights from Ngongo Mbata (Lower Congo, DRC)

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Abstract

Ngongo Mbata, the main and most affluent center of the Kongo kingdom’s Mbata province in the seventeenth century, is well known from the historical sources, but virtually unexplored in archaeological publications. Ngongo Mbata is unique in that it hosted a monumental stone building about which the historical record remains silent. This makes it particularly challenging from the point of view of historical archaeology. In this paper historical data, unpublished excavation results from the 1930s and our own fieldwork undertaken in 2012–13 are brought together, to tell a new story of early African-European contacts in the interior of West Central Africa.

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Acknowledgments

Research for this article was funded by Starting Grant No. 284126 of the European Research Council and by the Special Research Fund of Ghent University. With regard to the fieldwork carried out for this article, our thanks go to the district and village chiefs of Sabala, Ngongo Mbata, and Kimfuti and the more than 40 workers from the neighborhood of Ngongo Mbata who excavated with us and helped us to maintain our base camp. We also wish to thank Prof. J. Sabakinu, the staff of the Procure Sainte Anne as well as the staff of the Institut des Musées Nationaux du Congo (IMNC), especially its director J. Imbongo and members of the archaeology section, C. Mambu, A. Nkanza Lutayi and J. Yogolelo, who greatly facilitated administrative and practical issues in Kinshasa. We would also like to thank Eva Vergaert (UGent MA student in archaeology) for her contribution to the study of the site’s stratigraphy. With regard to the present article, we gratefully acknowledge John Thornton, Pierre de Maret as well as the two anonymous peer reviewers selected by the Journal for their helpful feedback. Their thoughtful comments helped us to improve the original manuscript. The usual disclaimers obviously apply. Finally, special thanks go to the staff of the Royal Museum for Central Africa and its “Heritage Department” for letting us study the 1938 Ngongo Mbata archaeological material and the Maurits Bequaert archive.

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Clist, B., Cranshof, E., de Schryver, GM. et al. African-European Contacts in the Kongo Kingdom (Sixteenth-Eighteenth Centuries): New Archaeological Insights from Ngongo Mbata (Lower Congo, DRC). Int J Histor Archaeol 19, 464–501 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10761-015-0296-3

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