The Cultural History and Chronology of Kisimani Mafia Stone Town Site, Mafia Archipelago, Tanzania: Findings from Re-excavation of the Site

Abstract

This paper presents the results of recent archaeological work conducted at the ruined site of Kisimani Mafia, Mafia archipelago, Tanzania. The site is one of the two stone town sites on the archipelago, the other being Kua. Despite being fairly well reported in scholarly accounts, few archaeological investigations have been carried out, with Neville Chittick’s excavation at the site in the late 1950s being the only one. As the then prevailing scholarly interpretation of all ruined sites on the East African coast, the founding of Kisimani Mafia and Kua was attributed to the Persians and Arabs, respectively. It was suggested that Kisimani Mafia dated to the early second millennium CE, and was then regarded as the earliest settlement on the archipelago. This endeavour sought to review the cultural history of the stone town settlement in relation to the remote settlement history of the archipelago and the coast generally, currently known to date to the early first millennium CE, or even before that. This study involved an archaeological survey and excavations carried out on an open-air site in 2018. An array of cultural materials was recovered, including pottery, beads, glass, coins, slag and metal objects, as well as bone and shell remains. This paper, however, is based on the results of pottery and chronometric analyses, the results of which firmly established that the stone town site was occupied from a much earlier period than was thought. The cultural history spans the Triangular Incised Ware/Tana Tradition period through the Plain Ware period, to the end of the Swahili Ware period. The first two periods, which evolved from the Early Iron Working culture of the archipelago, were when the Swahili stone town settlement was founded.

Résumé

Cet article est une présentation des résultats de travaux archéologiques récents ayant été conduits sur le site de ruines de Kisimani Mafia, archipel de Mafia en Tanzanie. Il est l’un des deux sites de ville de pierre sur l’archipel, l’autre étant celui de Kua. En dépit de descriptions assez complètes dans les rapports spécialisés, peu de recherches archéologiques ont été entreprises, les fouilles de Neville Chittick sur le site à la fin des années 50 étant les seules répertoriées. Selon l’interprétation alors dominante parmi les spécialistes quant à l’ensemble de ces sites de ruines sur la côte de l’Afrique orientale, la fondation de Kisimani Mafia et de Kua était attribuée respectivement aux Perses et aux Arabes. L’hypothèse était que Kisimani Mafia datait des débuts du second millénaire de notre ère, et il était alors considéré comme la toute première implantation sur l’archipel. Le présent travail s’est attaché à examiner l’histoire culturelle de la fondation de la ville de pierre en lien avec l’histoire ancienne des implantations de l’archipel et de la côte plus généralement, dont la connaissance à ce jour remonte aux débuts du premier millénaire de notre ère, ou même avant. Cette étude a comporté une recherche et des fouilles archéologiques menées à bien en 2018 sur un site à ciel ouvert. Un ensemble d’éléments culturels a été collecté, notamment des poteries, des perles, du verre, des pièces de monnaie, des objets de métal et des scories, ainsi que des restes d’os et de coquilles. Cependant, le présent article se fonde sur les résultats d’analyses de poteries et chronométriques. Ceux-ci indiquent fermement que le site de la ville de pierre était occupé à partir d’une période bien plus précoce qu’on ne le pensait. L’histoire culturelle englobe la période de la tradition des céramiques Tana/Ware avec des incisions triangulaires et la période des céramiques Plain Ware, jusqu’à la fin de la période des céramiques Swahili Ware. Les deux premières périodes, ayant évolué à partir des débuts de la culture du travail du fer dans l’archipel, ont été celles de la fondation de la ville de pierre Swahili.

Resumen

Este artículo presenta los resultados de un trabajo arqueológico reciente realizado en el sitio en ruinas de Kisimani Mafia, archipiélago de la Mafia, Tanzania. El sitio es uno de los dos sitios de piedra del archipiélago, el otro es Kua. A pesar de la buena cantidad de información disponible en los relatos académicos, se han llevado a cabo pocas investigaciones arqueológicas, siendo la excavación de Neville Chittick en el sitio a fines de la década de 1950 la única. La interpretación de los estudiosos que prevalecía en ese momento para todos los sitios en ruinas en la costa de África Oriental atribuyó la fundación de Kisimani Mafia y Kua a los persas y árabes, respectivamente. Se sugirió que Kisimani Mafia databa de principios del segundo milenio EC, y luego se consideró como el primer asentamiento en el archipiélago. El actual esfuerzo buscó revisar la historia cultural del asentamiento de la ciudad de piedra en relación con la historia de asentamientos remotos del archipiélago y la costa en general, actualmente conocida hasta la fecha a principios del primer milenio EC, o incluso antes. Este estudio involucró un reconocimiento arqueológico y excavaciones realizadas en un sitio al aire libre en 2018. Se recuperó una variedad de materiales culturales, que incluyen cerámica, cuentas, vidrio, monedas, escoria y objetos metálicos, así como restos de huesos y conchas. Este artículo, sin embargo, se basa en los resultados de análisis cronométricos y de la cerámica, mismos que establecieron firmemente que el sitio de la ciudad de piedra estaba ocupado desde un período mucho más temprano de lo que se pensaba. La historia cultural se extiende desde el período de cerámica incisa triangular/tradición Tana hasta el período de cerámica sencilla, hasta el final del período de cerámica swahili. Los dos primeros períodos, que evolucionaron a partir de la cultura de los primeros trabajos del hierro del archipiélago, fueron cuando se fundó el asentamiento de la ciudad de piedra swahili.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Figure 1
Figure 2

Source: Field data 2018

Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 7
Figure 8
Figure 9

References

  1. Baumann, O. [1895] (1957). Mafia Island. A translation by G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville. Tanganyika Notes and Records, 45, 1–24.

  2. Boivin, N., Crowther, A., Helm, R., & Fuller, D. (2013). East Africa and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Journal of World Prehistory, 26, 213–281.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Breen, C., & Lane, P. (2003). Archaeological approaches to East Africa’s changing seascapes. World Archaeology, 35(3), 469–489.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bufure, A. (2012). Further archaeological research around Misimbo Lake, Rufiji region Tanzania. In F. Chami and C. Radimilahy (Eds.), Studies in the African Past (Vol. 10, 47–63).

  5. Casson, L. (1989). Periplus Maris Erythraei. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Chami, F. (1992). Limbo: Early iron-working site in south-eastern Tanzania. Azania, 27, 45–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. (1994). The Tanzanian coast in the first Millennium AD. In: Studies in the African Archaeology 7. Uppsala: Societas Archaeological Uppsaliensis.

  8. (1998). A review of Swahili Archaeology. African Archaeological Review, 15(3), 199–218.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. (1999a). The early iron age on Mafia Island and its relationship with the mainland. Azania, 34, 1–10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. (1999b). Roman beads from the Rufiji Delta, Tanzania: first incontrovertible archaeological link with the Periplus. Current Anthropology, 40(2), 237–241.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. (2000). Further Archaeological Research on Mafia Island. Azania, 35, 208–214.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. (2004). The archaeology of the Mafia Archipelago, Tanzania. In F. Chami, G. Pwiti, & C. Radimilahy (Eds.), Studies in the African Past 4 (pp. 73–101). Dar es Salaam: The University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. (2006). The unity of African ancient history: 3000 BC to AD 500. Dar es Salaam: E&D Vision Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  14. (2009). The Longue Durée of Zanzibar and the Western Indian Ocean Seaboard. In F. Chami (Ed.), Zanzibar and the Swahili Coast from c. 30,000 Years Ago. Dar es Salaam: Vision Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Chami, F., & Kessy, E. (1995). The 1994 Archaeological work at Kisiju, Tanzania. Nyame Akuma, 43, 38–45.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Chami, F., & Msemwa, P. (1997a). “The Excavation at Kwale Island, south Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Nyame Akuma, 48, 45–56.

    Google Scholar 

  17. (1997b). A new look at culture and trade on the Azanian coast. Current Anthropology, 38(4), 673–677.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Chittick, N. (1961). Kisimani Mafia: excavation at an Island settlement on the East African Coast. Dar es Salaam: Antiquities Division Occasional Paper.

    Google Scholar 

  19. (1974). Kilwa: An islamic trading city on the east African Coast (Vol. 2). Nairobi: The British Institute in Eastern Africa.

    Google Scholar 

  20. (1982). Reconnaissance in coastal Tanzania. Nyame Akuma, 20, 57–58.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Christie, A. (2011). Exploring the social context of maritime exploitation in the Mafia Archipelago, Tanzania: An archaeological perspective. Ph.D. Thesis. University of York.

  22. (2018) The history and archaeology of the Mafia Archipelago. In: S. Wynne-Jones, A. LaViolette (Eds.), The Swahili World (pp. 245–252).

  23. Crowther, A., et al. (2014). Iron age agriculture, fishing and trade in the Mafia Archipelago, Tanzania: New evidence from Ukunju Cave. Azania, 49(1), 21–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Datoo, B. (1970). Rhapta, the location and importance of East Africa’s First Port. Azania, 5, 65–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Fleisher, J., & Wynne-Jones, S. (2011). Ceramics and the early Swahili: Deconstructing the early Tana Tradition. African Archaeological Review, 28, 245–278.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Fleisher, J., et al. (2015). When did the Swahili become maritime? American Anthropologist, 00, 1–16.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Freeman-Grenville, G. (1960). East African coin finds and their historical significance. The Journal of African History, 1(1), 31–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. (1962). The medieval history of the coast of Tanganyika. London: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Horton, M. (1996). Shanga: The archaeology of a Muslim trading community on the coast of East Africa. London: British Institute in Eastern Africa.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Horton, M., & Chami, F. A. (2018). Swahili Origins. In S. Wynne-Jones & A. LaViolette (Eds.), The Swahili world (pp. 135–146). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Horton, M., & Middleton, J. (2000). The Swahili: The social landscape of a mercantile society. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Huntingford, G. (1980). The periplus of the Erythraean sea. London: The Hakluyt Society.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Kirkman, J. (1964). Men and monuments on the East African Coast. London: Lutterworth Press.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Kwekason, A., & Walz, J. (2015). Material Crosscurrents at Ancient Mlongo, Mafia Island, Tanzania. Newsletter of the Island and Coastal Archaeology, 3(2), 10–11.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Lacroix, W. (1998). Africa in Antiquity: A linguistic and toponymic analysis of Ptolemy’s map of Africa. Saarbrucken: Verl. fur Entwicklungspolitik.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Mjema, E. (2014). Maritime community settlement history in the Pangani Bay, Tanga coastal region, Tanzania. Ph.D. Dissertation. Frankfurt Am Main University.

  37. Ntandu, C. (2018). The tradition of early iron working period on the northern coast of Tanzania: A case study of Maramba division in Tanga Region. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Dar es Salaam.

  38. Ombori, T., & Mabulla, A. (2013). The Archaeology of Mbuamaji: An early iron working site in Dar es Salaam City, Tanzania. Studies in the African Past, 11, 113–138.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Phillipson, D. (1979). Some iron age sites in the lower Tana Valley. Azania, 14, 155–160.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Piggott, D. (1941). Mafia: History and traditions. Tanganyika Notes and Records, 11, 35–40.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Revington, T. (1936). Some notes on the Mafia Island Group (Mafia, Chole, Juani and Jibondo). Tanganyika Notes and Records, 1, 33–37.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Schmidt, P., et al. (1992). Archaeological Investigations in the vicinity of Mkiu, Kisarawe district, Tanzania. Dar es Salaam: University of Dar es Salaam.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Shikoni, A., Manzinali, G., Peter, M., Kessy, E., Ombori, T., & Chami, F. (2019). Report of the re-excavation of Ukunju Limestone Cave in Juani, Mafia Archipelago, Tanzania: more evidence of ancient transoceanic trade connections. Man and Environment XLIV, 2, 29–40.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Soper, R. (1971). A general review of Early Iron Age of the southern half of Africa. Azania, 5, 5–37.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Wheeler, M. (1955). Archaeology in East Africa. Tanganyika Notes and Records, 40, 43–47.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Whitehouse, D. (1970). Siraf: A medieval port on the persian gulf. In: World archaeology (Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 141–158). Urban Archaeology.

  47. (1983). Maritime trade in the gulf: The 11th and 12th Centuries. In: World archaeology, Vol. 14, No. 3, Islamic Archaeology, pp. 328–334.

  48. Wynne-Jones, S. (2006). Reconstructing the Long-Term History of the Mafia Archipelago. In: Unpublished report submitted to COSTECH and the Antiquities Department, Tanzania.

Download references

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to our field assistants including Archaeology Field Students, 2018, for their valuable assistance in collecting data, as we are to the local people whose hospitality ensured that we enjoy our stay and work during the field works. We are thankful to Thanda Tanzania Ltd for generously funding this research. Lastly, we thank all the Tanzanian authorities that provided us with research permits, including the Tanzanian Division of Antiquities, Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism and Pwani regional and Mafia district offices.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

M.P.R contributed in research methodology, data collection, analysis and writing of the initial draft. A.D.S. contributed in data collection (phase 1) and writing of revised drafts. F.A.C. contributed in data collection, analysis and writing of revised drafts. A.S. contributed in soliciting and coordinating funding for the field work, radiometric analysis and writing of revised drafts.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mandela P. Ryano.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no potential conflict of interest with respect to the research, authorship and/or publication of this manuscript.

Ethical Standards

This manuscript is based on an original work conducted at Kisimani Mafia, Mafia Island, Tanzania. The study has been carried out as part of the Thanda Tanzania Mafia Archaeological Research Project. Accordingly, the study adhered to all ethical considerations in the preparation, execution and transportation of data collected from the field for analysis in the laboratory. Permits to carry out the fieldwork for this study were granted by the University of Dar es Salaam, the Antiquities Division, Regional and District Administrative Authorities, and the local authorities on behalf of the local people. They have been properly acknowledged. The manuscript has not been submitted for publication to any journal other than Archaeologies Journal. It will not be submitted to any other journal until the final feedback from the Archaeologies Journal.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ryano, M.P., Shikoni, A.D., Chami, F.A. et al. The Cultural History and Chronology of Kisimani Mafia Stone Town Site, Mafia Archipelago, Tanzania: Findings from Re-excavation of the Site. Arch 16, 520–552 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11759-020-09410-x

Download citation

Key words

  • Mafia archipelago
  • Kisimani Mafia
  • Kua
  • Cultural history
  • Chronology