African Archaeological Review

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 199–218 | Cite as

A Review of Swahili Archaeology

  • Felix A. Chami


The Swahili people have been viewed as of Persian/Arabic or Cushitic-speaking origin. Scholars have used historical and archaeological data to support this hypothesis. However, linguistic and recent archaeological data suggest that the Swahili culture had its origin in the early first centuries AD. It was the early farming people who settled on the coast in the last centuries BC who first adopted iron technology and sailing techniques and founded the coastal settlements. The culture of the iron-using people spread to the rest of the coast of East Africa, its center changing from one place to another. Involvement in transoceanic trade from the early centuries AD contributed to the prosperity of the coastal communities as evidenced by coastal monuments. More than 1500 years of cultural continuity was offset by the arrival of European and Arab colonizers in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries AD.

Le peuple Swahili a souvent été consideré comme un peuple dont la langue avait pour origine le Perse/Arabe ou le Cushite. Les chercheurs ont utilisé des donées historiques et archéologiques afin de supporter cette hypothese. Cependant l'étude linguistique de cette langue, ainsi que de nouvelles découvertes archéologiques suggérent que la culture Swahili trouve son origine au début de l'ère chrétienne. Ils furent les premiers fermiers à s'installer le long du littoral, fondant des villages côtiers, vers les premiers siécles de notre ère, les premiers aussi à adopter les techniques du fer et les techniques de navigation. La culture du fer s'étendit rapidement au reste des côtes d'Afrique de l'Est, son centre se déplaçant d'un endroit à un autre. Leur implication dans le commerce océanique contrbua à la prosperité de leur communautés côtières, mise en évidence notamment par les monuments le long du littoral. Plus de 1500 ans de continuité culturelle pris fin à l'arrivé des colonisateurs Européens et Arabes de dixseptième et dixhuitième siècles.

East Africa Swahili coast early ironworking cultural complex pottery contextual seriation Arabo/Persian empire Bantu vs Cushitic speakers 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Felix A. Chami
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Arts and Social SciencesUniversity of Dar es SalaamDar es SalaamTanzania

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