Beyond the Coastalscapes: Preindustrial Social and Political Networks in East Africa
Current studies of ancient urbanism recognize the role of interregional interaction in the development and sustenance of urbanism. Although trade and immigration were inherent in the origins of most cities, archaeologists recognized and perhaps improperly attributed their material traces to nonlocal initiatives. Our long-term research agenda in East Africa has sought to understand the origin and biological composition of the towns and city-states that developed on the East African coast in the late first millennium CE. Investigations in southeastern Kenya demonstrate that the material traditions in early chiefdoms show a clear evolutionary development. Thus, preindustrial urbanism in East Africa owes its rise, sustenance, and demise to wider regional and interregional interaction spheres tied to the hinterland and to the wider Indian Ocean trading system. My paper addresses the still poorly known elements in our knowledge of preindustrial regional networks of alliance and interaction spheres between the urban and rural polities. Specifically, I discuss results of our ten-year research on the Kenyan coast and its hinterland to show how, and the ways in which, the coast–hinterland relationship’s development influenced the regional political economy.
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