Historical Archaeology in Africa: Representation, Social Memory, and Oral Traditions

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HISTORY Peter R. Schmidt. Historical Archaeology in Africa: Representation, Social Memory, and Oral Traditions. Lanham, Md.: AltaMira Press, 2006. xi + 316 pp. Photographs. Maps. Charts. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $80,00, Cloth. $32.95. Paper.

Peter Schmidt is a well-known archaeologist who has conducted pioneering research in Tanzania, Gabon, and Eritrea. This book is a welcome addition to the AltaMira series on African Archaeology. Readers who have followed Schmidt's long career in African archaeology will be very pleased to see some of his major papers compiled in one volume. There are also chapters co-written by two graduate students, Jonathan Walz and kharyssa rhodes.

Eleven chapters cover a range of topics and case studies. Many deal with the application of oral traditions to the archaeological record, emphasizing the use of figures of speech (tropes, metonymy) and symbolism, and exploring the relationships of this evidence to the interpretation of past sociopolitical changes within the context of the local landscape. The book also includes analysis of the technical, symbolic, and political implications of ancient iron technology in Africa. Moreover, the authors provide important reinterpretations of the supposed role of foreign influences on key sites or areas in Africa and the ways in which historical silences on indigenous developments have been perpetuated.

These case studies center on correcting the misrepresentation of the past in Africa. Highlights include reinterpretation of the significance of the famous Periplus Maris Erythraci and the Swahili coastal area, of the technical skills of African iron production, of the Cwezi myth of statehood, and of the role of the Sabaeans in early state formation in Eritrea. The biases of the colonial period are critiqued and alternative information supporting local developments is discussed. Africanists will applaud the restoration of local African agency, an important theme of this book. …