African Archaeology: A Critical Introduction

Article excerpt

Ann Brower Stahl, ed. African Archaeology: A Critical Introduction. Oxford/Maiden, Mass: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. xiv + 490 pp. Maps. Photographs. Diagrams. Notes. References. Index. $36.95. Paper.

African Archaeology, part of the Blackwell Studies in Global Archaeology series, aims to give undergraduate archaeology students an introduction to sub-Saharan African archaeology and to encourage critical assessment of current archaeological knowledge across a wide range of themes. These span 2.6 million years and most of Africa, excluding the Horn, the Mediterranean, and the Nile Valley. The sub-Saharan focus, acknowledged as regrettable but determined by space constraints, fortunately is not absolute. One cannot discuss the debates around the advent of animal domestication, agriculture, or metallurgy in sub-Saharan African without considering North Africa as a whole. Nevertheless, I think the traditional segregation of sub-Saharan archaeology remains problematic in an introductory text because it reinforces popular notions of isolation as well as the assumption that the histories of the Nile and Sudan somehow are not really African.

Within the stated constraints, this book achieves its main goals admirably. The twenty-three contributing authors (African, European, and North American) are all specialists in their respective fields, with a welcome spread of established senior academics and more recently qualified younger practitioners. The individual chapters are remarkably consistent in tone, which I suspect shows a strong editorial hand, and really do summarize not only vast amounts of information but also the current debates around significance and interpretation of the archaeological record. The themes covered in such detail include the archaeological role of ethnography, Oldowan hominin behaviour, the origins of modern humans, Middle and Later Stone Age societies in southern Africa, the advent of farming, linguistics and the Bantu problem, metallurgy, intensification and urbanism, East African interactions, Central African occupation, the archaeology of the Kalahari, and an overview of two thousand years of West African history. …