Magazine article UNESCO Courier

West Africa's Oldest Metropolis

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

West Africa's Oldest Metropolis

Article excerpt

The results of archaelogical excavations carried out in 1977 and 1981 on an ancient site near the city of Jenne, in Mali, have contradicted previous assumptions about the history of west Africa bu pushing back the date of the emergence of this city which became one of the region's most prosperous trading centres, by almost a thousand years.

The archaeological site of Jenne-jeno ("ancient Jenne" in the local Songhay language) lies three kilometres osuth of the modern city of Jenne, on a floodplain of the inland Niger Delta rich in fish, cereals (especially rice and millet), and livestock.

Food has for centuries been produced in abundance in the hinterland, supplying hte population of Timbuktu further north, to which Jenne is linked by 50/ kilometres of navigable riverway. The gold trade route originating in the forested region of West Africa passed through the two cities and then crossed the Sahara to north Africa.

Until the excavations, directed by two American archaeologists, husband-and-wife Roderick J. McIntosh and Susan Keech McIntosh, it was generally accepted that Jenne had developed simultaneously with Timbuktu (founded around 1100) in the mid-thirteenth century as an artifact of the trans-Saharan trade which brought urbanism to west Africa.

However, excavations carried out on the main site, a thirty-three-hectare artificial mound formed of ruins of buildings and the debris of human occupation, and an extensive reconnaissance of sites in a surrounding area of 1,100 sqaure kilometres, have revealed that a settlement already existed at Jenne-jeno as early as the third century BC and was inhabited by a population which made iron and practised trade. By 800 AD Jenne-jeno had become a prosperous cosmopolitan centre with a population of some 10,000 people.

In course of the centuries the city's trade expanded and diversified. …

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