Mahilaka : An archaeological investigation of an early town in northwestern Madagascar

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: In 1988, at the beginning of the 'Urban Origins in Eastern Africa' research project, it was thought that no towns existed in Madagascar prior to the 17th century. This thesis shows that Madagascar did in fact support an urban population with a wide range of local and regional contacts from the end of the first millennium AD. Mahilaka is similar in date and structural morphology to sites such as Kilwa and Manda in Eastern Africa.Previous historical, anthropological and archaeological research in Madagascar is reviewed. The environ-mental context of Mahilaka is presented with an emphasis on resource availability for foraging, herding, hunting and fishing and mineral exploitation. Can the favourable environment available today be extrapolated into the past? Was the productivity of the Mahilaka area sufficient to sustain an urban population?Northwestern Madagascar has been settled for at least 1000 years. Mahilaka was previously investigatedarchaeologically by Vérin to a limited degree in the 1970s. It is now known as a result of the work carried out for this thesis to be the most important and largest town in the region. It contains a wide range of locally produced and imported items.More than 600 drillcores, 50 mm in diameter, and additional augering defined the extent of the site. Thethickness, extension and contents of archaeological deposits were ascertained. Phosphate analyses wereundertaken and combined with soil colour and texture to establish the archaeological sequence of the site. Four main phases were identified, the initial occupation (Ia), a consolidation period (I b), followed by the maximum area of occupation (IIa) and the final settlement phase (IIb). Additional information about surface substructures including the perimeter wall was obtained through electroresistivity survey. Together these results have deter; mined the choice for excavation of c. 150 m3 of the site.Finds including pottery, glass, beads, bones and metal finds have been analysed and show the spatial organisation of the site. Local production of glass beads and stone bowls is proposed. Finally Mahilaka is placed in its inter-regional context of the trading networks of the western Indian Ocean.

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