Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Djenné-Djenno::Ancient City in sub-Saharan Africa

Djenné-Djenno (also Jenne-Jeno) is the original site of Djenné, Mali and considered to be among the oldest urbanized centers in sub-Saharan Africa. It has been the subject of archeological excavations by Susan and Roderick McIntosh (and others) and has been dated to the 3rd century BC. There is evidence of iron-production, use of domesticated plants and animals, and complex homoarchical urban development as early as 900 AD


Radiocarbon dates show that people first settled here permanently in about 250 BC. Between 750 and 1000 AD, after centuries of occupation stood an 82-acre (330,000 m2) near the Bani River consisting of a large tear-shaped mound surrounded by 69 hillocks, created by its people (which may have numbered up to 27,000), who built and rebuilt their houses. During this time period, notable changes are observed as having occurred. Previously, from the fifth to ninth century, houses at Jenne-Jeno were constructed with puddled mud or tauf foundations, later to be replaced by innovative cylindrical-brick architecture. While data on the source of this apparent innovation is scant, it is suggested that the process was indigenous since change is also seen with an accompanied continuity in pottery and the general structural lay-out of the houses; therefore it is unlikely that any change in ethnic composition had occurred. The first verifiable Islamic influence on the town appears in the eleventh and twelfth centuries in the form of brass, spindle whorls, and rectilinear houses.
“As recently as the middle of the last millennium BC,” the area surrounding Djenne-Djenno was either uninhabited or visited by nomadic groups that stayed for short periods. Debris found within the upper alluvium of several sites suggests that nomadic pastoralists, hunters, or fishermen may have occasionally passed through the area. Geomorphological data shows that the region consisted mostly of swampland at this time. Groups only began permanently occupying the area sometime between 300 BCE and 300 AD after a dry episode in which annual flooding receded decreased the size of the swamps. Djenne-Djenno was settled in the final centuries of BCE. At its peak, the site was 33 hectares and had up to 10,000 people living within its vicinity.
There are several explanations that have been proposed for the settlement of Djenne-Djenno. The functionalist approach has suggested that the site of Djenne-Djenno was selected to maximize productivity. According to this approach, non-inundated areas, deep basins, and good rice-growing soils would be valued because they allowed for maximally productive farming. Non-inundated areas allowed for the "pasturing of livestock during the flood season" while deep basins allowed farmers to pasture during the dry season. Settlers following this approach would have selected sites that had all of these resources relatively close to one another. Oral traditions support the notion of founding communities migrating to principal, maximally productive sites "from which daughter communities later arose through fissioning and migration." Another explanation for the selection of the Djenne-Djenno site looks at the role belief systems such as magic and blacksmithing may have played in the decision. Settlers, particularly blacksmiths, may have selected this site for its high concentration of water spirits. Blacksmiths valued water spirits are a source of nyama, the life-energy of the earth.

Agriculture and urban organization

The community of Djenne-Djenno drew sustenance from of “rice, sorghum, millet, and a high volume of wild grains” combined with a supply of cattle, sheep and goats.[9] The land surrounding Djenne –Djenno lent itself to such high-yielding crops due to its mixture of highland and floodplain soils at different elevations that allowed floodwater farming of rice. Moreover, the Djenne-Djenno site lies in close proximity to dune landscape, which allows for necessary recreation needed for keeping cattle in floodplain environments. Overall, the diversified sources of food provided food security that allowed for permanent settlement in a region of volatile climate.
The Djenne-Djenno urban complex consists of 40 mounds within a 4 kilometer radius; population estimates range from 11,000 to 50,000. Culturally distinct communities of the Middle Niger settled each individual mound. The configuration of the mounds helped “segmented” communities to surmount the ecological challenges caused by the volatile weather patters characteristic of the Middle Niger. The fact that the mounds were disjointed allowed communities to specialize their trade while the relative proximity of the mound facilitated the exchange of goods and services between these communities. Thus, this urban configuration incentivized peaceful reciprocity between the communities, which in turn caused the communities to specialize further leading to the prosperity of the community as a whole. These separate communities may come together into an urban complex through the burden of debt or fictive ties of kinship.
In addition, the Djenne-Djenno accomplished what is thought to have been among the first examples of rice domestication on the continent and were the first in the Western Sudan region to establish its signature mudbrick architecture; a predecessor to Sudano-Sahelian. They also possessed their own iron technology and developed some of the finest terracotta figures in the region


Archaeological evidence suggests that Jenné-Jeno was part of a pre-Arab trans-Saharan trade network. Specifically, glass beads found at the site have been dated to as early as the third century BC and appear to originate from Asia to the Mediterranean Near East. These discoveries lend support to the existence of sporadic contacts between West and North Africa throughout the first millennium AD.
Djenne-Djenno's collection of streams and major rivers such as the Niger and Bani gave merchants access to neighboring communities as well as more distant communities that included Dia and Timbuktu. The community of Djenne-Djenno exchanged their plentiful commodities for stone and iron from the surrounding communities. Iron ore, which had to be imported, was a crucial resource utilized by blacksmiths smelting iron at this site.


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