Book: Case Studies in the Silk Roads Archaeology
Chapter: 8. Trade Dynamics in East Africa: The Continuation of Ancient Silk Road Settlements in the 1st Millennium CE
This paper examines the archaeology of continuation in major trade settlements in East Africa, which were involved with the earliest Silk Road networks across the Indian Ocean from 300 BCE–mid 1 st millennium CE. In the past, the arrival of Islamic trade ports in Egypt and the Horn of Africa in the mid to late 1 st millennium has often been regarded as a starting point for large-scale trade influx and exports. Yet, a close examination of the archaeological record of such trade settlements instead demonstrates a process of continuation – with clearly definable roots in ancient Silk Road trade activities between Africa and the Indian Subcontinent, especially.
Concretely, in this paper we analyze and interpret this process by means of two main archaeological case studies pertaining to African trade settlements: (1) the Egyptian port of Myos Hormos which later became known as the early Islamic port of Qaseir al-Qadim, and (2) the ancient Aksumite port of Adulis in current-day Ethiopia. Along with the study of the settlement sites themselves, evidence such as ceramic datasets and organic remains of traded food-wares from sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Subcontinent are approached, both statistically and interpretatively. These case studies are placed within the wider framework of understanding the impact and continuation of major ancient African Silk Road settlements.
Based on these findings, our paper also explores the impact of the neglect of Aksumite records and history in past studies of the ancient Silk Road, as well as the importance of the Horn of Africa in maintaining trade network dynamics across the Indian Ocean during the 1st millennium. The role and evolution of trade settlements here, once again, constitute the focus point for engaging wider questions about Silk Road studies and the importance of factual, testable archaeological evidence to support new research in this field.