Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

FW: [ANTHRO-L] Book Review - African Civilizations

Expand Messages
  • Popplestone, Ann
    ... From: Danny Yee [mailto:danny@ANATOMY.USYD.EDU.AU] Sent: Friday, June 29, 2001 11:55 PM To: ANTHRO-L@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU Subject: [ANTHRO-L] Book
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 30, 2001
      FW: [ANTHRO-L] Book Review - African Civilizations

      -----Original Message-----
      From: Danny Yee [mailto:danny@...]
      Sent: Friday, June 29, 2001 11:55 PM
      To: ANTHRO-L@...
      Subject: [ANTHRO-L] Book Review - African Civilizations

      An HTML version of this book review can be found at
      along with more than five hundred other reviews.

       TITLE: African Civilizations
       - An Archaeological Perspective
       AUTHOR: Graham Connah
       PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press 2001
       OTHER: 340 pages, bibliography, index

      In _African Civilizations_ Connah surveys the pre-colonial history of
      tropical Africa, with chapters on seven broad regions.  Despite the
      title, he avoids the quagmire of attempts to define "civilization",
      opting instead to use more practical concepts of urbanization,
      social complexity, and state formation.  And he manages a nice mix of
      archaeological specifics and broader perspectives, staying clear of both
      the engulfing whirlpool of unconnected detail and the devouring monster
      of unchecked theory.  _African Civilizations_ will be a real treat for
      anyone interested in pre-colonial Africa.

      The seven areas covered are Nubia and the middle Nile (nearly 5000 years:
      Kerma, Napata, Meroe, and the Christian and Islamic eras), the Ethiopian
      highlands (the "pre-Aksum", Aksum, and medieval Christian periods), the
      West African savannah (Senegal, the Inland Niger Delta, northern Nigeria,
      south-west Chad), the West African forest and fringes (sites in Ghana and
      Nigeria including Old Oyo, Benin City, and Igbo-Ukwu), the East African
      coast and islands (from Mogadishu through Kilwa to the Comoro islands and
      Madagascar), Great Zimbabwe and related sites (the Zimbabwe Plateau),
      and the Upemba Depression and the Interlacustrine Region (two areas in
      Central Africa, thousands of kilometres apart, where fieldwork happens
      to have been carried out).

      Each of the chapters follows the same format.  A brief introduction is
      followed by a look at "geographical location and environmental factors",
      covering ecology, climate, soils, diseases, and barriers to movement.
      The core of each chapter is a section "sources of information", typically
      around twenty pages long.  This describes the historical sources in just a
      page or two, then surveys the archaeological record in much greater depth.
      Here Connah presents details of key excavations and sites, with a nice
      selection of site plans, maps, chronologies, and halftones of artifacts
      and landscapes.  His approach follows the modern trend towards settlement
      studies and away from the narrower traditional focus on monuments and
      elite sites.

      Six shorter sections in each chapter then consider the key themes of
      subsistence economy, technology, social system, population pressures,
      ideology, and external trade, focusing on the role of these factors
      in urbanization and state formation.  Connah generally describes the
      theories of others rather than offering his own, and his conclusions
      are almost always tentative and qualified.  In the chapter on the West
      African forest, for example, he writes "there is ... good reason to
      suspect there would have been a growth in functional specialization",
      "it seems likely that by the early second millenium AD the subsistence
      economy of the rainforest was able to produce a surplus", and "it
      is possible that quite localized population pressure was one of the
      factors which led to an increasing elaboration of social hierarchies"
      (to pick just a few examples).  While this may frustrate those after
      simple answers, it seems like a wholesome approach given the limited
      evidence and the patchiness of the archaeological fieldwork.

      Nor does Connah make any attempt to fit a single theoretical framework
      across the different areas.  The overall introduction touches on theories
      of states, notably that of Haas, and a brief six page conclusion looks at
      "common denominators", but the emphasis is on the diversity of African
      environments and the resulting variety in the development of cities and
      the formation of states.  "[T]he physical evidence for African social
      complexity [merits] far more attention from archaeologists than it has
      yet had and might have a far greater role in the formation of social
      theory than has yet been the case".

      _African Civilizations_ is solidly referenced and has a thirty five page
      bibliography, but some further reading suggestions would have been nice:
      as it is the reader intrigued by any of the specific regions covered
      isn't offered any obvious starting points in the broader literature.


      %T      African Civilizations
      %S      An Archaeological Perspective
      %A      Connah, Graham
      %I      Cambridge University Press
      %C      Cambridge
      %D      2001
      %O      paperback, 2nd edition, bibliography, index
      %G      ISBN 0-521-59690-4
      %P      xv,340pp
      %K      archaeology, ancient history, Africa

      29 June 2001

              Copyright (c) 2001 Danny Yee       http://danny.oz.au/
              Danny Yee's Book Reviews      http://dannyreviews.com/

      >>  Unsubscribe/change your subscription options at:                 <<
      >>  http://listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu/cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=anthro-l&A=1  <<
      >>  Archives: http://listserv.buffalo.edu/archives/anthro-l.html     <<

    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.