Urbanizing Forest: Archaeological Evidence from Southern Bénin

In: Journal of African Archaeology

Abstract

Until recently archaeological evidence predating the historically known Kingdom of Dahomey in southern Bénin has been next to non-existent. The situation changed when deep and long drainage channels were dug into the fertile soils at the modern town of Bohicon. In the sides of these channels, rich cultural remains appeared, confirming the assumption that high rates of soil accumulation have caused low archaeological visibility in the forest/former forest belt of West Africa. Geophysical mapping and extensive excavations have revealed two large settlements of 500-600 hectares each, partly overlapping but separated by 2000 years. This paper presents both sites – Sodohomé 1, the earliest site encountered so far in southern Bénin, and Sodohomé 2 (or Sodohomé-Bohicon) which dates to AD 900-1150/1220. Although the first has produced some remarkable results, for instance, an iron spearhead that is the oldest securely dated non-meteoritic iron object in Africa known so far, the focus is on the latter site where evidence demonstrates the existence of a true town with craft specialisation, industrial-scale iron production, long-distance trade and wide communication networks.

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