Archaeologists and historians have long believed that little interaction existed between Iron Age cities of the Kenya Coast and their rural hinterlands. Ongoing archaeological and anthropological research in Tsavo, Southeast Kenya, shows that Tsavo has been continuously inhabited at least since the early Holocene. Tsavo peoples made a living by foraging, herding, farming, and producing pottery and iron, and in the Iron Age were linked to global markets via coastal traders. They were at one point important suppliers of ivory destined for Southwest and South Asia. Our excavations document forager and agropastoralist habitation sites, iron smelting and iron working sites, fortified rockshelters, and mortuary sites. We discuss the relationship between fortified rockshelters, in particular, and slave trade.
A recent archival research project in the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) identified artifacts and human remains associated with the 1980 excavation of stone cairns and habitation areas on the west side of Lake Turkana. The presence of stone grave cairns across eastern Africa is common, but their cultural origins and construction times are enigmatic. This article presents the results of the archival project and contextualizes both the artifacts found and the unpublished research notes within the framework of evolving settlement patterns in eastern Africa during the middle to late Holocene. Despite the presence of numerous decorative features on ceramics and the recovery of many complete lithic tools, the material culture is generally non-diagnostic within existing typo-technological categories. The research indicates that there was tremendous diversity in the material culture of the Turkana Basin during the late Holocene.