Along with Ghana, Gawgaw (Gao) was an important regional trading polity mentioned by Arab chroniclers in the later first millennium CE. In the later tenth century, al-Muhallabi wrote of the dual towns of Gawgaw, one the residence of the king and the other a market and trading town called Sarneh. The large settlement mound of Gao Saney, located seven kilometers east of Gao, has long been thought to be the site of Sarneh. Excavations in 2001–2 and 2009 were the first sustained archaeological explorations of the main, 32-hectare mound, providing new information on function, subsistence economy, material culture, and chronology, and expanding considerably on earlier investigations by T. Insoll and R. Mauny. This article presents a broad overview of the recent excavations, focusing particularly on the evidence for spatial differentiation (domestic and workshop areas), chronology (both radiocarbon and ceramic) and involvement in trade networks.

In: Journal of African Archaeology

Abstract

Excavations at several archaeological sites in and around Gao have resulted in the recovery of thousands of glass beads presumed to have been acquired from glass bead-producing centers through trade. The bead assemblages cover the period from the eighth to the fourteenth century CE. Here we report on the results of compositional analysis by LA-ICP-MS of 100 beads, permitting comparison with the growing corpus of chemical analyses for glass from African and Near Eastern sites. In this analysis, several compositional groupings are recognized. These include two types of plant-ash soda-lime-silica glass (v-Na-Ca), a mineral soda-lime-silica glass (m-Na-Ca), a high-lime high-alumina (HLHA) glass, a mineral soda-high alumina (m-Na-Al), glass, a plant ash soda-high alumina (v-Na-Al) glass and a high lead composition glass. The reconstruction and dating of depositional contexts suggests a shift in glass sources at the end of the tenth century CE. The issue of source identification is discussed and occurrences at other African sites are mapped, providing new data towards an understanding of trade and exchange networks.

In: Journal of African Archaeology