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date: 24 June 2017

Documenting Precolonial Trade in Africa

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History. Please check back later for the full article.

Promoted by scarcity or abundance, trade is one of the most essential cultural behaviors that has promoted contact and variously transformed African communities of different time periods. Historical and archaeological evidence points to the existence, on the one hand, of intra-African trade and, on the other, of external trade between Africa and those outside the continent. Traditionally, however, internal trade, particularly that involving perishable and organic commodities such as grain and cattle, has until now been very difficult to identify due to a lack of well-resolved documentation techniques. By comparison, that some objects such as glass beads, ceramics, and porcelain are high-temperature process products with a high survival rate makes external trade easily visible archaeologically. With the aid of case studies from Africa’s different regions, can standard historical and archaeological sources be combined with scientific techniques to document the dynamics of precolonial African trade of various time periods and geographies.