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Excavations at Unguja Ukuu, 2017


In June-July 2017, the project conducted field investigations at Unguja Ukuu with three main objectives:

1)         prospecting for house deposits and excavations of occupation deposits;

2)         off-site, geoarchaeological survey;

3)         multi-scalar sampling of environmental and archaeological contexts.


In addition to S. Wynne-Jones and F. Sulas, the team included Thomas Fitton (University of York), Ema Bauzyté (UrbNet), Abdallah K. Ali (Director of Antiquities, Zanzibar), and Wolfgang Alders (Ph.D. candidate, UC Berkeley).

The fieldwork season also served as an introduction for local communities to the larger Urban Transitions project. This involved introducing team members and activities to local authorities and communities. In addition to talks on site, a poster (English/Swahili) was produced for display at the local visitor centre and the Department of Antiquities and tourism offices in Stone Town. Analysis of the 2017 fieldwork campaign at Unguja Ukuu is ongoing, and many of the conclusions will await the results of laboratory analysis. Yet, there are some clear results that contribute to the project objectives.

Objective 1: To provide pilot data and proof of concept for future work

Excavations at UZ001 showed that some spatial patterning is recoverable even in areas of the site that have undergone significant clearing. UZ002 located the remains of a series of domestic structures, showing that such remains still exist intact at the site, and can be recovered through contextual excavation. Sampling was successful, although decisions about which types of artefact and environmental analysis are most effective will have to follow from post-excavation work on samples taken this season. This will provide an invaluable guide for future seasons.

Objective 2: To test sampling and analytical methods

The first contextual excavations at Unguja Ukuu has recovered a wide range of materials spread across different contexts. Excavations in UZ002 provide the first ever house to be excavated from this time period. As we extract high-resolution data from the samples, excavation finds provide some of the first contextual understandings of how urban life was lived in the earliest towns of the Swahili coast.

Laboratory analyses

We are currently analysing samples and materials from the 2017 excavations at Unguja Ukuu. The following analyses are ongoing:

Soils and sediments

·       pH, EC, Redox

·       Laser Particle Size Distribution

·       Loss-on-Ignition

·       Multi-element chemistry (ICP-MS)

·       Soil micromorphology


·       Charcoal and macrobotanical remains

·       Phytoliths


·       Bones

·       Shell fragments

Building material and ceramics

·       Daub

·       Local and imported pottery


·       Cataloguing of glass beads

·       LA-ICP-MS on selected glass beads and vessel fragments