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High-resolution dating of an urban chronology at Kilwa Kisiwani, Tanzania

Over fifty years ago, in 1965, archaeological excavations of Kilwa Kisiwani, Tanzania were concluded by the British Institute in Eastern Africa. Kilwa dominated contemporary Swahili historiography  and archaeology was planned here as a way to link the monuments of the site to the historical record. This created a chronology by which urban development on the Swahili coast has been measured ever since, yet this understanding is massively out of date. It has not been tested through systematic radiocarbon dating and has instead been based on chronology from associated finds.

In 2016, as part of the Songo Mnara Urban Landscapes project (http://www.songomnara.rice.edu/) an important trench at Kilwa was re-excavated by a team including Urbnet members. Systematic samples from this excavation have been dated in the Aarhus laboratory, to demonstrate the potential for high-resolution urban chronologies on the East African coast, and to resolve many of the remaining questions about Kilwa’s past.

Dating has been conducted by Jesper Olsen and the results are now been written up by a team headed by Jesper Olsen and Stephanie Wynne-Jones, together with Jeffrey Fleisher (co-director of the Songo Mnara project) and Mark Horton (excavator of the trench).

PIs: Jesper Olsen (Urbnet, Aarhus) and Stephanie Wynne-Jones (Urbnet and University of York).