Freda M’Mbogori

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

British Inst. in Eastern Africa

Grant number

Gr. 9263

Approve Date

April 11, 2016

Project Title

M'Mbogori, Dr. Freda Nikrote, British Institute in Eastern Africa, Nairobi, Kenya - To aid research on 'Revisiting Bantu Migration Narrative: A Contextual Archaeological Approach'

Preliminary abstract: The grand narrative of ‘Bantu migration’ was archaeologically investigated in Eastern Africa during 1960- 70s. Since then and despite the widespread application of more socially informed and more refined scientific approaches in archaeology, these supposed Bantu sites have remained unexplored. Pottery forms and decoration were used as the primary means to identify and date these Bantu archaeological sites and such investigations were largely offered to elaborate the historic-linguistic data (e.g. Ehret 1974). However, pottery stylistics attributes have been found to be unreliable as markers of identity and social boundaries, since they are often copied by people who do not share a language or even genetic material (Boaz 2003). Although farming and iron were identified as other attributes of early Bantu (Philipson 2003), they were rarely fully investigated (Kahlheber et al 2009; Bellwood 2009). Following the recent criticism of ‘pots equals people’ (Eggert 2005) and the work of post-processualists such as Hodder (1987) and others it has become apparent that material culture cannot be viewed in a unilateral way. But it can be used to infer economics, technologies, social organization and ritual practices, what Hodder refers to as ‘contextual archaeology.’ This research aims to provide a much higher resolution to the narrative of the Bantu expansion by conducting contextual archaeology within the Iron Age sites of the South East Mt. Kenya region. For the first time in Eastern Africa, it will seek to identify the myriad of Early Iron Age sites in one specific region and assess their connections and social settings by studying not only pottery styles and techniques but also iron production, archaeobotany, zooarchaelogy and the spatial distribution of the sites.We hope that this highly resolved approach to Bantu archaeology will serve as a training ground for Kenyan students and as a model for future studies.