Trans-SAHARA: State Formation, Migration and Trade in the Central Sahara (1000 BC - AD 1500)
Trans-SAHARA is a major new project that seeks to investigate the nature and consequences of the interconnectivity of the Trans-Saharan zone in the Pre-Islamic period. Funded by the ERC it builds on the work of previous research projects in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History (The Fazzan Project, Desert Migrations Project and Peopling the Desert Project) to explore the archaeology of the Garamantes, an indigenous, ubanised state in the central Saharan oases of Fazzan, Libya.
Trans-SAHARA is thus built around a series of research themes designed to explore the degree of interconnectedness or comparative isolation of the Central Sahara from neighbouring regions to north, east, south and south-west. Each theme is organised into a distinct research group:
Workgroup 1: Urbanisation and state formation
Image: Copyright Toby Savage
To what extent can Saharan communities in the Garamantian and Islamic era be characterised as urbanised states? What different models of the state cna most appropriately be applied to the sub-regions of the Trans-Saharan zone in pre-Islamic and Islamic eras? What was the basic morphology of Garamantian settlements (towns and villages) and how did this change over time? How did early Islamic towns and villages relate to Garamantian settlements (spatially, chronologically, functionally)? How did Garamantian settlements differ from contemporary nucleated settlements to north (e.g. Roman North Africa) and south (e.g. the states of the Middle Niger and Lake Chad)?
Workgroup 2: Trade
What are the implications of the Garamantian evidence for current views of (limited) pre-Islamic trans-Saharan contacts? What are the identifiable markers for pre-Islamic Saharan trade and waht can be deduced about their distribution? Can Mediterranean goods be recognised in the Sub-Saharan zone? Can Garamantian exports (especially manufactured goods such as beadwork and textiles) be recognised? Can plant and animal transfers be recognised? Can we detect physical evidence for the movement of people suggestive of slave trading? What were the differences and similarities between Islamic and Garamantian trans-Saharan trade?
Workgroup 3: Mobile technologies
Can we identify and track Trans-Saharan technological change through archaeological evidence (e.g. adoption of irrigation technology, metallurgy)? At what date did advanced pyrotechnical technologies appear in the central Sahara and what are the comparisons and contrasts with developments in the Nile Valley, Maghreb and Sub-Saharan zones? Are we looking at independent inventions, selective adoption or linked evolution following technolology transfer? Are different patterns discenible for pottery making, glass manufacture, metallurgy and salt purification or was this a technological package? Are there significant time-lags in any technology transfers that we might expect to see? What was the significance of botanical and faunal transfwers across the Trans-Saharan region?
Workgroup 4: Human mobility and identity
Image: Copyright Toby Savage
What was the ethnic composition of Garamantian society? How can we interpret the admixture of Mediterranean and Sub-Sahran African populations in the human remains from Garamantian burials? Can we differentiate people who migrated into the central Sahara during their own lifetimes, from others of potentially diverse ethnic composition who lived in the region all their lives? How did these Saharan communities express ideas about identity through material culture, burial ritual and funerary structures? Can we identify distincitve sub-groupings in society through the articulation of identity revealed by varied use of material culture and behaviours? Is it possible to match specific elements of the burial ritual and grave inclusions with Sub-Saharan or Berber communities elsewhere?