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Peter Mitchell. 2005. African connections: Archaeological perspectives on Africa and the wider world. AltaMira Press

The blurb on the back cover, reproduced below, does not do this masterpiece justice. African Connections rightly focuses on producing a coherent argument and summary of African archaeology since the end of the Pleistocene, some 12 000 years ago. Despite this focus, the author Peter Mitchell (University of Oxford) includes a brief summary of the Out-of-Africa I and II migrations, as proposed by their proponents.

Well known in Africanist archaeological circles for his work on Middle and Late Stone Age sites in Lesotho, African Connections can be viewed in a sense as a continuation of his vast 1992 synthesis, The Archaeology of Southern Africa, published by Cambridge University Press.

As he states in his Preface, much of the focus of Mitchell's book has to deal with the sadly inaccurate Eurocentric colonial reconstructions, and their legacies, of Africa being a continent either with no history or a history which is marginalised: " Few would now agree (at least openly) with the notorious words of Lord Dacre that, before European contact, Africa had no history, merely the endless hyrations of barbarous tribes." (xv) Mitchell highlights the advances made in archaeological theory and practice subsequent to 1960, which marks the beginning of the African nations gaining their independence as well as the advent of the New Archaeology in Anglo-American archaeology.

The legacy left behind from the colonial past, where simplistic diffusionism and migrationist hypotheses ran rout, is a more subtle danger which Mitchell brilliantly tackles head-on. There is a tendency within African archaeology to place an emphasis on social evolutionary models, emphasising "progress" directions in the growth of towns, cities and vaguely defined states. Instead, the data not only questions such a Eurocentric perspective but enables us to more beyond world systems theories of core and periphery exchanges, in which Africa is a passive recipient. The integration of archaeological, ecological, historical linguistic and oral sources enables Mitchell to provide an overview of African history which illustrates the dynamic regional networks of exchange, population movements, subsistence strategies, economies, ideology, and variable social structures and changes not only in archaeological time but in recorded historical periods as well.

There is a real danger of producing a divide between "pre-European" and "post-European" contact, as entrenched by historical beliefs that one can only begin to talk of "history" in an African context once Europeans have arrived with writing. Indeed, the real problem of establishing and defining an African historical archaeology has been much debated, and has been given recent impetus by the writings of Martin Hall (XXXXX), Stahl (East Africa PLUS her edited book), Connah and Reid et al.

I highly recommend this thought-provoking, articulate and extremely informative publication to anyone remotely interested in the Holocene archaeology or development of Africa.


From the backcover:

"Peter Mitchell has not only digested a far-ranging literature on the African past, synthesizing a general history of African's connections with people and things off the continent, their impact on the developmental history of human communities there, and the effects of contact with Africa and Africans on people and events elsewhere, but also endeavored to clear away some of the obscuring cobwebs of past explanation... Reading Mitchell, one realizes that the continent and the people living there were never the passive receptacles of foreign influences as they were, so often, depicted during the colonialist period, but they were instead active participants in their own destinies - innovating here, absorbing new ideas there, and everywhere adapting to changing social and cultural environments." - Joseph O. Vogel


Summary from the backcover:

"From the exodus of early modern humans to the growth of African diasporas, Africa has had a long and complex relationship with the outside world. More than a passive vessel manipulated by external empires, the African experience has been a complex mix of internal geographic, environmental, sociopolitical, and economic factors and regular interaction with outsiders. Peter Mitchell attempts to outline these factors over the long period of recent human history, to find their commonalities and development over time. He examines African interconnections in Egypt and Nubia with the Near East, multiple Indian Ocean trading systems, the trans-Saharan trade, and the more recent incursion of Europeans. The African diaspora is also explored for continuities and resistance to foreign domination. Commonalities abound in the African experience, as do complexities for each individual period and their interrelationships. Mitchell's sweeping analyses of African connections place the continent in the context of global prehistory and history. The book should be of interest not only to Africanists but also to many other archaeologists, historians, geographers, linguists, and social scientists and their students."


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