In discussing the origins of civilization on the Swahili Coast, scholars have historically attributed achievements in this area to the colonizing interests of Arab settlers. More recently, research has revealed much more ancient origins for the Swahili cities. Similarly, historical archaeologists studying the colonial Chesapeake once ignored contributions by forced African emigrants and Native Americans to the developing culture in the area. This view has largely been rejected in favor of “creolization” theory, whereby interacting cultures contribute practices and ideas which reformulate to produce an integrated mix entirely different from either antecedent. In my research, I apply creolization theory to an archaeological study of the Swahili Coast and the Indian Ocean trading system in which it was involved, examining the archaeological record of the area for evidence of creolization as it manifests itself in the New World. I cite examples in many areas, specifically in ceramics, metallurgy, religious practice, costume and cosmetics, and architecture. I argue that these crosscultural similarities allow us to analyze the Swahili Coast and the broader Indian Ocean trading system using creolization theory as a tool in the same way that historical archaeologists of the Chesapeake have applied the theory.

Cover Page Note

I'd like to thank the Charles Center at the College of William & Mary, Dr. Chapurukha Kusimba of the Field Museum, Dr. Neil Norman and Dr. Marley Brown at the College of William and Mary, and my family for all their support in the course of conducting this research.