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I need to state very clearly that at the present stage of the research, the spread of plague in Sub-Saharan Africa still stands as a working hypothesis, and it will remain so until stronger, empirical data—possibly in the form of paleomicrobiological evidence—is found to confirm, qualify, or disprove it. The present introduction stands as a thought incubator and a first attempt—with no pretension to exhaustiveness—at reviewing potential evidence of the plague in different sets of records, especially in the archaeological and the documentary record.
Three specific sets of records are also the subject of a supporting essay. Marie-Laure Derat examines 13th- to 16th-century written sources from the Horn of Africa for mentions of the plague in written sources. Daphne Gallagher and Stephen Dueppen provide a preliminary discussion of archaeological evidence for change in settlement patterns in the Western Sahel and savannas, a major theme in Plague Studies. Finally, Monica Green shakes up traditional disciplinary boundaries with her historical interpretation of genetic evidence recovered from a particular strain of plague found in Eastern and Central Africa.
We also call for a discerning overhaul of medieval and early modern African histories and for their release from the many historiographical straightjackets elaborated around the s and ever since too often uncritically reproduced in our writings and teaching. Let us imagine, just for a moment, that the Second Plague Pandemic had as many overwhelming consequences in Sub-Saharan Africa as it had in Europe or across the Islamic world.
Let us further imagine that the pandemic drastically affected the demography of the African continent, with unrecorded repercussions on land uses, urban landscapes, political economies, industrial and craft production, labour systems, and religious realms. If it did so, we have until now misread key historical events and ignored fundamental transformative processes. In fact, I know of no reason why a bacterium that broke barriers across climates, environments, and species to find its way from the confines of Asia to the western and northern margins of Europe, and to the Arabian Peninsula, the Maghreb, and Egypt, would have failed to spread across the rest of the African continent.
It is therefore all too legitimate to examine whether we have misread facets of the history of late medieval Africa. Clearly, imagination does not make history, but the lack of imagination also deprives history of the critical dynamics that everywhere push its frontiers into hitherto unchartered territories. Thinking about the plague in Africa, we believe, is a way to exert our creative duty toward the discipline of African history and to reclaim early African history as a dynamic, unexpected, exciting, and renewed epistemological frontier.
Knowledge, after all, is the measure of all cognitive limitations. Indeed, the disease may have generated radically different—and sometimes hardly perceptible—features and traces corresponding to an astonishingly diverse array of social responses. Such features, however, are often much less visible than is commonly imagined, and any one of them could potentially result from a variety of causes and processes other than plague. It is therefore challenging, on the basis solely of archaeology, to establish conclusively the causal relationship between an outbreak of bubonic plague and specific archaeological features, especially when written records documenting the former are not available—as is largely the case in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Such difficulties, nonetheless, ought not to prevent us from exploring the hypothesis further and from gradually collecting a larger and stronger set of potential evidence, which, when added to other datasets, will contribute to making the plague theory an integral part of the historiography of Africa. As an extension of the latter consequence, we may add the default of maintenance of existing infrastructures, leading to their gradual or rapid decay, the decline of labour-intensive or highly skilled sectors of activities, but also—paradoxically—sudden surges of labour-intensive projects.
Our premise implies that in spite of the diversity of social responses, there are also quasi-mechanical, collective and individual reactions to rapid demographic disasters that cut across culture and societal organizations. If such a premise is true, then such responses are expected to be also represented in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Examples abound in oral traditions of such occurrences. Searching for spiritual causes behind such a devastating event, the community eventually came to the understanding that a group of angry souls buried nearby was the source of the premature death of its many members. Oral traditions relate the story of an angry mob visiting the burial ground and firing musket shots at graves, before cautiously deciding to move away from the dangerous spot and re-settle at some distance from the previous settlement.
The digestion of such settlements by the tropical environment would have been rapid, in contrast with the enduring traces some of them would have left in the memories of the refugees. These memories, vividly recalled in oral traditions, would have been durable markers of the common identity of the displaced, despite their spatial dispersion. Almost synchronously, a new network of settlements would have emerged, with survivors regrouping and creating new social bonds. Widespread taboos on farming over burial sites would have fostered the formation of forested landscapes over the depopulated sites, and many would have become shrines.
Such anthropogenic landscapes born of apocalyptic deep-past events, however, are not immediately recognizable as such in oral traditions, because they would have long been recycled with new spiritual meaning—or even reclaimed, cleared, farmed, and resettled as time moved on and so did people and political circumstances. Some ancient political centres such as Ife, when resettled, were reinvested with political leadership in the name of their former glory.
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As in the Old World, some areas were probably less affected than others, for reasons that are as unclear—and probably as multiform, complex, and poorly understood—as the epidemiology of the medieval plague itself. Similarly, some regions in Africa would have been less impacted or might have found the means to deal more effectively with the contagion, on both spiritual and practical grounds. For instance, I have often wondered whether, in some parts of the Gulf of Guinea, the once common practice of keeping sacred and rat-eating pythons as pets in the thatch roofs of dwellings had something to do with the simple realization that people living in such compounds fared better in times of epidemics.
In such cases, one may not recover clear stratigraphic evidence of likely brutal, yet short-term interruption in the settlement history, although a reduction in size of the occupied space would be expected. Among the evidence, the disappearance or alteration throughout the western Mediterranean area of villas—those dispersed, aristocratic rural centres of modest to large agricultural estates that characterized the late Roman world—are particularly intriguing. Some villas were abandoned and never re-occupied.
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Others later developed into cemeteries, church estate centres, less monumental buildings, or even villages. This realization points to the complexity of archaeological data, the idiosyncratic nature of discrete contexts, and the difficulty of disentangling the multitude of possible causes and consequences that shape the material records of human existence. House-building stopped after ca. Although the villages continued to be occupied, activity may have declined.
Imported pottery is no longer found, and depopulation is possibly illustrated by the build-up of ground-floor occupation levels, suggesting lack of maintenance during the period. The difference, however, was in the duration of the epidemic, which closely correlated the physical and demographic scale of settlements, varying from a few weeks for villages of a few hundred inhabitants to up to 18 months for Venice, a hub of ,—, inhabitants. Brought together with other evidence, such a pattern would contribute to strengthening our hypothesis. Beyond in-depth case studies focusing on the abandonment of discrete settlements, we must also look for radical change in the built environment and the settled landscapes, a change which I propose to call settlement recombination, a process mixing abandonment or downsizing of existing settlements and the creation or expansion of others.
In a continent known for its extreme diversity in people and environments, and its massive size, such a review is not an easy task. This is not the place to express frustration about the relative paucity of well-documented, comparable, accessible reports on the archaeology of Africa over the last two thousand years. Yet, we need to bear in mind the relative inadequacy of the available material to develop a truly comparative and comprehensive approach.
Aware of the daunting nature of the task ahead, they limited their inquiry to four case studies from Mali and Burkina Faso sharing key characteristics while representing a large array of different environmental settings, sizes, and connectedness. I also advocate for the systematic re-examination of past publications and archives of archaeological projects. What stands in front of us could be nothing less than the most significant discovery of this century for the history of the continent, one that would shake many historiographical foundations and transform many narratives.
It is time to engage rigorously with this evidence, instead of limiting ourselves to stargazing soliloquy. Occupation was restructured thoroughly in the Upper Delta. Some moved to the non-inundated periphery […], some abandoned the lower rice soils […], and the urban population, once clustered, imploded upon fewer larger? In these regions, I suggest the plague pandemic imposed a brutal epilogue to a long process of adaptation of local populations to changing environmental conditions. The review of archaeological evidence therefore needs to enlarge its focus to include a variety of climatic and ecological contexts.
Ghanaian earthworks discussed above are part of such enlargement, but new clues are also turning up in south-west Nigeria, in a series of excavations undertaken between and at Ife and Ilara-Epe as part of the first phase of the Ife-Sungbo Archaeological Project. In addition, the plague hypothesis was a part of the project design from the beginning, with participants paying particular attention to possible stratigraphic signatures of the pandemic. At this time, I can provide only a cursory presentation of this new evidence, because it is still under study.
Suffice to say that we opened three trenches in different locations across distinct rammed-earth walls and ditch systems that defended Ife before the colonial era. All three had in common a stratigraphic episode characterized by a level of dark, organic soil. Charcoals taken from the dark layers at Ita Yemoo and Oke Atan provided dates centring on the 17th and 18th centuries.
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On-going studies by a team of geoscientists will throw light on the genesis of these layers. Pending detailed geomorphological studies, we interpret the variations between the dark layers as differential anthropic impacts on the post-abandonment, newly constituted landscape. Whereas at Ita Yemoo and Oke Atan, farmers eventually reclaimed the land for slash-and-burn agriculture, 49 no such anthropic process took place at Oduduwa College II, where only the natural decomposition of organic matter contributed to the dark level.
The prospect of a large-scale depopulation of Ife came as a shock to our team—and to many scholars of Ife we interacted with during academic events—because it goes against the general historiographical acceptance of a long-term continuity between the medieval and the modern settlements of Ife. Nevertheless, the emerging scenario has the merit of elucidating overlooked questions about the nature of the archaeological record at Ife, especially the discovery, close to the surface, of medieval prestige objects in cuprous alloys which are not commonly found by archaeologists outside very specific contexts such as burials or hoards.
We believe the presence of such objects can be explained by the hurried departure of a population subjected to panic. Objects such as those found at Ita Yemoo by Frank Willett can therefore clearly be interpreted as furniture disposed on a shrine made of wood and leaves similar to that illustrated in Ife pottery decoration. The shrines were left in situ as people died or ran for their lives.
Many of the prestigious objects found at Ife, however, were part of hoards. Oral traditions that have become ubiquitously known in Yoruba-speaking parts of Nigeria support this idea of a regional Ife diaspora, and I suggest that the movements of the sons of Oduduwa out of Ife are an allusion to the process of political fragmentation that affected the region after the collapse of Ife as its centre.
As such, it would have resulted in a much clearer break in settlement histories than in the Sahel, where the process might be difficult to disentangle from a long-term dwindling of urban centres, informed primarily by environmental factors. In Europe, the imposition of legally binding, systematic archaeological investigations prior to large infrastructural projects has generated historical knowledge at an exponential rate that has little to do with the way scientific knowledge is built incrementally and painstakingly in many other parts of the Old World.
In fact, many parts of the Mediterranean world with documentary sources pointing to massive mortality during the first or the second pandemics do not have the matching archaeological records in the form of mass graves. Furthermore, it would be misleading to think that plague pits were the only response to unusual mortalities and, therefore, their only indicator in the archaeological record. In fact, the diversity of burial practices in times of epidemics is now clearly established by the archaeological data accumulated during the last four decades from many different contexts in Europe.
They define epidemic contexts through a manifold paleobiological methodology, including the examination of skeletal remains, the occurrence of simultaneous burials, the demographic anomalies among well-characterized assemblages, the study of existing documentary records, and paleomicrobiological testing.
As noted by Henri Duday a decade ago, in the absence of textual or epigraphic data, or positive paleomicrobiological testing, the archaeological identification of an epidemic context is often only visible and therefore possible in the case of simultaneous multiple inhumation. Less frequently, the inappropriate orientations of single graves, unusual postures of the corpses, and the use of lime can also be clear enough anomalies in medieval and post-medieval European burial traditions to call for further investigations.
Although it is expected that records of mass graves will eventually emerge as more work is conducted, other discrete evidence has probably long escaped the attention of archaeologists or is simply unavailable as a consequence of the lack of published, detailed, and anthropologically informed excavations of burials.
In parts of Africa where such processes were not informed by Abrahamic practices, our understanding of normative versus atypical burial practices, their meaning and variations, and how they evolved through time is limited—and possibly misinformed by poor stratigraphic control, biased perceptions, and interpretations provided by local informants on the basis of modern cultural norms. In spite of the poor quality of conservation of the skeletal material, he reported having collected a few bones, including an upper jaw and, perhaps, some other dental material. There is no record of the place this material was deposited, and inquiries at the Museum of Natural History of Paris, which holds other human samples collected by Desplagnes, did not yield a positive identification of this specific sample.
Two originate from charcoals found associated with the human remains N and I , and two others were obtained from pieces of Iroko wood that were found at different levels in the fill above the mass burial N and I The dates processed by Teledyne Isotopes lab code I , however, were not published in Radiocarbon. Results are expressed in Table 1. Even in the absence of microbiological evidence, I believe feature 21 encapsulates a powerful statement about the impact of plague in Africa and up to the coastal polities of the Gulf of Guinea.
In the meantime, we need more samples coming from a variety of multiple burials to be tested for the presence of Y. Even one positive result from a well-controlled excavation could turn the tables and give more centrality to what remains today a marginal hypothesis. To do so efficiently while respecting best practices, we will need to promote national and international collaboration, refine protocols, and share information between teams involved in the search.
My experience in the framework of the GlobAfrica project suggests this is easier written about than done, as ancient DNA and genomic research drains large budgets and sometimes generates mutually exclusive academic interests. If, as we posit, the plague provoked a demographic crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa and a large-scale social reorganization, we hypothesize that the practice of including accompanying victims in such burials may have become less widespread because socially too costly—unless the practice thrived, as the consumption of scarce resources is often an ultimate expression of individual and corporate wealth.
In south-western Nigeria and other parts of the Yoruba-speaking world, we also need to pay attention to the chronology of the use of pavements to cover surfaces outside buildings. By the time plague may have struck the city, well-built pavements were ubiquitous in town, and many have survived to this day. Could the abandonment of pavements as a key element of urban landscapes, or changes in paving practices in the Yoruba-speaking world, be an indirect indicator of the spread of plague? The case of Egypt is certainly unique in Africa for the size and complexity of its irrigation infrastructure, but there are less spectacular yet labour-intensive, recurrent rural infrastructures that might have been affected by a demographic crisis.
Acute labour crisis in the agricultural sector, he suggested, triggered a food shortage due to the collapse of yam production. In response, cassava, a crop much less demanding in farm hands but hitherto rejected, rapidly emerged as a valuable supplementary crop. This resulted in the partial displacement of yam and the enduring adoption of cassava as a quasi-staple food in Igboland.
The production of yam is uniquely labour-intensive because the soil must be tilled deeply to grow new plants, then mounded to receive the root cuttings, especially where the soil is shallow. This results in unique landscape forms, which less-demanding cassava does not require.
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Such fluctuations in land use and human intervention on the landscape might also have occurred in the wake of the plague pandemic, together with the reforestation of abandoned fields. Some crops might have become more popular while others declined, and some wild plants might also have found a new place in diets and medicinal practices.
It is therefore useful to scrutinize the archaeological record for anthrosols, paleobotanical remains, and also large-scale, abandoned anthropic landscapes such as the pre-colonial raised-field systems—which cover thousands of hectares in Gabon, the Republic of Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo—and the Iya landscapes of southern Nigeria. By the late s, England had adapted its economic structure to massive population loss, landlords were compelled to submit to the market forces of supply and demand, and the country was already on the way to economic recovery.
Using physical force and coercion, they artificially organized the scarcity of arable land to enforce a drop in wages and an increase in grain prices, together with higher taxes and rents. In doing so, they sapped the rural driving force that was the source of the long-standing wealth of Egypt and plunged the economy in a long-term, downward-spiralling collapse. If given the chance, elites tend to apply corrective force and use coercion to take advantage of a catastrophic event for opportunistic gain.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, we expect such counter-intuitive processes to have taken place, alongside others that were more in line with our expectations. At a period when labour would have been scarce, the Ijebu elite managed to mobilize, settle, and control populations that were in charge of cutting deep in the land the causeway that proclaimed the autonomy, wealth in people, and power of their newly established or reinstated polity. In a forthcoming co-authored article, we suggest that the plague offered opportunities for elite groups to carve their own polities out of the territories formerly claimed by Ife.
Coercion, probably in the form of military force, was the method used by the emerging elite to take control of communities they resettled within the boundaries of the lands they claimed. Plague was indeed a calamity for most; but for some, it offered opportunities that left behind unexpected traces of resilience and post-plague reorganization of human resources. It has now been vigorously demonstrated that Ife was a centre of production of glass beads during the first half of the second millennium CE.
Accordingly, the glass produced at Ife was different from that of other types of glass produced in other parts of the world. They probably entered the long-distance trade networks as prestige items and seem to have been consumed by the local elite as a status marker. How was the knowledge spread among the different participants in the production process? Today, we are unable to respond to these questions, but we can safely postulate that knowledge was protected by secrecy and strictly controlled and regulated by a very limited number of individuals. While the preservation of the technological process was deemed desirable by its recipients, the transmission of the same could be challenged by a highly lethal epidemic such as plague, which could kill entire compounds in a matter of days.
Historians and archaeologists have long entertained the idea that African glass-making had yielded to the overwhelming dumping of European glass beads during the Atlantic age. In fact, we now believe classical Ife, as a city, did not live to hear of the arrival of even the first European vessels in the Bight of Benin.
The Ife glass bead industry had died out several generations before the Portuguese arrival, probably a collateral victim of the plague pandemic. The prestige of Ife glass beads, however, remained strongly impressed in the consciousness of the elite living on the Gulf of Guinea. Beads long remained markers of social status, and the demise of its centre of production must have boosted the value of those that continued to circulate, being dug up from ancient sites.
Early travel accounts mention African beads from the Bight of Benin as a profitable object of trade from coast to coast. In a reversal of the classic historiographic narrative, I suggest that some of these old Ife beads may have found their way to Europe to serve as prototypes for some of the trade beads which were then mass-produced and re-injected into the African markets and beyond, throughout the Atlantic world.
European glass beads therefore did not smother the West African glass industry; rather, they took advantage of the strong local demand that followed its demise to penetrate this lucrative market. That they did so by reproducing types, shapes, colours, and decorations that had been popularized by Ife beads is an intriguing and, once again, counter-intuitive hypothesis that will need to be investigated further. If this hypothesis was confirmed, we would find ourselves confronted by the fascinating idea that the early Atlantic market was, in part, shaped by the enduring shock-wave born out of a global pandemic—an idea rude enough to challenge historians in their comfortable certitudes that Africa gives diseases to the rest of the world but receives hardly any.
In medieval Europe, Western and Eastern Asia, North Africa and Egypt, the plague left literary and non-literary traces in a number of documents that historians use as sources to produce historical narratives about life and death during and after the pandemics. Such written material is relatively abundant and the subject of a vast and rapidly expanding scholarship. For instance, the plague shaped the medieval written record by increasing the number of deaths recorded in registers in times of epidemics; by generating a specific corpus of religious, medical, and political works discussing it; and even by inspiring new literary genres.
What can we make out of such a loud silence? Or could the plague, on the contrary, have contributed in some ways to generating such a void in written evidence? Could we also have missed textual evidence in unknown bodies of works or misinterpreted existing ones? Or are we expecting too much from the documentary record because our imaginations are trapped in our experience of literate societies? There is no definitive answer to such questions yet, but the second part of this essay is geared toward a reassessment of the written record, to search for new evidence or to interpret the lack of it.
Our project aims to review these different source materials, beginning with medieval Arabic sources pertaining to the Western and Central Sahel. In the middle of the eighth century [14th CE], civilization both in the East and the West was visited by a destructive plague which devastated nations and caused populations to vanish. The entire inhabited world changed […]. In fact, we could argue that if he had known that this region had not been afflicted by the disease, such a remarkable case would have been mentioned in his writings.
In fact, as noted by Mahmood Mamdani, Ibn Khaldun was not familiar with societies of Sub-Saharan Africa, which he knew only through sources he took for granted—in contradiction to his advice to readers to subject all sources to critical scrutiny. His travel accounts were written down by Ibn Juzayy , a scribe working at the court of the Marinid rulers at Fez who should also be considered as a contributor to the travel account.
Departing from Marrakesh, he tells us he travelled with the Marinid Sultan Abu Inan to Fez, before leaving for a long journey to the capital of Mali, the dominant polity in Western Sahel at the time, through Sijilmasa. Did Ibn Battuta travel before the plague started affecting West Africa? Did the Sahara shield the area from the spread of the pandemics? Or did Ibn Battuta never actually travel to the Sudan, contrary to his claims? Everyone who has traced out his journey step by step must agree that there are serious arguments against the trustworthiness of his statements regarding several of the cities which he claimed to have visited.
On the other hand, it is exceedingly difficult to substantiate the suspicions thus aroused. He was a skillful narrator, and did not himself, as is well known, write down the record of his journeys; consequently the existence of one or two errors in his account of a city or a district does not prove anything against him, since it must be allowed that his memory occasionally played him false. If we study the whole narrative of his travels, we see that his principal intention in undertaking them was to visit all the countries of the earth inhabited by Muslims.
In consequence of this I suppose that he was very eager to visit this famous city, and on reaching the camp at Bish Dagh he proposed to do so. The rest is characterized by repetitive sequences of facts behind which one can perceive the shadows of a loose questionnaire, which must have been administered to informants and functions as if to fill the gap between the precious anecdotes.
Ibn Battuta achieves the rare combination, for a traveller, of being both everywhere and nowhere. Imagining that his narrative was based on material he would have gathered from a limited number of vantage points over a broader region would certainly help our understanding of the text.
Walata could have been such a place, and possibly Timbuktu or Takedda. Yet, it is rather puzzling that before the s, the travels to Mali maintained their repute among historians and archaeologists of Africa as a faithful reflection of a real journey. Such is the challenge that Fauvelle-Aymar and Hirsch and, more recently, Collet contributed to address. The overall project piloted by Ibn Juzayy was not to be faithful to the reality of the world, but to transform travel experiences into a literary work that met particular intellectual standards, as well as political and religious expectations, through a well-structured statement about the centrality of Islamic civilization in a world otherwise defined by its savage and dark margins.
Looking at the fact that Ibn Battuta did mention the disease in other places he claimed to have travelled to, the absence of any mention in the southern margins of the Sahara suggest that he did not observe or hear about the disease in that part of the world. This implies the presence of some initial obstacles to the spread of the Black Death to western Sub-Saharan Africa, or the slower pace at which the pathogen was able to establish itself in the area.
Compared with the previous set, these sources present the advantage of having been internally generated. In this issue of Afriques , Marie-Laure Derat presents the results of her study of Ethiopian material for clues about the medieval plague and its later recurrences. Ethiopian sources regularly mention deadly epidemics and report on the death of large numbers of victims.
At that point, there was no scholarly work on the history of plague in Ethiopia but only a very broad synthesis on the history of subsistence and epidemics, published by Richard Pankhurst. Not only was she able to find mentions of possible outbreaks of plague in north-eastern Africa, but she confirmed that hagiographies were a very promising source for the study of epidemics in Ethiopia, as references to diseases and epidemics that affected Ethiopian society abound in the lives of Ethiopian saints, a major genre among available written sources.
These documents, until now largely unexploited from the perspective of medical history, form an important corpus to question the reoccurrence of epidemics and their typology, as well as the practices related to them medical protocols, burial practices, quarantine of infected people.
Even when the plague events are not directly documented in the sources, their impact on societies is such that they commanded social responses which, sometimes, are still discernible in the documentation to someone who is looking for them. In the Ethiopian case, the creation of an institution in charge of burying the dead left behind by communities fleeing mortal outbreaks, the consecration of new churches to seek the protection of local saints, the rise of a religious discourse associating demons with plague, and the reliance on magical and talismanic protection—all seem to be indirect evidence for the durable presence of plague in Ethiopia during the late medieval and early modern periods.
In the next section, I will discuss why we find it important to integrate this category of sources in our project. On the basis of the Eurasiatic experience of the disease, we have reasons to believe that plague might also have persisted in Sub-Saharan Africa, at least in some areas where the pathogen encountered suitable conditions. Together, the poem, which was recorded in Ajami by Hausa Islamic scholars, seems to have been a popular song and, at the same time, a history lesson that was shared by the inhabitants of Kano.
Some verses are relevant for this essay, as they mention a plague:.
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It cut down Sheshe. Yakubu, his younger brother succeeded. Then after six months came death, the buffeter. Could this be an oral recording of an outbreak of bubonic plague? The editor of the song thought it possible. Unfortunately, the path he opened was not followed by others and his work remained in isolation.
Since , a number of other West African chronicles, king lists, and a variety of important sources written and oral have been edited and published in translation, although of various quality. There is a need to go back to the original sources and work with the experts in this material to create meaning, as illustrated by the work conducted by Derat with Ethiopian documentary sources.
Could other Sahelian manuscripts throw light on the questions relative to epidemics in the Niger valley and its urban centre during the 16th and 17th centuries? This is an intriguing question that further research might help to answer. None of the would-be responses, however, would solve the conundrum of the spread of the plague in the 14th-century valley of the Niger, because plague could have been re introduced from Egypt or North Africa where it long remained endemic.
We should not totally dismiss written sources, however, not only because later documentation could throw light on these periods, but also because of the presence of contemporary epigraphic sources which require our attention. To date, the only corpus of such material is that published by De Moraes Farias. It is worth noting that the archaeological evidence is not meant to support the documentary evidence, or vice versa. This would be too much to ask from an interdisciplinary approach.
In fact, the disciplines of archaeology and history are equipped with different, not complementary, toolkits. Each of these disciplines evolved along the lines of distinct epistemologies that share very little but the same objective: attempting a reconstruction of the past.
Here, historical and archaeological methods work independently of each other, though in the same direction. Ultimately, distinct sets of evidence independently retrieved and discussed in the framework of the two disciplines can be mobilized to generate a stronger, deeper, better-argued narrative. The most intriguing one is that presented by Monica Green in the fourth paper offered in this special issue of Afriques. This paper is the perfect embodiment of the commitment of a generation of historians eager to engage deeply in interdisciplinary research, far beyond the consortium Humanities—Social Science which we inherited from the historians of the Annales school.
Using her extensive knowledge of the historiography and epistemology of global health science, together with her deep acquaintance with the best of recent and cutting-edge microbiological advances in the genetics of pathogens, Monica Green stands at the forefront of a promising new field of interdisciplinary inquiry located at the intersection of history and genomics.
This new sub-field uses the principles of phylogenetics to develop interpretations of a new category of sources, which until now was the preserve of bioscientists. Her work has positioned history not only as a credible but also as the most appropriate disciplinary framework in which genetic data can become new kinds of sources of the past, in their own terms. But how could the genetic heritage of a pathogen be a source of history? It is now clearly established that Y. Since the broad outline of the evolutionary history of Y. Even more exciting, progress in documenting the full genome of past pathogens through the recovery of aDNA from plague cemeteries enables us to start the process of reconstructing chains of transmission between pathogens of the past and their modern heirs, by pinpointing specific successful mutations in time and space.
Reconstructing such chains of transmission implies asking the following questions: Which of the ancient strains of plague is ancestral to specific modern strains of plague? Where is the ancestral strain of a modern pathogen documented, and how did the pathogen circulate from these known ancestral loci to its modern location? Through the careful comparison of genomic information, possible scenarios of transmission emerge that need to be investigated against documentary and archaeological evidence.
Because plague is endemic in several parts of East Africa and in Madagascar, it is possible to compare the genomes of modern strains of Y. This is definite proof that the plague hypothesis and the framework of the Second Pandemic is to be taken seriously. It is not the full story, however, as all strains of Y. On the contrary, such an evolutionary success story appears to be an exception, as most pathogens would eventually burn out as a result of having destroyed the rodent infrastructure and in the absence of a reservoir, not unlike how wild fires die out in the absence of available fuel.
The fact that the pathogen might have entered East Africa at some point during the early modern period does not mean that it had not already circulated earlier on. The story of Kilwa and that of Great Zimbabwe—and of many other communities showing clear signs of population decline and abandonment of architectural projects or even of extensive landscapes—remain possible testimonies to their participation in the fate of global communities in the wake of the Black Death.
The spread of plague in Sub-Saharan Africa would not have taken place without a massive die-out of rodent species encountered, which did not have strong enough resistance mechanisms to become reservoirs. The archaeology of rodent population dynamics is still in its infancy, as remains of rodents have hardly been identified as priorities in the archaeological record.
If rodent populations were severely affected by the spread of Y. It might also have caused the displacement or even replacement of some species of rodents by others, a phenomenon that could also be visible in the zooarchaeological record. We have seen that a classic effect of plague was the abandonment of settlements and marginal lands, resulting in the expansion of woodlands. This we have seen to be visible in Ife, but it must have been a large-scale phenomenon in Africa, resulting in a contraction of farmlands and the rapid expansion of forested landscapes, which were reclaimed by communities during the following centuries at the price of massive labour mobilizations—although some were probably never reclaimed and developed instead into the bulk of modern forested landscapes in Africa.
There is a need to interrogate our botanical remains and charcoal samples in terms that speak to this phenomenon. There is equally a need to interrogate the impact of the deanthropization of landscapes on the wild fauna. In the wake of the plague, we would expect to recover less faunal remains as a whole, as human consumption would have collapsed together with population, before picking up again in the 15th and 16th centuries. Parallel to the abandonment of landscapes by human populations, we would expect the return of wild species which would have been under quite some pressure in highly anthropicized landscapes.
We would expect elephants and wild bovids, but also carnivores such as lions, panthers, or crocodiles, to have benefitted from the anthropic depression, to be again hunted and therefore more visible in the zooarchaeological records of the recovering phase. As such, the over-representation of the large, wild carnivores and herbivores during the Mid—Late Kuulo phase suggests a rebound of the local population and an on-going process of re-penetration by humans especially hunters of lands previously lost to the wild—although the enduring decrease of the number of grains recovered archaeologically from the corresponding contexts suggests the emergence of food strategies less dependent on the cultivation of cereals than previously.
An increasing number of colleagues—historians, archaeologists, and historical linguists in particular—are open to the idea and ready to test some of the principles and reflections suggested here with their own data. If it did not, our project will have been an excellent opportunity to re-open and update a number of important files about the history of Africa during the first and early second millenniums CE and to re-galvanize the study of West Africa before the opening of the Atlantic trade.
If the plague did impact Sub-Saharan Africa, the repercussions for our discipline are potentially so revolutionary that I prefer, in the meantime, to think of them as unfathomable. Achebe, C. Alatas, S. Andrianaivoarimanana, V. A usten , R. Baali, F. Babalola, A. Bascom, W. Bitam, I. Blier, S. Boachie-Ansah, J. Bolle, P. Borsch, S. Bosman, W. Bramanti, B. Collet , M. Schuh eds.
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Making History Adventure Comedy History. Enlisted She states that people experience change as dramatic and complete, rather than as gradual and evolutionary. This sense of a dramatic break is expressed through cargo cult ideology. Lamont Lindstrom takes this analysis one step further through his examination of "cargoism", the discourse of the West about cargo cults.
His analysis is concerned with Western fascination with the phenomenon in both academic and popular writing. In his opinion, the name "cargo cult" is deeply problematic because of its pejorative connotation of backwardness, since it imputes a goal cargo obtained through the wrong means cult ; the actual goal is not so much obtaining material goods as creating and renewing social relationships under threat. Martha Kaplan thus argues in favor of erasing the term altogether. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see Cargo cult disambiguation.
Basic concepts. Case studies. Related articles. Circumscription theory Legal anthropology Left—right paradigm State formation Political economy in anthropology Network Analysis and Ethnographic Problems. Major theorists. Adamson Hoebel Georges Balandier F. Carneiro Henri J. White Eric Wolf. Augustin Calmet Akbar S. London: Basil Blackwell. Cargo Cult: Strange Stories of desire from Melanesia and beyond.
Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Lockwood, V.
New York: Schocken books. Material Religions in Melanesia and the West". Social Analysis. In DeVos, George A. Responses to Change: Society, Culture, and Personality. New York: Van Nostrand. New York: Random House, , pg. Introduction, page 5, second full paragraph. BBC Online. Categories : Cargo cults Millenarianism New religious movements. Hidden categories: Use dmy dates from June All articles with unsourced statements Articles with unsourced statements from December Articles with incomplete citations from May Namespaces Article Talk.
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