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Department of Archaeology

Maili Sita – a 17th century Pastoral Iron Age site in the Lolldaiga Hills, Kenya. Photo: Paul Lane.

This project is a response to calls to build long-term sustainability and resilience into pastoral social-ecological systems in sub-Saharan Africa through provision of deep histories of human-environment interactions. It focuses on collecting and analysing archaeological and related data on the responses of pastoralist communities inhabiting the Laikipia and Leroghi plateaus, northern Kenya, to cycles of extreme drought and enhanced rainfall over the last millennium. The goal is to reconstruct past adaptive strategies and their relative resilience to environmental shocks under different systems of land management, rangeland access, and population and livestock densities. Sites identified by archaeological survey, remote sensing, and oral histories, will be targeted for excavation to collect new material for bioarchaeological and archaeometric analyses. Isotopic and macroscopic analyses of livestock and human remains will be used to reconstruct patterns of diet, mobility and environmental stress; archaeobotanical sampling and lipid analyses to determine other dietary contributions; and elemental analyses of lithics and pottery to reconstruct exchange networks. The results will be used in an iterative manner with local communities, other stakeholders and the local government to identify current major impediments to sustainable pastoralism in the area and sources of socio-ecological vulnerability, and potential strategies for overcoming these.

The project will provide practical training to Kenyan and UK students and community participants in landscape archaeology, geoarchaeology, historical ecology, oral history documentation, and community-based knowledge co-production and data interpretation. It will help build capacity for future parallel studies and the possibility of creating ‘heritage stewards’ in the community to continuing mapping and documenting heritage sites and reporting threats to the relevant county and national authorities.

The project builds on previous studies of the landscape historical ecology and settlement archaeology of the Laikipia and Leroghi Plateaus, Kenya, previously supported by the British Academy, British Institute in Eastern Africa and the Societas Archaeologica Upsaliensis Research Fund.

Funding: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research 2019-21 (Covid-19 extension)

External Collaborators:

  • Dr. Emmanuel Ndiema, Archaeology Division, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi Co-PI.
  • Professor Bilinda Straight, Department of Gender & Women’s Studies, Western Michigan University.
  • Dr Charles Hilton, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
  • Dr Andrew Reid, Institute of Archaeology, UCL.
  • Dr Julie Dunne, Chemistry, Bristol University.
  • Dr Nik Petek-Sargeant, British Museum
  • Hon. Adamson Lanyasunya, Samburu County Assembly, Kenya.

Image: Maili Sita – a 17th century Pastoral Iron Age site in the Lolldaiga Hills, Kenya. Photo: Paul Lane.


McDonald Institute 

Project Lead

Project Tags

Environment, Landscapes and Settlement
Periods of interest: 
Iron Age
Other Historical
Geographical areas: 
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Museum Studies
Material Culture
Human Population Genetics
Human Population Biology and Health
Socio-Politics of the Past
Biomolecular Archaeology
Artefact Analysis & Technology
Archaeological Theory
Field Methods
Heritage Management
Environmental Archaeology, Geoarchaeology, and Landscape studies
Cultural Heritage
Heritage Studies
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