The archaeological site of Jenne-jeno in modern day Mali, offers us great insight to the West African way of life and the impact of the trans-Saharan trade by the North African Arabs.
Jenne-jeno emerged around the 3rd century BCE and by the 1st century CE, it had grown to about 30 acres; by the 9th century CE, it had reached its maximum extent of 82 acres. This is testament to its importance in West African history. From the 16th century to the late 19th century, Jenne-jeno dominated the central delta as a major commercial centre. Linked to Timbuktu by 500 kilometres of navigable river way, Jenne-jeno was a major player in the long-distance trade networks along.
However, through archaeological and literary sources, we have learnt that by 1828 Jenne-jeno was no longer the central point in the gold trade, owing to a westward re-direction of the trade as a result of wars between the Fulani of the Inland Delta and the Bambara of Segou (McIntosh & McIntosh, p.6). Despite this, Jenne-jeno still played an important role in the trans-Saharan trade route.
Iron and slag were present in the earliest levels, indicating that the original settlers at Jenne-jeno knew the use and manufacture of iron. The archaeological record suggests that the gradual abandonment of the site began after the 12th century CE, with complete abandonment accomplished by 1468, at which time the site was garrisoned by the Songhai conqueror Sonni Ali during his siege of Jenne.
Excavations at the site from the late 1970’s have revealed a mass of information and artefacts. The site of Jenne-jeno is a roughly teardrop-shaped mound which rises up to 8 metres above the floodplain of the Inland Niger Delta approximately 3 kilometres southwest of the present-day city of Jenne. It has been estimated that the maximum population the site could hold could is as high as 27,000. This has been done with the use of satellite sites (Connah, p.383).
However, it should be noted that the site has not produced evidence for a stratified social hierarchy or a centralised authority. Because of this lack of information, questions concerning the nature of its socio-political organization have been asked. Scholars have not been able to produce precise answers to these questions at this time.
The archaeological site of Jenne-jeno offers us great insight to the people and the history of Africa. Continual research of the artefacts found at the site and throughout African will provide us with unknown aspects into this fascinating location.
Connah, Graham (2005) The Human Past – Holocene Africa, Thames & Hudson, London.
McIntosh, Roderick J. & McIntosh, Susan Keech (1981) The Inland Niger Delta before the Empire of Mali: Evidence of Jenne-jeno, The Journal of African History, Cambridge university Press.