A dual-diachronic analysis of interregional interaction and boundaries

Material Information

A dual-diachronic analysis of interregional interaction and boundaries the case of Meroë and Aksum in late antiquity
Rhodes, Kharyssa
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246 leaves : illustrations ; 28 cm


Subjects / Keywords:
International relations ( fast )
Relations -- Meroe (Extinct city) -- Aksum (Kingdom) ( lcsh )
Relations -- Aksum (Kingdom) -- Sudan ( lcsh )
History -- Africa, Northeast ( lcsh )
Africa, Northeast ( fast )
Asia -- Aksum (Kingdom) ( fast )
Sudan -- Meroe (Extinct city) ( fast )
History. ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
History ( fast )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 234-246).
General Note:
Department of Anthropology
Statement of Responsibility:
by Kharyssa Rhodes.

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Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
45553087 ( OCLC )
LD1190.L43 2000m .R46 ( lcc )

Full Text
kharyssa rhodes
B.A., Rhode Island College, 1995
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts

This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Kharyssa Rhodes
has been approved
Tammy Stone
L. Antonio Curet
3 i, Z0oCj

rhodes, kharyssa (M.A., Anthropology)
A Dual-Diachronic Analysis of Interregional Interaction and Boundaries:
The Case of Meroe and Aksum in Late Antiquity
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Dr. Tammy Stone
This project studies interregional interaction in Northeast Africa in
Late Antiquity (circa 750 bce to ce 400). Specifically, the relationship
between two little-studied African kingdoms, the Kingdom of Kush
(750BCE to 350CE) and the Kingdom of Aksum (100BCE to 750CE), is
explored from a post-Processual perspective.
Previous work in this area has focused upon the supposed Aksumite
invasion of the Kushitic Meroitic Kingdom (300BCE to 350CE) and its
subsequent collapse. This focus has been so narrow as to exclude
consideration of other forms of interaction between these two kingdoms
prior to the Meroitic collapse. In addition, their relationship historically has
been divorced from the wider context of Mediterranean society. It is my
belief that the relationship between the Kingdoms of Kush and Aksum has
been understudied and poorly represented in Archaeology, as well as in
Classical, Aksumite, and Meroitic Studies.
Using Dialectics as a basic theoretical framework, the relationship
between the Kushite and Aksumite kingdoms is reconsidered from an
archaeological perspective. Boundary Theory in Culture-History and
Processualism will be critically reviewed, and a new post-Processual
theory of boundaries is proposed. In this new theory, boundaries are
reconceptualized as meaningfully constituted. This perspective opens an
avenue of approach to the study of interregional relationships that is at
once contextual, multi-scalar and multi-vocal. As such, the relationship
between the Kingdoms of Meroe and Aksum is considered from several
perspectives. First, their relationship is examined as it stands in historical
orthodoxy. This perspective purposely includes the entire region of
northeast Africa, the kingdoms of Aksum, Egypt and Kush, and synthesizes
the viewpoints of all three societies in a running narrative of 1150 years of
history. Second, settlement pattern analysis is conducted for the region

over the same time period. ArcView GIS is used to create maps and
conduct statistical analyses. The settlement pattern analysis is integrated
with the evidence from history in order to bring a different line of evidence
into the explanation of interregional relationships. Third, an exploratory
data analysis is conducted to illustrate test implications of the proposed
boundary theory. ArcView GIS is utilized in the creation of this model.
Unfortunately, data for the study region is extremely limited, precluded a
detailed application of this model. However, two additional lines of
artifactual evidence for the relationship between the kingdoms of Kush and
Aksum are offered. Finally, the arguments presented from these three
perspectives are then combined in a final examination of the relationship
between the Kushite and Aksumite Kingdoms. Several episodes in this
relationship are reinterpreted and some changes to orthodoxy suggested.
It is hoped that the contextual, multi-scalar and multi-vocal
perspectives discussed herein will introduce a more accurate telling of this
relationship into Meroitic, Aksumite, and Classical Studies. It is also my
hope that the Postprocessual model of boundary studies presented in
theory and simulation will result in a reconsideration of this phenomenon in
Archaeological discourse.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.

This thesis is dedicated to the memory of Antoinette Ratisbonne and her
devoted widower, Marcel. In the absence of their own offspring, both
dedicated their lives to the betterment of this particular niece. Their love of
knowledge and respect for education translated into the most loving
insistence that I attend college and work towards a higher degree. Over the
last 9 years, both have continued to encourage my participation in
academia. They led lives full of adventure and travel and have implanted
upon my mind a love of culture and peoples. Matante, tu me manques
This thesis is also dedicated to the memory of my beloved grandfather
Lucien Desjardins. A decorated veteran of World War II, he was a
successful entrepreneur. My childhood protector, he courageously endured
years of a painful, disabling illness in quiet dignity. Mon tadore.
Antoinette passed away just prior to the completion of this thesis. Her spirit
of adventure lives on in me..
Lucien passed away just before my defense. I aspire to his tenacity of spirit
and love for life.
Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a
hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible
before handing it on to future generations.
- George Bernard Shaw-

No thesis would be complete without thanking the many people who
assisted, in one way or another, with its production. First I would like to
thank my advisor, Dr. Tammy Stone, for her unfaltering patience. She
allowed me to find my own path to this topic and through this thesis, yet
was always ready to guide and motivate when such help was needed. Also
I would like to thank Connie Turner, the departments invaluable
administrator, for listening to me rant, rave, cry, and boast and for the
many kind words that followed from her lips.
Many thanks also go out to my fellow graduate students at the
University. Ours was a tightly knit group which provided mutual support,
advice and frequent grande-non-fat-half-chocolate-no-whip mochas. Jenn
Murphy, Jen Stuht, Louise Elinoff, Sandy Gardner, Dave Mayer, Lovella
Learned-Kennedy, and Paul Shen-Brown I thank you all for keeping me
sane and focused. Extra special thanks to Jenn Murphy for compiling the
bibliography and figures; and to Louise Elinoff for proof-reading the first

A special thanks to Rochelle Williams of the United States Army
Forces Command who helped me through a handful of ArcView quirks and
guided the creation, use, and interpretation of spatial statistics.
Thanks also to the students who weathered ANTH 1302:
Introduction to Archaeology lab. Over three semesters these students
helped me develop a teaching style and in doing so, taught me more than I
ever taught them.
Thanks goes also to the Drs. (Fluehr) Lobban for their unwavering
support and wise counsel over years. Since 1991, I have been privileged to
call them mentors and embrace them as family. For all this and more I
thank them heartily.
A word of thanks as well to the Smithsonian Museum of African Art
for use of their fantastic library and for generously allowing abuse of their
photocopy machine. The Library of Congress was equally helpful and I
thank their staff for the assistance they provided. Also, I would like to thank
the Department of Anthropology and Geography at Rhode Island College
for use of their reading room and photocopy machine on my occasional
Finally I want to thank the folks from the Phinished Board, an online
chat room for graduate students. Members of Phinished were always quick

and accurate with advice, encouragement, sympathy, and the occasional
kick in the pants. I look forward to doing my dissertation with such a
remarkable group of staunch supporters behind me.
An old African proverb states that it takes a village to raise a child.
Surely it can be said as well that it takes a village to write a thesis.

Figures............................................................ xiii
Tables............................................................... xv
1. A Dual-Diachronic Analysis of Interregional Interaction and
Boundaries: Introduction.............................................. 1
1.1 A Remarkably Survivable Fall from the Mesa Table: My
Perspective on Science and a Humanistic Archaeology................. 2
1.2 Sticking My Tongue Out at Authority: The Proverbial, and
Dialectical, Raspberry................................................ 6
1.3 What are We Chasing?: An Introduction to the Research and
Case Study............................................................ 9
2. Boundaries, Ethnicity, and Interaction: A Sincere Critique from a
Humorous Perspective................................................. 14
2.1 The Archaeological Abstraction of Boundaries and Frontiers...... 14
2.1.1 Culture-History and the Phony Tunnel........................... 15
2.1.2 Processualism and the Unseen Precipice......................... 17
2.1.3 The Postprocessual Conversation................................ 26
2.2 Social Identity and the Perception of Ethnicity in Archaeology. 29
2.2.1 Culture-History and A Clever Disguise.......................... 29
2.2.2 Processualism and the Merciless Tease.......................... 31

2.2.3 The Postprocessual Vaudeville Extravaganza.................... 34
2.2.4 Discussion.................................................... 37
2.3 Interaction as a Catalyst to Identity Formation and Boundary
Maintenance......................................................... 38
2.3.1 Culture-History, Processualism, and the Rocket Less-
Traveled............................................................ 39
2.3.2 Postprocessual Sky Rockets in Flight.......................... 41
2.4 Conclusion..................................................... 43
3. Synthesis: A New Perspective on the Study of Boundaries........... 44
3.1 A New Brand of Birdseed: A Postprocessual Standpoint............. 47
3.2 Building a Better Bird Trap: Its all in the Blueprint Design. 50
3.2.1 Feather and Beaks: Pattern versus Process..................... 50
3.2.2 Some Long-Eared Definitions................................... 51
3.3 Executing the Perfect Plan: Methodology......................... 54
3.3.1 Identity Formation and Material Culture Style................. 55
3.3.2 Recognizing the Rabbit in Drag: An Introduction to the Case
Study............................................................... 60
4. The Context of History: The Relationship Between the Meroitic,
Aksumite, and Egyptian Kingdoms..................................... 62
4.1 Getting Started: A General Introduction to the Region............ 63
4.2 The Ascendance of Meroe: The Eighth to First Centuries BCE.... 66

4.3 A Shaky Beginning: The First Centuries BCE and CE........... 71
4.4 Things Fall Apart: The Second to Fourth Centuries CE......... 80
4.5 Cultural Continuity: The Fourth to Sixth Centuries CE........ 93
4.6 Conclusion...................................................... 96
5. The Context of Space: Settlement Patterns......................... 99
5.1 The Regional Environment....................................... 101
5.1.1 Regional Terms................................................ 101
5.1.2 Area Terms.................................................... 102
5.1.3 Discussion.................................................... 104
5.2 Meroitic and Aksumite Patterns................................. 108
5.2.1 Spatial Analysis.............................................. 111
5.2.2 A Diachronic Spatial Analysis of the Region................ 113
5.2.3 Conclusion.................................................... 136
6. The Context of Material: Boundaries and Group Identity........ 139
6.1 Back to the Drawing Board: Testing Expected Artifact
Distributions....................................................... 140
6.1.1 Boundary Models............................................... 143
6.2 An Imperfect World: Further Lines of (Remarkable) Evidence.. 153
6.2.1 Kushite Artifacts in Aksum; Aksumite Artifacts in Kush....... 155
6.2.2 Archers Looses............................................... 160
6.3 Conclusion..................................................... 174

7. Revising the Instruction Manual: New Perspectives on the
Relationships Between the Kingdoms of Meroe, Aksum, and Egypt... 176
7.1 The Oscillating Loaded Cannon: Points of Contention........ 177
7.1.1 Relations with Ptolemaic Egypt........................... 179
7.1.2 Relations with Roman Egypt............................... 180
7.1.3 Relations with Aksum........................................ 182
7.2 Blowing Yourself to Smithereens: A Conclusion................. 186
7.2.1 The Case Study.............................................. 187
7.2.2 Waving Goodbye.............................................. 188
A. Maps.......................................................... 190
B. Site Database................................................. 201
C. The Aezana Inscription........................................ 215
D. A Summary Report.............................................. 216
References........................................................ 234

4.1 An Integrated Regional Chronology............................... 69
5.1 750 BCE Settlement Pattern and Density Analysis............. 114
5.2 750 BCE Site Distribution by Environmental Zone................ 115
5.3 500 BCE Settlement Pattern and Density Analysis................ 116
5.4 500 BCE Site Distribution by Environmental Zone................ 117
5.5 300 BCE Settlement Pattern and Density Analysis................ 118
5.6 300 BCE Site Distribution by Environmental Zone................ 120
5.7 50 BCE Settlement Pattern and Density Analysis................. 121
5.8 50 BCE Site Distribution by Environmental Zone................. 123
5.9 50 CE Settlement Pattern and Density Analysis.................. 124
5.10 50 CE Site Distribution by Environmental Zone............. 127
5.11 300 CE Settlement Pattern and Density Analysis............... 129
5.12 300 CE Site Distribution by Environmental Zone............... 131
5.13 400 CE Settlement Pattern and Density Analysis............... 133
5.14 400 CE Site Distribution by Environmental Zone............... 135
5.15 A Diachronic View of Regional Settlement Patterns and Density
Analysis........................................................ 138

6.1 The Distribution of Artifacts in Cases of (Normal) Interaction
6.2 The Distribution of Artifacts in Normal Interaction.........
6.3 The Distribution of Artifacts in Cases of Elite Interaction.
6.4 The Distribution of Artifacts in Elite Interaction..........
6.5 The Distribution of Artifacts in Combined Interaction.......
6.6 The Distribution of Artifacts in Interaction without Direct
6.7 A Meroitic Vessel Decorated with an Archery Motif...........
6.8 Meroitic Projectile Points..................................
6.9 Archers Looses.......................
6.10 Apedemak, Chief Diety of Meroe.............................
6.11 King Shorkaror.............................................
6.12 Archers Loose Types.......................................
6.13 The Distribution of Archer's Looses........................
6.14 Distribution of Type 1 Archers Looses by Region...........
6.15 Distribution of Type 2 Archers Looses by Region...........
6.16 Distribution of Type 3 Archers Looses by Region...........

5.1 Time Segments Chosen for Settlement Patterns Study.......... 111
6.1 Kushitic Finds in Aksum..................................... 157
6.2 Aksumite Finds in Kush...................................... 158

1. A Dual-Diachronic Analysis of Interregional
Interaction and Boundaries: Introduction
Archaeology is not so much a self-contained
discipline as it is a system of specialized
techniques and methods for the acquisition and
interpretation of such data. The process of
archaeological operation must select for its
basic theoretical concepts the relevant
theoretical premises of the historical and
anthropological sciences; there probably cannot
be a single conceptual framework of
archaeology underlying all of its manifold
operations. (Chang 1968:1)
Introductions lately have been relegated to a rather formulaic place
in the writing process. As a Postprocessualist, I find such delimitations to
be artificially limiting. A thesis is more than a compendium of a years work:
it is a process of learning as well as one of personal growth. Therefore, my
thesis is a reflection of my personality, and a journal of personal
revelations, tributes, triumphs, and failures. It is in this spirit that I begin this
study with a preface of sorts, which seeks to introduce the reader to my
own philosophy, as well as to the research conducted.

This thesis is a study of interregional interaction in northeast Africa
at the turn of the first millennium. Specifically, the relationship between the
kingdoms of Meroe, Aksum, and Egypt is studied from a diachronous and
multi-vocal perspective. Such an approach requires a theoretical basis that
is inclusive rather than limitingone that allows for mutual authority and
critical examination. This philosophy is provided by Dialectics.
1.1 A Remarkably Survivable Fall from
the Mesa Table: My Perspective
on Science and a Humanistic Archaeology
I do not agree with the pronunciation of Postprocessual archaeology
as non or un-scientific (Binford 1986). In a wonderful article titled The
Scientific Nature of Post-processualism (VanPool and VanPool 1999), the
authors argue that despite its reputation, Processualism is no more
scientific than Postprocessualism the two simply employ the concept of
science in a different manner. Indeed they say that Postprocessualism is
more scientific than Processualism (VanPool and VanPool 1999:48). Some
Processualists would argue that the more humanistic Postprocessual
approach is unable to provide useful or rigorous insight into the
archaeological record (VanPool and VanPool 1999:34; see also Binford
1986). However, this argument is at least inflammatory and at worst
downright hostile. In fact, most Postprocessualists do not reject scientific

thinking at all: they simply reject the perception of science as an inflexible
standard which confines research questions and approaches (VanPool and
VanPool 1999:34). In the majority of studies I have read by admitted
Postprocessualists, and in my experience documented herein, there is an
obvious struggle with orthodox science. So what is science? Some argue
that science is a subjective philosophy while others insist it is a rigorous
modus operandi. However, the more appropriate question is: what is
science for archaeology? Given our goals, what does science bring to our
discourse? Of course, this question might be answered from a
paradigmatic perspective if one purports that Processual and
Postprocessual archaeologies have fundamentally different goals. But are
they really so different? Do not both paradigms, including their cousins
Political Economy and Cognitive Archaeology, ultimately hope to explain
human behavior through the study of material remains? So what role does
science play in our pursuit of this goal?
It seems to me that science, for archaeology at least, is a tool of
research. As such, I believe that science must be employed with a sense of
the postmodern dialogue: one that emphasizes the mutual authority of the
participants in its narrative. After all, we are in a sense engaged in a
conversation with the material remains of our subjects. Science seems to

me to be best understood as an informant who we poke and cajole (and
sometimes bribe) into revealing the secrets of the past. Just as it would be
unrealistic to expect a living informant to conform to our expectations, it
would also be unrealistic to expect science to meet every need of our
discipline. Alternatively, I believe that it would be unrealistic to expect our
discipline to meet the expectations of a positivistic science. By turning this
argument around, it becomes clear that archaeologists have a very narrow
and inaccurate view of science (VanPool and VanPool 1999:40). So then
our expectations of science for Archaeology are constructed by our own
epistemology. Science is just not easily defined. In fact, it may be easier to
conceive of our definition of science as a term akin to culture: one that is
fluid, uncertain, and subject to revision when deemed necessary. With this
measure of flexibility, science becomes not a yardstick by which to criticize
but a guideline by which to operationalize ones methodology.
Therefore, the science employed here is conceived of as a mode of
thought tolerable to the actions of archaeological inquiry. Not all thinking
must be scientific, but all science must be well thought-out. Reasoning
which is not strictly scientific is merely reasoning which, though it can be
fully explained and appreciated, may not be easily replicated. This type of
thought is no less valuable to archaeology just because it does not conform

to the rigors of a positivistic scientific inquiry. Explanations of human
behavior derived from this reasoning are equally important because they
introduce a human element into our work: that of experience and intuition.
Archaeology is a discipline well posed to consider the
consequences of such radical accusations as unscientific on a paradigm
which purposively studies human behavior. Archaeology is enriched in that
it can be both a scientific and humanistic discipline. Further, the dichotomy
we have created between science and humanism is a false one. False
dichotomy is a phrase used more than once in this study, and one that I
feel merits some explanation. Oftimes, authors use this catch phrase to
indicate dissatisfaction with arguments for either side of the present
argument (here science and humanism; elsewhere pattern and process). I
agree with Gould (1999) when he accuses dichotomy of being an old game
that is used to undermine mutually valid arguments. Any student of a
theoretical paradigm can see how dichotomies are set up and perpetuated
as a means of providing legitimization for dogmatic thinking on one side or
another. Confining archaeological research to a single conceptual
framework is, in my opinion, nothing short of unrealistic. Thus, I believe
that dichotomies are false because they preserve a manner of thought

which generally requires one to choose between valid arguments -as if all
of theorizing can be reduced to simple yes or no choices.
In many ways, the legacy we have inherited from Positivism to think
in purely yes or no terms has deemed fence-sitting an appropriate
compromise. However, because the dichotomy between science and
humanism (among other pairs) is false, there is no fence upon which to sit.
I believe that the best alternative is to a thought process that allows for
multiple perspectives without dichotomous positioningwhere mutual
authority is recognized yet subject to criticism. This thought process results
in archaeological studies that demonstrate improved insight from the
strength of its multiple perspectives. Thus, I believe that Archaeology
should embrace its cacophony of voices and run with it on the road to
progress. This is the philosophy offered in dialectical archaeology.
1.2 Sticking My Tongue Out at Authority:
The Proverbial, and Dialectical, Raspberry
The basic epistemology of the dialectical approach "conceives of
thought and reality as existing in a reflexive, inter-effective relationship;
thought structures reality, and vice versa" (Saitta 1989:39). Thought is but
one aspect of the totality, in which all manner of social processes (political,
economic, cultural, etc.) are embedded. Each process in this social totality

can only be understood "as a product of the combined influence of all the
others, which continually shape and change it" (Saitta 1989:39). This view
of society as a complex web of internal relations, acknowledges that these
relations are not independent of the individuals embedded in those
relations (McGuire and Saitta 1996); these individuals consciously create
and construct society. For this reason, I believe that dialectics fits well with
the Postprocessual conception of culture as meaningfully constituted. As
such, dialectics embraces history as a critical element in that construction.
Because thought is seen as a constituent of social totality, dialectics
"implies that no science or theory can capture the singular truth about
reality or social existence" (Saitta 1989:39). Hence, dialectics reject the
dichotomy between science and humanism (among other pairs) as "a false
one that serves only to obscure the dialectic between reality and
consciousness, past and present, facts and values" (McGuire and Saitta
1996:200). The dialectic approach simply does not force one to choose
between yes and no, nor does it proclaim maybe a valid iteration. Rather, it
fosters a logic that accepts other approaches as mutually authoritative
applications of science which are, nonetheless, subject to critique, debate,
and, even, rejection (Saitta 1989). Dialectics fits so well with my own

personal thinking on the matter (outlined above) that I cannot deny its role
in this study.
To adopt the dialectic approach is to attempt reconceptualization of
established 'facts' (Saitta 1989). In this thesis, the reader will watch me
struggle and stumble in my attempt to apply this idea to the study of
interregional interaction in northeast Africa. Thus, I approached this study
with the intention of finding the best possible solution to the questions
posed given the material available. Therefore, while I feel that my thinking
fits best in the Postprocessual paradigm, it is not the panacea I may imply
it to be. Postprocessualism is demanding of data, and in its absence can
be reduced to mere speculation. Dialectics recognize that the
"archaeological record holds out disparate, disordered fragments of
empirical raw material that must be assigned meaning" (Saitta 1989:40).
Thus, I expect that, like the Coyote chasing the Roadrunner, I will plunge
off a mesa or two in my attempt to grab hold of some premature answers. I
expect these answers to be as fleeting as the pesky Roadrunner himself.
However, while the Coyote never catches his prey, after fifty years of
fruitless hunting he has yet to starve to death before our eyes. Likewise,
Archaeology has persisted through many a lost meal over the last century.

But we have the hope of future success to motivate our passion. I expect to
survive my falls from the mesa-top, even if slightly disoriented and scarred.
1.3 What are We Chasing?: An Introduction to the
Research and Case Study
The main research question studied in these pages is not so much a
question or a hypothesis as it is a quest for explanations beyond those
traditionally offered. Particularly, I am interested in interregional interaction
in a part of the world which, despite one hundred and fifty years of
archaeological work, remains virtually unknown to most archaeologists.
The Kingdom of Meroe (300 BCE to 350 CE) is but one of three major
states that occupied northeast Africa at the turn of the first millennium.
South of the well-known Kingdom of Egypt, the Meroitic Kingdom bordered
another little known kingdom, that of Aksum. My chief interest lies in the
relationship between the Meroitic and Aksumite kingdoms. Thus my first
intention is to bring these obscure and unique kingdoms into the fold of
mainstream archaeology. Second, I hope that in achieving this goal I will
bring an archaeological perspective to an area that has typically been
dominated by Egyptologists and Art Historians. Nubian (or Kushite) Studies
are often seen as a tangential outgrowth of Egyptology. This region is
rarely approached and interpreted from the perspective of African Studies.

Therefore, my second goal In this study is to provide an alternative,
Afrocentric, interpretation of the relationship between the kingdoms of
Meroe and Aksum.
Theoretically, I found it most useful to approach this study from the
perspective of boundary studies. In studying interregional relationships,
archaeologists typically begin by circumscribing the societies involved.
Many early archaeologists assumed that the distribution of material culture
remains accurately represented the extent of that society, and they set
boundaries based on this distribution. Others chose to delimit areas within
a society by demarcating cores from frontiers and peripheries. Once
defined, the relationship between whole societies, or between a single
societys core and frontier, was examined through trade. As tangible
evidence of interaction, imported goods were sourced and relationships
were simply inferred from their presence.
Recently, a different approach to the questions has been made
possible. The emergence of the Postprocessual paradigm offers a new
perspective on the study of regional relationships. From this perspective,
boundaries are not circumscribed so much as they are analyzed, in and of
themselves, as a product of group identity. Identity itself, as a situational
and historical construction resulting from the perceived and presented

differences of one group to another, results from interaction. Thus it is
proposed that boundaries are not abstract lines but are meaningfully
constituted zones of interaction which can be recognized in the distribution
of emblemically-charged artifacts. The reliance of this approach on context
calls for consideration of multiple avenues of analysis. Therefore, this study
employs three main methods in pursuit of its goal. First a multi-vocal
historical narrative of interaction is presented. This is followed by analysis
of regional and intra-regional settlement patterns. Finally, a simulation of
boundary analysis is presented, and proceeded by an examination of
available data. Accordingly, the thesis is structured as follows:
Chapter Two: Boundary theory is critically reviewed through the
three major paradigms: Culture History, Processualism, and
Postprocessualism. This discussion leads to consideration of identity (or
ethnicity) as a primary catalyst in boundary formation and maintenance.
Lastly, paradigmatic views of interaction are discussed as they pertain to
social identity and boundary formation.
Chapter Three: A new perspective on boundaries is proposed from
a synthesis of the Postprocessual perspectives on boundaries, identity,
and interaction. A methodology focusing on the distribution of emblemic
artifacts is proposed. It is argued that this methodology must be grounded

in a contextual and diachronic framework that is simultaneously multi-
scalar and multi-vocal. Finally, a model for the study of the relationship
between the Meroitic and Aksumite kingdoms is presented.
Chapter Four. The first stage of the study, that of historical context,
is introduced. A detailed narrative of 1150 years of interaction between the
kingdoms of Meroe, Aksum, and Egypt is presented. This narrative is told
from the standpoint of orthodoxy; however, the three individual
perspectives of the societies involved in the study region are interwoven in
the narrative in order to approach this history from a multi-vocal
Chapter Five: A settlement pattern study, the second stage of the
study, is reported. Encompassing the same time span as chapter four, the
settlement pattern for the region is discussed diachronically. In set
increments through that time period, the pattern evinced is subject to
statistical tests in ArcView GIS software. A new strategy for area
delineation in nearest neighbor analysis is illustrated. Lastly, the results of
these tests are reported and integrated in discussion with the forgoing
culture history. Some nuances in interregional relations are investigated.
Chapter Six: The final stage of the study, that of boundary analysis,
is presented. The methodology outlined in chapter three is subjected to

exploratory data analysis with ArcView GIS Spatial Analyst. Test
implications are discussed. Regrettably, there was insufficient data for a
detailed application of this model to the study region. Instead, two
additional lines of artifactual evidence are discussed. First, the handful of
Kushitic artifacts found in the Aksumite Kingdom, and the even fewer
Aksumite artifacts found in the Kushite Kingdom, are examined. Second,
the distribution of archers looses, a Kushitic weapon accessory, is studied.
Both lines of evidence are discussed drawing on information revealed
through chapters four and five.
Chapter Seven: The thesis is concluded with a synthesis of the
previous three chapters. Following the increments set forth in chapter five,
the evidence presented at each level and scale of analysis is combined
and summarized in a final examination of the relationship between the
Meroitic and Aksumite kingdoms. The myriad of contradictions between the
orthodox view of their relationship and the archaeological evidence
revealed by the model are discussed. Finally, reconsideration of several
instances in this orthodoxy is proposed. Concluding remarks are made on
the proposed theory and methods for the study of boundaries. New and
additional directions for this research are suggested.

2. Boundaries, Ethnicity, and Interaction:
A Sincere Critique from a Humorous Perspective
The history of humanity has always been a race
between learning and disaster. (H.G. Wells)
Central to consideration of the relationship between the Kingdoms of
Meroe, Aksum, and Egypt is review of the different theories brought to bear
on the question posed. In this chapter, three main bodies of archaeological
work are critically examined. First, boundary theory, as it was utilized in
Culture History and Processualism, is reviewed. This is followed by
discussion of the Postprocessualist perspective, which introduces
consideration of identity (ethnicity) formation in the creation of boundaries.
Third, theories of ethnicity in the three major paradigms are examined.
Inclusive in the Postprocessual perspective is interaction. Thus, Interaction
Theory is briefly reviewed as it relates to the phenomenon of boundaries.
2.1 The Archaeological Abstraction of Boundaries
and Frontiers
The study of boundaries and frontiers has been extremely limited in
Archaeology. As a specialized topic of study, only a handful of articles and

books deliberately focus on the theoretical implications of boundaries and
frontiers. In this section, past scholarship within the paradigms of Culture-
History, Processualism, and Postprocessualism on this topic is considered.
Much like the cartoons in which Wile E. Coyote fails time and again to
catch the elusive Roadrunner, Archaeology has failed time and again to
capture cultural boundaries. Failed methods logically point the way to
success. So how has the Coyote tried to catch that Roadrunner?
2.1.1 Culture-History and The Phony Tunnel
Confident in their ability to determine the bounds of culture, Culture-
History is forever deceived by the efficacy of its own ploy. As a paradigm it
paints its picture of culture on the surface in an attempt to capture
boundaries. In the end, that picture becomes an all too real failure and the
Coyote, blindly pursuing the Roadrunner, runs heedlessly into a
mountainside cleverly disguised as a tunnel.
The importance of boundary and frontier studies in Culture-History
is, like our tunnel, a deceptive one. There is no explicit definition of the
phenomena in this paradigm apart from an unabashed desire to identify
distinct social groups from the archaeological record (De Atley 1984).
Under this paradigm, predetermined degrees of similarity in material
culture assemblages serve as the basis for differentiating social units.

There is no consideration of why these differences exist and what they
mean. An afterthought more than a focus of study, boundaries are simply
induced from the pattern of assumedly homogenous material culture
remains (Paynter 1985). The extent of this distribution is then equated with
ethnic, tribal, or language groups (De Atley and Findlow 1984).
Culture-Historys reliance on pattern recognition as the first stage in
the archaeological interpretation of boundaries is widely criticized by
Processualists. Pattern-oriented studies carry three major assumptions
(Green and Perlman 1985). First, they assume that a limited set of patterns
will be found; thereby condemning culture to an artificial set of
expectations. Second, this limitation conveys an underlying assumption
that material remains function only to characterize internal group affiliation.
These two assumptions lead, finally, to a normative view of culture.
By delineating social groups in this manner the study of boundaries
is frustrated. Once an archaeological culture is defined, it carries with it
the theoretical implication of closure (Green and Perlman 1985:6). In this
implied closure it follows that culture is seen as a discrete entity easily
distinguished from others by simply looking at a map. What is more, it
connotes a static situation. This denies the true nature of culture as a
complex phenomenon by reducing the study of cultural groups to that of

description and classification (Jones 1997). Boundaries are merely a by-
product of this description.
Thus, Culture-History models of boundaries and frontiers are
equivalent in our imaginations to that phony tunnel. In an attempt to catch
the Roadrunner (Culturus boundarus) the Coyote (Culturus historius
delusionus) slams into that poorly painted tunnel. In the meantime, the
Roadrunner speeds through the deception with ease and a hearty beep-
beep, escaping interpretation and defying delimitation.
2.1.2 Processualism and The Unseen Precipice
Paint and paintbrush aside, the Processualist Coyote runs headlong
after the Roadrunner. Convinced of the superiority of process, he is
confident in his ability to overtake the bird. Unfortunately, Processualism
inevitably loses sight of the road (or culture) beneath its very feet. Looking
down, he is shocked to find that the road has disappeared. Waving a pitiful
goodbye, he plummets to the bottom of a deep ravine; only to return shortly
thereafter with another method of capture from Acme Labs (a division of
Binford Co., Inc.).
Rejecting the Culture-History manner of delimiting boundaries,
Processualism approaches the phenomenon with a fresh set of
assumptions. From its inherently systemic perspective, boundaries were

envisioned as peripheral zones marked by great variability in the
archaeological record. Processualists pursue this new and improved
Roadrunner with dogmatic assurance. Two major studies have been
published in this paradigm and they will be treated separately here. Exploring the Canyon Limits
Exploring the Limits: Frontiers and Boundaries in Prehistory (De
Atley and Findlow 1984) marks a turning point in the archaeological study
of boundaries and frontiers. The pursuit of the phenomena becomes
explicit. Boundaries are conceived of as the focus of investigation rather
than a static by-product of description and classification (De Atley 1984).
Boundaries are seen, not as characteristic dividing lines per se, but
as a reflection of the internal organization of the cultural group (De Atley
1984:5). This boundary is defined as a frontier, a concept borrowed from
geography. Frontiers are marginal areas: distant boundaries that are
established and maintained by the homeland (or core) in the act of
territorial expansion (Trinkaus 1984:35). As such, the frontier is dependent
upon, and exploited by, the core. The frontier serves particular functions in
this relationship (De Atley 1984). It provides a growth area for an
expanding core population. It is a buffer zone between two neighboring
societies vying for territory and power. And, it is a source of labor, staples,

status goods or technological resources for the core. Thus the frontier
represents a division between two groups in a societys population: those
who inhabit the core and those who live in the frontier. The frontier group is
seen as an admixture of colonizing individuals from the homeland with the
aboriginal population of the acquired territory. Contact between these two
groups results in cultural differences between the core and the frontier.
Therefore frontier populations represent a unique type of transitional social
group" (De Atley 1984:5).
As such, frontiers are zones rather than discrete entities.
Populations merge [and] or overlap, and therefore they are not truly
separated or unblended" (De Atley and Findlow 1984:3). Frontiers do not
simply demarcate the limits of a culture: they are active (De Atley 1984).
The characteristics of the frontier changes through time as its relationship
with the core changes. The extent of these characteristics, such as
linguistic affiliation, political allegiance, and economic interaction often do
not coincide to form a single unified line of demarcation" (De Atley and
Findlow 1984:1). The establishment of the frontier zone is wholly
dependent upon the integrative and organizational aspects of the core. It is
seen as an integral part of the internal process defining and integrating
cultural units (De Atley and Findlow 1984:3). Thus, interaction and

variability between core and frontier is the focus of investigation (De Atley
1984; Lerner 1984).
Overall, Exploring the Limits is a good attempt to break away from
the normative view of Culture-History. However, the methods advocated in
this book, though optimistic, admittedly fall just shy of explanation.
Because it is based upon a core-frontier scale of analysis, a concept
applicable only to a single society, it has little to offer an interregional,
intersocietal study of boundaries. Thus, the Coyote returns to Acme for
another gadget with which to catch that Roadrunner: The Archaeology of
Frontiers and Boundaries. Boundaries, Frontiers and Cores (Oh My!)
The second publication, The Archaeology of Frontiers and
Boundaries (Green and Perlman 1985), broadens the theoretical basis of
the Processual approach to boundaries and frontiers. This work closely
follows that begun in Exploring the Limits. Here again the relationship
between core and frontier is the focus of study. Importantly, boundaries
and frontiers are differentiated for the first time. Also, an effort is made to
place the study of boundaries and frontiers into the wider discussion of
pattern and process.

Boundaries and frontiers are seen as two distinct phenomena. A
frontier is defined quite literally as the front tier of a society: that part of a
country which fronts another country (Green and Perlman 1985:4).
Frontier studies investigate the peripheries within particular societies and
the characteristics of frontier populations. Frontiers are not discrete, but are
multi-dimensional phenomena (Green and Perlman 1985). Particularly,
frontier studies address questions about the causes of political and
economic expansion into new habitats, and its effects on indigenous and
ecological systems (Green and Perlman 1985:4). As in Exploring the
Limits, frontier studies imply three cultural forms: the frontier, the homeland
and the aboriginal culture impacted by the expanding core. Thus, they
conclude that frontiers are best understood as a set of relations between
these forms (Paynter 1985).
The frontier can also act as a boundary. Although they are not
explicitly defined, boundaries delineate whole societies rather than internal
cultural units. Boundary studies, such as the study of trade, focus on the
social, political, and economic factors that guide the interaction between
societies (Green and Perlman 1985:4). Zones of low interaction mark
system boundaries or frontiers, while zones of no interaction mark model
limits or boundaries (Justeson and Hampson 1985). Thus boundaries and

frontiers are complementary avenues of study. However, despite this
promising new clarity, The Archaeology of Frontiers and Boundaries
continues to use both terms interchangeably.
As a response to the failings of Culture-History, Processualism
created a dichotomy between pattern and process. Processualists, as their
name implies, reject the initial study of pattern in favor of studying
underlying process (Plog and Cordell 1979). As discussed above, pattern-
oriented studies imply a closed conception of culture. In contrast, a
process-oriented approach seeks to develop open models of culture
(Green and Perlman 1985). An open system is one in which matter,
energy, and information are exchanged between elements inside and
elements outside the system (Justeson and Hampson 1985:16). In this
book, the system is confined to that between core and frontier. While
Culture-History begins study of this system by inducing description from
pattern, Processualists begin by deducing explanation from process.
Process is defined as the interaction of causal factors which produce a
given condition... [which is] expressed as behavioral or material traits and
patterns (Green and Perlman 1985:5). Thus process creates patterns.
Operationally, the occurrence of human activity (process) results in an
observable outcome of this activity (pattern). Pattern and process are

logically bound. However, Processualists contend that one cannot
understand pattern without first explaining the process which created it.
Therefore The Archaeology of Frontiers and Boundaries attempts to
explain the process of frontier formation and maintenance by studying
interaction between the open system of core and frontier. Unfortunately for
the authors, it is discovered that in situations of high interaction, or dense
pattern, it is nearly impossible to work from a process-oriented
perspective (Justeson and Hampson 1985:18). In other words, because
process and pattern are embedded concepts they cannot be deconstructed
as easily as is implied by Processualism. Discussion
The deficiencies of the Processual approach revolve around their
failure to properly define and distinguish boundary and frontier. Exploring
the Limits simply does not distinguish between the two at all. Despite the
detailed definition of frontier, the terms are used interchangeably. In The
Archaeology of Frontiers and Boundaries an effort is made to distinguish
boundaries from frontiers. However, the definitions overlap and are
somewhat redundant. Furthermore, they are constructed in terms of
previous definitions that did not properly distinguish between the two.

Unfortunately, it is only a half-hearted effort. Boundaries and frontiers are
consistently confused: their distinction is inconsistently maintained.
In both works discussed, frontier is the main definition adopted. Use
of this definition is problematic at best. Frontiers are informed by an
inherently colonialist perspective. This perspective is characterized by five
theoretical shortcomings.
The definition of frontier places the phenomenon into a confining
systemic framework. As a product of core-periphery interaction, this
perspective necessarily focuses inquiry on the organizational
infrastructure of core-periphery linkages (Lightfoot and Martinez
Boundaries are unnaturally confined to a set scale of analysis: that of
interaction between core and frontier.
The perception of frontiers as marginal areas dependent upon the core
intimates an exploitative and controlling relationship that did not
necessarily exist. The Processual model is implicitly based upon
Central Place Theory, a concept which has been maligned for its
reliance upon dependency theory and assumption of economic
This erroneous assumption leads to "insular models of culture change

treat frontiers as passive recipients of core innovations (Lightfoot and
Martinez 1995:471). Cores, and not frontiers, are seen as active.
Further, "the colonial perspective of territorial expansion, boundary
maintenance, and homogeneous populations implies that tightly
bounded social entities should be visible in the archaeological record
(Lightfoot and Martinez 1995:478). Thus despite the Processual
rejection of pattern-oriented studies, there is a clear "expectation that
frontier boundaries will be visible as discrete clusters or breaks in the
spatial distribution of... material objects" (Lightfoot and Martinez
These internal contradictions illustrate the birth and demise of
Processualist studies of boundaries and frontiers. In addition to those
outlined above there is one final deficiency. Processualist studies only
examine system boundaries and not model boundaries. Their tacit
disregard for boundaries outside the systemboundaries between
societiesreflects the assumptions of general systems theory. It also
reflects a tacit rejection of Culture-History. However, boundaries and
frontiers are not simply internal phenomena. They exist at many scales of
analysis. We can speak of boundaries between genders as well as those

between whole societies. The Processual emphasis on culture as a system
denies the study of boundaries in these cases. In situations where
systemic process is overwhelmed by pattern (as explained by Justeson
and Hampson 1985), the Processual theory is simply inapplicable. I believe
they have lost sight of culture by confining it to the function of adaptation. If
frontiers are not dependent upon cores, interaction becomes a matter of
choice and the bottom drops out of their theoretical barrel.
It is at this point that the Coyote (Processus adaptivus dogmaticus)
stops and scratches his head. Having opened the latest shipment from
Acme, he realizes that the directions are confusing and redundant. Whats
more, whole sections of the new Self-Sprung Super Net are unraveled.
How is he supposed to catch that Roadrunner (Culturus boundarus) now?
2.1.3 The Postprocessual Conversation
Winded and confused, the Postprocessualist examines his
wristwatch and realizes that it is quitting time. He rises and proceeds to a
nearby tree, where he hangs his hat and punches his time card. The
Roadrunner soon follows, and doing the same, greets the Coyote. Relieved
of duty, the two shake hands, exchange pleasantries, and walk arm in arm
into the sunset.

Postprocessualism has recently instigated a return to the theoretical
study of boundaries and frontiers. However, rather than mindless pursuit of
the Roadrunner, Postprocessualists have engaged the elusive bird in
conversation. In the ground-breaking volume The Archaeology of Social
Boundaries (Stark 1998), boundaries become the focus of inquiry. The
concept of frontier, along with its negative implications, is abandoned. The
term boundary is resurrected, dusted off, and reapplied in an appropriate
and meaningful study.
Boundaries are defined as abstractions and social constructs,
recognized differently and for different reasons by people on the basis of
their perceived identity, interests, and social context (Goodby 1998:161).
Postprocessualists embrace the utility of pattern-oriented studies while
recognizing the necessary consideration of process. While Processualists
insist that distributional patterning in the archaeological record could not
be equated with ethnic groups of the past (Stark 1998:3),
Postprocessualists reaffirm the study of stylistic variation and its
association with social groupings. Societies are seen as non-discrete and
situational entities; culture is meaningfully constituted. Thus the
relationship between style and social boundaries is embedded in the
dynamics of particular historical and social contexts (Goodby 1998:162).

While it is recognized that the study of the relationship between style and
social boundaries is problematic, it is not an impossible task.
Postprocessualists argue that the key to understanding social
boundaries is identity, or ethnicity. Because identity is a social and
historical construct, the relationship between interaction and style cannot
be understood by applying decontextualized assumptions (Goodby 1998).
While style and artifact distribution is a valid indicator of social construction,
simply noting the correlation between material culture variability and social
boundaries does little to explain why such relationships do or do not exist
(Goodby 1998:175). In order to understand the social process of identity
construction underlying the pattern created, one must support the evidence
with an independent archaeological argument. According to
Postprocessualists, that argument is provided by a detailed consideration
of the larger cultural and historical context of the society under study
(Goodby 1998:175). Thus, boundaries are not archaeological facts, but are
archaeological constructions of past constructions of identity.
The Coyote (Postus processus contextus) now understands the
Roadrunner (Culturus boundarus historicus). Speaking with the
Roadrunner for long hours after work, he has wisely studied the birds

nature and history. From the fresh perspective of context, he has realized
that the Roadrunner runs only when Coyote chases.
2.2 Social Identity and the Perception of Ethnicity
in Archaeology
Following the Postprocessual association of boundaries with social
identity, this section considers the treatment of social identity, or ethnicity.
As with boundaries and frontiers, study of the phenomena of ethnicity was
extremely limited in Culture-History and Processualism. However, the
study of ethnicity has flourished under Postprocessualism. Again we can
liken the pursuit of ethnicity to a cartoon. As an obvious but previously
overlooked aspect of boundary creation, ethnicity is the Bugs Bunny to
Archaeologys Elmer Fudd. In this regard, ethnicity is sometimes cleverly
disguised and sometimes a malicious tease. In this section, we will
consider past treatment of ethnicity through the paradigms of Culture-
History, Processualism, and Postprocessualism. So how has Bugs
managed to elude the seasoned hunter Elmer?
2.2.1 Culture-History and A Clever Disguise
Doggedly pursued by Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny hatches a plan.
Disguising himself as a blond cabaret dancer, Bugs is able to fool Elmer
and he runs by blindly. After a quick double-take, Elmer retraces his steps

to flirt with the coy girl. Bugs only lets the flirting go so far and before long
he drops his disguise and runs away giggling, leaving a bewildered Elmer
in his wake. Like Bugs Bunny, ethnicity is disguised in the garb of
nationalism in Culture-History. It flirts with their conception of culture but it
does not allow closer examination of its nature nor does it easily reveal
itself. Unaware a trick is being played, Culture-History seems blind to the
importance of ethnicity in and of itself. Rather, their nationalist focus pulls
them away from a more coherent explanation of the phenomenon.
As discussed earlier, Culture-History can be characterized as the
description and classification of the distribution of homogenous material
remains. These distributions are then referred to as cultures, which are
regarded as the product of discrete social entities and equated with ethnic
groups (Jones 1997). Culture-Historians attempted to trace particular
modern groups of people back into prehistory. This perspective represents
a primordial approach to ethnicity where the bonds between individuals
result from the givens of birthblood, language, religion, territory and
culture (Jones 1997:83). Often, the preoccupation of Culture-History with
ethnicity, as studied through this perspective, is associated with the
emergence of nationalism in the early 20th century (Trigger 1989:288).

The equation of ethnicity with culture illustrates the Culture-
Historical treatment of both phenomena as passive reflections of cultural
norms. Ethnicity is objectified in the same manner as is culture: ethnic
groups are regarded as cultural entities with distinct boundaries
characterized by relative isolation and lack of interaction (Jones 1997:57).
Thus, in Culture-History ethnicity is equivalent to the concept of culture.
Culture-History cannot see ethnicity through its thin disguise of culture just
as Elmer fails to recognize the rabbit in womans clothing.
2.2.2 Processualism and the Merciless Tease
Wearied by the hunt and the inevitable tricks, Elmer decides to rest.
It is at this point that Bugs Bunny jumps onto his lap and smothers him with
affection. Angered by the rabbits teasing, Elmer quickly takes aim and
fires. Of course, his aim is terrible and Bugs scurries away unharmed. The
Processual perspective of ethnicity is not far removed from this scenario. In
their study of boundaries, ethnicity jumps from models of core-frontier
interaction. The view of frontier populations as an admixture of homeland
and aboriginal groups belies a cultural and ethnic process. Yet studies of
ethnicity are absent in these models. In fact, it can be said that ethnicity is
largely ignored in Processual studies altogether.

Processual archaeologists dismiss the Culture-History equation of
archaeological cultures with ethnic groups. In fact, Processualism in
general does not regard ethnicity as an important focus of archaeological
inquiry; it was merely seen as the product of an outmoded and
unfashionable archaeological paradigm (Jones 1997:5). Processualists
reject the idea that material artifact distributions could be equated with
ethnic groups because of the potential to confuse functional variability with
ethnic differences (Jones 1997). Instead, Processualists argue that
ethnicity is more than a passive reflection of cultural norms. They contend
that ethnicity is better understood as an aspect of social process. Ethnicity
is viewed as yet another component in the social system" (Jones
1997:28). This process is conceptualized as an aspect of social
organization closely related to inter-group competition (Jones 1997).
Because the Processual perspective is primarily concerned with
competition between adaptive systems, ethnicity becomes a secondary
and inconsequential characteristic of the system.
This perspective also fails to address the relationship between
ethnicity and variation in material culture.
In effect, the problems engendered by equating
ethnicity with culture [faced in culture-history]
were merely transposed to the peripheral
domain of stylistic variation, where spatially and

temporally discrete distributions were
interpreted as a passive reflection of past ethnic
groups. (Jones 1997:113; emphasis added).
Thus, despite their reservations, Processualists continued to
implicitly accept the idea that archaeological distributions are indeed
associated with ethnic groups. What is more, the traditional culture unit as
formulated in Culture-History has survived in Processualism as the basic
unit of description and classification. These units are inevitably shadowed
by the implicit connotation of a corresponding social or ethnic group, even
where such a correlation has been criticized (Jones 1997:27). Therefore,
Processualists can also be criticized for their implicit objectification of
ethnic groups as social and cultural entities with distinct boundaries
characterized by relative isolation and lack of (external) interaction (Jones
Furthermore, the Processual definition of ethnicity as an embedded
social process actively in the process of interaction is essentially empty.
This definition can be applied to any symbolically differentiated group with
a strong sense of identity, such as gender, class and kin-based groupings
(Jones 1997:85). Moreover, this definition is ahistorical. The Processual
conception of ethnicity fails to take into account the wider social and
historical contexts in which identity is constructed (Jones 1997).

Processualism simply fails to take proper methodological aim at this issue.
While ethnicity remains within arms reach, it nevertheless escapes
2.2.3 The Postprocessual Vaudeville
As in the story of the Coyote and Roadrunner, Elmer Fudd and Bugs
Bunny also have their moments of serenity. Just when one believes the
two to be mortal enemies, they prance out on stage as a slapstick comedy
team. Arm in arm and perfectly synchronized, they work together as a team
delivering joke after joke with ease and camaraderie. Similarly
Postprocessual study of ethnicity is equally cooperative.
Postprocessualism engages ethnicity in its conversation with culture.
Rather than working against the concept, ethnicity is embraced as an
important facet of identity construction and the creation of social
Postprocessualists envision ethnicity in a manner similar to their
view of culture: ethnicity is meaningfully constituted. Ethnicity is seen as a
self-defining phenomenon. Thus ethnic identities are shifting, situational,
subjective identifications of self and others (Jones 1997:13-14). These
identities are rooted in ongoing daily practice and historical experience...

(and so are) also subject to transformation and discontinuity" (Jones
1997:13-14). Thus, because historical experience defines social identity,
ethnicity constitutes a diachronic set of shared beliefs and practices.
Logically, it follows that a contextual and historical approach to ethnicity is
Ethnic groups are also self-conscious. They are constructed through
the process of interaction; through social and cultural comparison to others
(Jones 1997). Interaction is the dynamic process of verbal and non-verbal
communication between individuals as well as whole societies. Ethnicity,
as a form of non-verbal communication, is both an aspect of this interaction
and a context for that interaction (Eriksen 1992 in Jones 1997). Therefore,
ethnicity acts to form a social boundary which is established and
maintained by formal social differences.
Because ethnicity is constructed in the process of interaction, ethnic
identity can change through time and from place to place often as a result
of the strategic manipulation of identity with relation to economic and
political interaction (Jones 1997:110). Postprocessualists consider
ethnicity to be a dynamic and instrumental phenomenon. As a form of
communication ethnicity is an active process. The communication of ethnic
identity is accomplished through the use of cultural symbols that are

embedded in material culture (Jones 1997). Therefore, the study of stylistic
variability in material culture is the basis for archaeological interpretation of
Just as ethnicity is both produced and informed by interaction,
stylistic variation in material culture (particularly ethnic referent) is both
produced and informed by style. Thus material culture is actively used in
both the justification and manipulation of ethnicity in the context of
interaction (Jones 1997:110). Indeed, ethnic categories may persist
through time while the material culture involved in the conscious
signification and manipulation of those categories changes (Jones 1997).
Hence the relationship between material culture styles and the expression
of ethnicity may be constantly shifting according to time and place (Jones
1997:122). This creates a challenging scenario in the archaeological study
of stylistic variabilities symbolic to ethnicity. However, a contextual and
historical approach to the analysis of archaeological remains extends our
understanding of those remains. They become an aspect of social practice
and interaction beyond the mere structure and content of material culture
distribution: now they are capable of revealing underlying social process
(Jones 1997).

A study of this type is not beyond archaeology. Just because
something is difficult does not make it impossible. While the meaningful
expression of ethnicity in particular styles of material culture may be
situational, it is not random within specific socio-cultural contexts. Ethnic
symbolism is generated, to varying degrees, from the existing cultural
practices and modes of differentiation characterizing various social
domains (Jones 1997:125). Therefore, context provides the key to
understanding ethnicity. So rather than continuing to chase the concept in
circles, Postprocessualism has befriended that waskily wabbit.
2.2.4 Discussion
Culture-Historys consideration of ethnicity falls into the same trap
as its treatment of boundaries. Unable to see the forest for the trees,
Culture-History unnaturally confined ethnicity to a nationalistic agenda of
primordial association and the bounds of normative culture. On the other
hand, Processualism reduces ethnicity to a teleological argument. They
assume that ethnicity exists only to serve instrumental functions in social
process (Jones 1997). Of course ethnicity functions in social processbut
what does this tell us about its role in the creation and maintenance of

It is clear from the Postprocessual study of ethnicity that the
phenomenon is extremely complex. It is meaningfully constituted through
history and collective group experience. It is constructed through the
process of interaction, which results in the creation of multi-componential
and multi-scalar social boundaries. As a focus of study, boundaries (and
frontiers) have been removed from this dialogue. Perhaps this divorce of
concept is responsible for the lack of coherent boundary theory today.
2.3 Interaction as a Catalyst to Identity Formation
and Boundary Maintenance
Interaction is a term that has been liberally peppered throughout the
previous pages. Because interaction is so thoroughly embedded in the
Postprocessual conception of boundaries and ethnicity, it is quite the task
to extricate it from this matrix. Rather, here, as a final line of inquiry, I will
present the central concepts of interaction as they pertain directly to this
project and to the foregoing (and forthcoming) discussion. This approach is
chosen for two reasons. First, interaction is in itself an enormous topic
covering many points of contention. It is a topic worthy of an entire thesis
all its own. Second, as a study of boundary systems, this project is
primarily interested in interactions role as a catalyst for group identity and
boundary formation (as well as subsequent maintenance).

2.3.1 Culture-History, Processualism, and the
Rocket Less-Traveled
Undaunted by previous failures, the Coyote (Culturus particularus)
sets his sight on a new topic of interest. Foregoing the quick-footed
Roadrunner for less mobile sheep (Culturus interactus), the Coyote only
has to contend with Ralph (Victorianus evolutionus), their canine protector.
The Coyote builds a rocket to elude the dog, from which he imagines he
can handily pluck sheep from the field. He straps himself onto the back and
lights the fuse. At first, the rocket flies wildly sideways and then corrects
itself. Our hero heaves a sigh of relief and targets an erstwhile sheep.
Then, without warning the rocket nosedives into the hard ground of science
and implants itself firmly six feet under -passenger and all.
Speak of interaction and Culture-History in a single breath and any
archaeologist immediately thinks diffusion. Certainly a defining
characteristic of Culture-History, diffusion became something of a four-
letter word after the emergence of Processualism. It is defined as a
process of intersocietal borrowing, and, the principal historic process that
produces diversity (Schortman and Urban 1992:6). Thus, interaction can
be a prime factor of cultural change. As a process, diffusion was based
upon the unpredictability of cultural borrowing. These random acts were
seen as an automaton of interaction; cultural traits spread like infection

with a disease (Childe 1951:168). Diffusion, as an unpredictable,
unsystematic process resulting in diversity, was a naive construct, even in
its own time, and it has been deconstructed many times over (see Trigger
1989). The rocket did flyit just didnt fly straight.
As a reaction to Culture-History, Processualism naturally discarded
the concept of diffusion. However, it did not reject the idea of interaction so
much as it became unimportant to the Processual agenda. As an
outgrowth of Cultural Ecology and neo-Evolutionism, Processualism
answered Stewards call for a return to the study of cross-cultural
regularities (Schortman and Urban 1992). While interaction was never
explicitly ruled out of this agenda,
growing interest in the development of specific
socio-cultural systems and the neo-evolutionary
emphasis on independent invention led many
followers of... the New Archaeology to minimize
the importance of intersocietal contact and
competition. (Trigger 1989:331)
So, like ethnicity, interaction, and interaction studies as a whole,
were laid to the wayside. Generally speaking, any paradigm which seeks
universal laws must regard the historical study of individual societies as
unnecessary to its goal of generalization. Thus, Processualism had no
incentive to develop its own mode of interaction studies. The relationship

between particular societies became a pedantic exercise armchair
archaeology of the inductive and descriptive sort which cannot be
extrapolated to the production of universal laws for relationships are
unique to time and historical context. To Processualists, the rocket of
diffusion was nothing but an oversized firecracker.
2.3.2 Postprocessual Sky Rockets in Flight
From the Postprocessual perspective, it is clear that Processualists
forgot that human populations construct their cultures in interaction with
one another and not in isolation (Wolf 1982:ix). What seems obvious now
is, in retrospect, a denial that was just as naive as diffusionism ever was.
Postprocessual thought not only reifies interaction between societies as a
valid course of inquiry: it considers interaction studies to be an emerging
paradigm of its own (Schortman and Urban 1992). Postprocessualism
discards the Processual view of societies as closed (or tightly bounded)
entities that can be studied independently of one another. Instead they
embrace an open and fluid perception of human groups and thereby pay
more attention to the role played by external stimuli in bringing about
cultural change (Trigger 1989:330).
Peer Polity Interaction (PPI) (Renfrew 1982; Renfrew and Cherry
1986) and World Systems Theory (WST) (Hall and Chase-Dunn 1994)

represent early attempts to break away from a billiard ball (Wolf 1982)
conception of society. Promulgated at the turn of the discipline (from
Processual to Postprocessual), both PPI and WST offered a fresh look at
the effects of interaction on participant societies. However, each approach
has serious drawbacks too conflated to engage here; they have been
sufficiently abrogated elsewhere (see Kohl 1989). The important
development was that Archaeology again looked to interaction as a
potential explanation of cultural change.
While Postprocessual emphasis on open societies has renewed
interest in interaction studies, this emerging paradigm (as it calls itself) is
not yet well-developed (Schortman and Urban 1992). However, many basic
assumptions have been laid out which are useful to this project. This new
perspective on interaction studies is founded upon the notion that
individual societies
are not viable but depend on inputs and from
other societies for survival and reproduction
from generation to generation. (Thus) the form,
structure, and changes observed within any
society cannot be understood without recourse
to these extraregional inputs. (Schortman and
Urban 1992:3)

As a member of such a symbiotic network, the nature of a societys
involvement within, and effect upon, an interaction system will develop,
change, and vary through time (Schortman and Urban 1992).
This approach to interaction, unlike culture history or processualism,
does not assume that societies are the interaction agents. Rather, people
interact. While interaction networks may link one or more societies, it must
be remembered that populations, or segments of populations, were
actually in contact (Schortman and Urban 1992:237). Thus, this approach
to interaction provides a useful framework in which to conceptualize
identity formation and the maintenance of boundaries.
2.4 Conclusion
In this chapter, archaeological theories on boundaries, identity
(ethnicity), and interaction were critically reviewed through the paradigms
of Culture History and Processualism. The faulty assumptions and
consequential failures of their respective approaches were discussed at
length. The Postprocessual perspective on these topics was introduced as
an alternative to the failed approaches of these earlier paradigms. In the
chapter following, a new perspective on the study of boundaries is
synthesized from the Postprocessual approaches to boundaries, identity
and interaction.

3. Synthesis: A New Perspective on the Study
of Boundaries
When one door closes another door opens.
(Alexander Graham Bell)
Dialectics state that society is a complex web of internal relations in
which all manner of social processes are embedded and entwined (Saitta
1989). The facets of this social totality continually shape, inform, and
change each other as the individuals behind them construct a cultural
reality. Likewise, boundaries are caught up in a set of complex embedded
and entwined internal relations. Boundaries reflect and reify the process of
interaction which in turn reflects and reifies the self-conscious formation of
ethnic identity. Regardless of scale, they are inseparable companions.
Boundaries inform these processes. Simultaneously, interaction, ethnicity,
and the boundaries they form, are mutual informants. Here is how it works:
Interaction results in the recognition of social differences, or ethnic

These identities are perceived of as social boundaries, which reflect
and reify ethnic identity.
The communication of ethnic identity in the process of that interaction is
symbolically articulated through material culture.
The distribution of symbolically charged material culture acts as both an
indicator of this boundary and a mechanism for its maintenance.
Because the boundary acts to maintain ethnic differences it informs all
future interactions.
As the society moves through time, creating its history and gaining
experience, ethnic identity shifts to accommodate new constructions of
self and group.
These shifts affect the relationships between ethnic groups and their
Boundaries react to these shifts and thus reflect the nature of societal
change while reifying them.
In this complex relationship, interaction can be envisioned as an
intricate spiders web. The many silken threads which comprise this web
intersect at many different points. This web is historically constructed and
situationally transformed. It vibrates with dynamic tension, it stretches and

changes shape over time, and it accommodates the behavior that
produced its structure. Thus boundaries are flexible constructions, as fluid
as the culture which produced them.
It seems obvious that boundaries cannot and should not be
deconstructed from ethnicity and interaction. Yet they frequently are. On
one hand, the identification of social boundaries is equated with the
identification of ethnic groups. These boundaries are determined through
the examination of pattern. Induced from empirical evidence and reduced
to description, boundaries and ethnicity are seen as by-products of a
standardizing classification scheme. Interaction in the process of diffusion
is believed to cause the very homogeneity that underlies that classification.
On the other hand, boundaries are relegated to a restricted scale where
interaction reveals only the relationship between core and frontier. Here
ethnicity is elevated to the role of social process worthy of explanation.
However, ethnicity is removed from explanations of boundary formation.
Further, it is removed from explanations of interaction where interaction is
conceptualized as a necessity of frontier dependency and core exploitation.
Thus a forced deconstruction persists on several levels of inquiry in the
study of boundaries, ethnicity, and interaction. It is evident in the
polarization of empirical description and interpretive explanation. It has

been debated through the juxtaposition of pattern and process. It is
apparent in the systemically-imposed disconnection of boundaries from
their historical context. How can we remove these contradictions from the
generation of theoretical innovation and practical models?
3.1 A New Brand of Birdseed: A Postprocessual
Is the difficulty faced in previous studies of boundary systems one of
definition or is it a basic problem of conceptualization? I believe it is both a
failure of term and theory. Furthermore it is a failure of basic inquiry. Are
we trying to define convenient areas of study or are we attempting to
explain boundaries as a unique social phenomena? More fundamentally,
what does archaeology hope to learn through the study of boundaries?
Simply put, our inspiration must come from a grounded expectation of
exactly what we hope the material record will reveal. Asking appropriate
questions of that record is the first step in reconciliation of previous
difficulties (Lightfoot and Martinez 1995).
Boundaries, and the underlying processes of interaction and identity
formation, can occur on many levels. Ethnic identity permeates every
possible form of interaction. Yet it is constructed only in realms where the
signaling of social difference is perceived as necessary (Hodder 1985;

Kimes, Haselgrove, and Hodder 1982). Thus boundaries take on a
dimensional quality in which these realms form various layerslike
chapters in a textbook. The chapters may stand on their own. But, taken
out of context, they are difficult to follow and even more difficult to
understand. In a way, these chapters are ranked: to read the end before
the introduction leads to confusion and false conclusions. The textbook,
like a system, is an organized integrated whole made up of diverse but
interrelated and interdependent parts (Webster 1999). Similarly, the
relationship between boundaries, ethnicity and interaction cannot be
deconstructed without consequence.
Studying boundaries from the Processual perspective creates a
false construction of their nature. Their interpretation of the role of
interaction and ethnicity as marginal social process obfuscates the true
characteristics of boundariesthey are devalued. Hence, Processual
models are inherently confused and superficially restrictive. Indeed, it is
difficult to imagine, recognize, and study boundaries that are conceived
only in functional terms and which result from social processes (interaction
and ethnicity) that are manifest as a pattern denied. Not only does
Processualism read the chapter on its own; it removes the binding of the
book, reorganize those chapters out of sequence, and then slaps it all back

together with duct tapeall the while hoping that no one will notice.
The explanation of boundary systems calls for a different approach
than that taken by Processualism (and certainly Culture-History as well). I
believe that the Postprocessual paradigm provides this new perspective.
From this angle our problem is really a consideration of the dimensionality
of boundaries. The challenge is to discover these dimensions and dissect
them without devaluing their context. Postprocessualism provides an
answer to this challenge by realizing the potential for empirical description
as well as social explanation. Studying boundaries in this way allows us to
consider both process and pattern. Postprocessualism argues that we
should be asking not simply, where are boundaries located? But also, why
are they located there? How are the boundaries being studied created?
Why are they created in the first place? How are they maintained? Why are
they maintained? How are they manifest in material culture? And why are
they manifest in certain classes of material culture? I believe that from the
Postprocessual perspective our questions become appropriate. These
questions are not merely descriptive, but are also empirically derived and
situationally interpretive.

3.2 Building a Better Bird Trap: Its all in the
Blueprint Design
The first step in the creation of a new model is to re-conceptualize
boundaries. Because boundaries are the product of both pattern and
process, we need to consider the way in which process creates pattern; the
way in which pattern informs process; and the way in which pattern and
process are inextricably bound. To accomplish this task we must examine
the relationship between pattern and process.
3.2.1 Feathers and Beaks:
Pattern versus Process
Stated frankly, the dichotomy between pattern and process is a false
one. Process-oriented studies contend that pattern is merely the reflection
of process. Pattern is a static record of behavior that does little by way of
explanation. Therefore, explanation must begin with the study of behavioral
processes. However, pattern is more than the simple consequence of
process. Pattern is a cultural process. Thus pattern and process cannot be
divorced without reducing each to tautological argument.
It seems the obvious approach is to examine both pattern and
process. In doing so, the assumptions and failures of their disconnected
treatment fall away. Because the study of process allows for the
consideration of behavior over time and space, pattern is no longer

condemned by the assumption of limited form. At the same time, including
pattern as social process opens process-oriented studies in a way that
avoids accusations of reductionism. Rather than dividing pattern and
process we can study how they interact to form and inform one another.
This realization is the first step in a re-conceptualization of boundaries.
This new perspective on pattern and process allows us to reconsider
boundaries as both process and pattern.
3.2.2 Some Long-Eared Definitions
The second step in the creation of our new model is a redefinition of
terms. This is done not only to distinguish our terms from past failings but
more importantly to clarify our models. Since we have conceived
boundaries as both process and pattern, boundaries, ethnicity and
interaction can be brought together as a single concept.
Oftimes, definitions are easier to conceive by first considering not
what a concept is, but what it is not. Where have other definitions failed?
We know from previous research that boundaries and frontiers are not one
in the same. In geography, boundaries are abstract lines. They are
politically delineated and are completely arbitrary (Prescott 1978). This
definition characterizes use of the term in Culture-History. Conversely,
frontiers are defined as zones. These zones are inherently based upon

colonialist notions (Prescott 1978). What is more, there is no excuse for
[those] who use the terms boundary and frontier as synonyms (Prescott
1978:33). We must recognize that while it is unrealistic to expect human
groups to be isolated within margins or limits, it is equally unrealistic to
expect relationships of dependency and exploitation to exist between all
societies. While these definitions do take into account the processes of
interaction and ethnicity, they fail to see their active and situational nature .
Thus we know these definitions are not accurate for culture nor for the
archaeological record. In fact, defined in this manner, neither of these
terms is useful to Archaeology.
Frontiers are steeped in colonialism. Furthermore, as both a concept
and term, they have been relegated to discussions of expansion in World
Systems Theory. While the idea of zones is quite useful, frontier has taken
on a particularly well-established meaning in Archaeology. Therefore I do
not feel that it can be salvaged for our study. On the other hand, boundary
has remained a term of modern Geography. Unfortunately their definition,
intended for modern states, is impractical and unnaturally rigid for
archaeological application. However, I feel that the term has escaped the
disfigurement of previous studies. I believe it can be salvaged and re-
introduced as a term properly fitted to our task. Thus we need to redefine

boundary as a term free from the problems and implications of former
I propose that boundaries are meaningfully constituted. I believe that
boundaries exist in all societies in one form or another. They are social
phenomenon with both historical and spatial consequences. They are
shifting, situational, and subjective environs conceived in the comparison of
self and others. Boundaries are rooted in ongoing daily practice and
historical experience, and therefore are also subject to transformation and
discontinuity. As a social construction boundaries are primarily a reflection
and reification of group identity. Group identity, or ethnicity, is also a
shifting, situational and subjective perception of self and others. Ethnicity in
itself is rooted in ongoing daily practice and historical experience, and
therefore is also subject to transformation and discontinuity. Thus ethnicity
and group interaction continually and radically transform boundaries.
Boundaries are dimensional constructions that vary through the social
system, occupying different levels of social interaction. Boundaries can be
societal, cultural, ethnic, or economic, to name a few. They can be marked
by the distribution of certain artifacts, technology, language, ideology,
territory, or environment (among others), the choice of which is active and
conscious. Boundaries are not abstract lines on a map but are abstract and

conscious constructs resulting from interaction between societies. As such,
they can be imagined as zones of overlap between those societies: this
overlap is comprised of an area of cultural noise resulting from the
admixture of emblemically charged artifacts. Thus boundaries tend to blur
at the edges. Boundaries are inherently multi-scalar. They can exist at a
micro-scale between individuals, on a macro-scale between regions, and at
every scale in between. Because boundaries are rooted in history and
experience they must be studied in the deepest context possible. Since
boundaries are informed and transformed through time they must be
studied diachronically in order to explain the interrelationship between their
pattern and the processes that underlie them. From this perspective,
boundaries are a point of analysis rather than an object to be delineated.
3.3 Executing the Perfect Plan: Methodology
The methodology behind the study of boundaries is the contextual
study of the patterns created by those processes, which in turn create and
inform those boundaries. Any methodology that attempts to investigate this
phenomenon must begin with the archaeological record. As a social
process in itself, pattern is the obvious place to start. Specifically those
patterns that are evident in the distribution of artifacts imbued with the
symbolism of identity.

3.3.1 Identity Formation and Material Culture Style
Identity is a non-verbal, but conscious, form of behavior (Weissner
1990). Identity is contested and manipulated in the course of interaction
with others. There are limited criteria by which identity can be attached to
an individual: by their natural physical appearance and by what they do or
how they do it (Weissner 1990). Physical appearance involves two
elements of non-verbal communication: those characteristics that can be
removed and those that cannot. In the former, characteristics such as skin
color, hair type, and other accoutrements of phenotype are communicated.
These attributes are non-verbal; the listener perceives phenotype and
culturally appropriate associations. Until the advent of plastic surgery, an
individual could not remove these characteristics and easily change their
appearance and associations. On the other hand, characteristics such as
manner of dress, and jewelry, among others, can be removed and
replaced. It is often said in Ancient Egypt that if a person wears the culture
and speaks the language then they are Egyptian (Snowden 1983). It
mattered not if the person was of a different phenotype or born of a
different (even enemy) culture: importance was placed upon the perception
of egyptianessof social meaningwhich was conceived of as an ethnic
distinction rather than a racial one. Unfortunately, archaeological evidence

of race is deniable and the preservation of clothing a rare find. Archaeology
must look to more tangible lines of evidence.
The what and how of identity construction are more
archaeologically tangible aspects of behavior. What a person does
(practice) and how they do it (process) permeates material culture. Material
culture is an active symbol that broadcasts and negotiates identity in the
process of interaction (Lightfoot and Martinez 1995). One way that material
culture is constructed is through the active element of style. Therefore,
style is a medium through which social identities are negotiated in
practice (Mitchell 1997:30). Thus, style is a non-verbal form of
communication messaging the what and how of identity (Weissner 1990).
However style is more than an indicator of process; it is cultural process
(Mitchell 1997). Moreover, just as ethnicity is informed by interaction, style
is informed by ethnicity, which is informed by interaction. Therefore, the
pattern created by that process is also a process of its own. Style can be
conceived of as stylistic behavior (Weissner 1990:105). As such, style is
perfectly suited to the study of boundaries.
There are two general types of style: passive and active. Isochrestic
variation is an example of passive style. Here stylistic variation results from
acquired learning, which manifests itself as unconscious technological

choice (Sackett 1990; Stark' 1998). While isochrestics do function to
maintain group cohesiveness, its passive role makes it a poor indicator of
group relations. Rather, it is an unconscious and uncontested indication of
group membership. Passively used style is not subject to frequent or
intensive comparison and thus social boundaries reflected by it may not
keep up with changing social relations (Weissner 1990:107). In contrast,
active style is indicative of group relations. In this case there are two types
of active style: assertive and emblemic. The difference between them is
based upon the specificity of referent. Assertive styles are based upon a
vague association to referent, such as clothing. Emblemic styles are based
upon a very specific referent, such as a clan totem. Both of these types are
actively used in the negotiation of identity. However, their function in that
negotiation is distinct. Assertive style is defined as the formal variation in
material culture which is personally based and which carries information
supporting individual identity (Weissner 1983:257-258). Thus, assertive
style is apparent in the accoutrements of physical appearance, such as
clothing. The pattern resulting from this style would be just as random and
varied as the choice to don those accoutrements. In contrast, emblemic
style is the formal variation in material culture that... transmits a clear
message to a defined target population about conscious affiliation and

identity (Weissner 1983:257-258). Here communication through style
"contains clear, purposeful messages (Plog 1995:370) used in the specific
communication of identity. This would result in a non-random pattern
heavily clustered in settlements along borders. Because they represent the
active communication of social identity, emblemic style is best suited to the
study of boundaries.
Emblemic style is actively maintained, exerted, or withheld in the
process of signaling ethnicity (Jones 1997:120). Material culture conveying
this style carries distinct messages that are uniform and clear to the target
group. Thus emblemic style carries direct information about boundaries.
Since this style is consciously used in the representation of identity, social
identity may be marked by the distribution of artifacts carrying that style. As
a result emblemic artifacts are likely to have a distinct spatial distribution
(Lightfoot and Martinez 1995; Weissner 1983).
The class of artifact utilized in the study of emblemic style
distribution depends upon the particular aspect of society one studies.
Economic boundaries will be signaled in a different manner than linguistic
ones. The challenge lies in determining the most appropriate class of
artifacts for any given research design. This decision should be based on
contextual knowledgethe history of interaction between the two societies

(or other elements such as class, gender, etc.) under study. Once chosen,
it must be understood that the artifacts utilized to signal ethnicity change
through time as interaction changes. Thus, diachronic study is key to the
understanding of boundaries. As ethnic identities shift through time,
informed and transformed by interaction, artifacts used to signal identity will
also shift. In addition, the boundaries that reflect those identities will shift as
well. Therefore, the study of boundaries must take into account the fluid
effect of history and group experience. Change should be reflected in a
sudden discontinuity in the pattern of distribution under study. Thus the
researcher must remain informed of context in order to shift focus to a new
class or type of artifact as these changes occur through time.
Finally, boundary studies must be conducted on several
simultaneous levels. Any study that focuses exclusively on one level alone
will suffer in interpretive quality. The reason behind this is simple: cultures,
boundaries, ethnicity, interaction, and style are all multi-variate
phenomena. In and of themselves they are complex entities; but they do
not stand alone. If anything, this discussion has illustrated the
interconnectedness of society. For example, territorial boundaries are often
related to environmental ones; cultural boundaries can be related to
linguistic ones; and gender boundaries may be related to social ones. Thus

boundary studies must operate simultaneously on different levels of
inquiry. However, this is not to say that all boundaries will coincide. We
should not expect territorial boundaries to coincide with social ones, though
they may be clearly related to environment or topography or even
language. Rather, these different types of boundaries should exhibit
different spatial patterns. In these situations, analysis moves into
consideration of how and why these boundaries differ. These differences
reveal important nuances in the relationships behind them. I believe that it
is in these differences lie the explanations we seek so vehemently.
3.3.2 Recognizing the Rabbit in Drag:
An Introduction to the Case Study
The dialectical perspective of the theory presented thus far,
demands a deeply contextual and diachronic approach to the case study.
To reiterate, the aim of this research is not so much a single question as a
quest for explanations beyond those traditionally offered of interregional
interaction between the kingdoms of Meroe and Aksum. Three different
methods are employed in pursuit of this goal. First, I present an historical
narrative of interaction in this region. This narrative is purposely
constructed from a critical combination of the three mutually authoritative
perspectives of Classics, Nubian Studies, and Aksumite Studies. Second, I

report the results of my analysis of regional and intra-regional settlement
patterns. I expect that the patterns found will reflect the relationships
outlined in history only to a certain extent. Third, in the absence of data, I
present a model of boundary analysis using ArcView GIS to construct
hypothetical models. This is proceeded by an examination of the scant
artifactual data pertaining to the interaction between the Meroitic and
Aksumite kingdoms available in this region. Lastly, I propose a
reconsideration of orthodox history that brings the three methods together
in a novel interpretation of the relationships between the kingdoms of
Meroe, Aksum, and Egypt.

4. The Context Of History: The Relationship
Between the Meroitic, Aksumite and Egyptian
So very difficult a matter is it to trace and find out
the truth of anything by history. (Plutarch)
This chapter provides an introduction to the study area, Northeast
Africa (Map A, Appendix A), and the societies therein under study, those of
Kush, Aksum and Egypt (Maps B and C, Appendix A). In this endeavor, I
discuss these societies and their mutual histories from 800 BCE to 400 CE,
when the region was under Roman influence. Emphasis is placed on their
interaction and the relationships that developed through time. This chapter
also provides the historical context to the case study required by theory
and set forth previously in methodology.
Current orthodoxy on the relationship between the Meroitic,
Aksumite and Egyptian Kingdoms is limited to sweeping archaeological
generalizations as supported by mostly secondary historical (Egyptian,
Greek, and Roman) documents. This reconstruction of events was
proposed at the inception of the field of Meroitic Studies in the early 20th
century under the paradigm of Culture-History. Its retelling has since taken
on mythic qualities. In it, the relationship between Meroe and Aksum was

unnaturally confined to consideration of only the Aksumite role in the
Meroitic collapse. I seek to expand this narrow focus to consideration of the
full length of their relationship, from the Kingdoms origin in the 8th century
BCE through that collapse and into the following, post-Meroitic, period.
Also, because Meroitic Studies tend to come from a decidedly Meroitic
perspective, this history of interregional interaction has been written to
incorporate evidence from all parties involved, including Egyptian, Roman
and Aksumite historical sources. Although their mutual perspectives may
be slightly different, together they establish a confidence that comes from
multi-vocality, and allow a more compelling reconstruction of their
relationships. This three-dimensionality assures the deepest historical
context possible for the case study.
4.1 Getting Situated: A General Introduction to
the Region
The Kingdoms of Meroe and Aksum were located in the modern
states of Sudan, and Ethiopia/Eritrea (respectively). Roman Egypt was
located in modern Egypt (Maps A and B, Appendix A). Nevertheless, one
should remember that the modern boundaries of these states are
completely arbitrary and do not fully correspond with the territorial extent of
the three kingdoms.

Encompassing a 3000 kilometer stretch of northeast Africa, it is not
surprising that this region is quite varied in environment and topography
(Maps D, E, and F, Appendix A). Following the flow of the Blue Nile south
to north, the river drains through the forested highlands of Ethiopia into the
high savannah plains of Sudan where it empties into the Nile River. The
Atbara river, which originates in the Eritrean highlands, follows a similar
course east to west to the Nile. From here the Nile winds its way through a
harsh semi-desert completely inhospitable in some areas. This is the
extent of the study area. Of course, the Nile continues north flowing
through the low desert plains of Egypt, eventually reaching the low coastal
delta where it empties into the Mediterranean. Egypt and most of Sudan
are extremely dry climes, averaging only two hundred millimeters (8
inches) of rain per year (Map G, Appendix A). In contrast, the highlands of
Ethiopia and Eritrea typically receive up to six hundred millimeters (24
inches). Some pockets beyond the study area boast as much as two
thousand eight hundred millimeters (about 110 inches) in abnormally high
Orienting oneself to this region requires familiarization with several
regional terms (Maps C and H, Appendix A). First, there are six cataracts
along the Nile. These are rocky, impassable but short stretches of the Nile

which are used as general markers as well as to designate smaller areas
(or reaches) along the river. Second are more general terms. The most
general terms are those describing wide expanses of micro-regions. From
south to north this study includes the Ethiopian Plateau, Southern Nubia,
the Middle Nile, Upper Nubia, and Lower Nubia. Within these micro-regions
in Ethiopia are the highlands, lowlands, and coastal areas. In Sudan, there
are numerous reaches which stretch between towns. There are also
several districts: in Ethiopia is Amhara; in Sudan are Kassala in the east,
Kordofan and Darfur in the west, and the Northern and Southern Atbai on
the west coast. Also in Sudan are two deserts: the Bayuda steppe and the
The array of terms used in this region are very confusing. In this
section I focus on the more general areas, though some reference is made
to specific areas (such as districts). A more detailed description of the
study area, the regional terms, and the environment follows in chapter 6.
The location of archaeological sites mentioned in the following narrative
can be found on map I, Appendix A.

4.2 The Ascendance of Meroe:
The Eighth to First Centuries BCE
The city of Meroe was founded sometime in the 8th century BCE
during the Napatan period (750 to 270 BCE) of the Kingdom of Kush
(Figure 4.1). While Napata served as the administrative and religious
capital, Meroe was the royal residence (Taylor 1991:46). During the
Napatan Period, Kushite kings briefly ruled over Egypt as the famed 25th
Dynasty. Their rule of Egypt ended in 667/666 BCE when Pharaoh
Taharqa was defeated in battle and driven out of Egypt by the Assyrians
(Taylor 1991). However, Napatan kings ruling from Napata continued to
claim authority over Upper and Lower Egypt despite their displacement
from the land. Angered by the Kushite pretenders, the Egyptian pharaoh
Psamtek II invaded Kush in 593 BCE, defeating the Kushite forces and
sacking Napata (Taylor 1991). As a result, the administrative capital of the
Kingdom was transferred south to Meroe (Grant 1997 [1986]), though
Napata remained the primary religious center. By the beginning of the 3rd
century BCE however, Meroe had eclipsed Napata in even this capacity.
Situated south of the 5th cataract, beyond thousands of miles of
inhospitable desert, movement of the capital to Meroe ensured safe
distance from their hostile neighbor. Nevertheless, the shift of the
kingdom's main power base to Meroe was not merely the result of Assyrian

aggression. The city:
occupied an extremely favorable economic
position, lying in a fertile area of grassland
which benefited from annual rainfall and which
was much better suited for agriculture and
animal husbandry than the region of Napata.
(Taylor 1991:46)
The move of the capital also resulted in a physical shift away from
the strong cultural influence of pharaonic Egypt. A distinctive new culture
deeply rooted southern (African) elements and mixed with Graeco-Roman
influences emerged (Taylor 1991). In the latter half of the 3rd century BCE
an indigenous writing system, known as Meroitic, appears (Adams 1977).
These developments mark the beginning of the Meroitic Period of the
Kushite Kingdom.
During the Early Meroitic Period, the city of Meroe grew into a
flourishing center of industry: smelting furnaces and great mounds of slag
found at the site testify to extensive iron production (Taylor 1991). It was a
true preindustrial city containing the residences of the royalty, priests and
nobility besides the houses and workshop areas of the common people
(Robertson 1992:49). The prosperity of Meroe was due largely to its
position close to several very old-established and important trade routes
(Map J, Appendix A). On the west bank, a road led to Napata across the

Bayuda desert. On the east bank, another ran a little north of east to the
Atbara and so on to the Red Sea ports (Crowfoot 1911:7). A third route led
one westwards towards Kordofan and Darfur (Taylor 1991). Yet another
ran southeast through Basa and Abu Deileg to Gebel Geili and the south
(Crowfoot 1911). Because these routes are still used today, and they link
perennial sources of water, their location is believed to be very reliable.
These trade routes, and the vast plains surrounding Meroe, provided
convenient passage between the barren and inhospitable stretch of the
Nile north of the Fifth Cataract and the difficult granite rapids of the Sixth
Cataract (Taylor 1991). Finally, in contrast to Napata, Meroe was located in
the annual rainfall zone. Large fields could be farmed along the Nile and
along the major streams that today are only wadis... [and] large herds of
cattle were pastured in the Butana (Robertson 1992:49).
Despite the distance, Napatan and Meroitic kings sought to regain
power over Lower Nubia. They were unsuccessful. When relations with
Egypt were re-established in the 3rd century BCE, this ambition was
temporarily abandoned. The Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt (330 to 30 BCE)
became a great ally to Meroe. Alexandrian conquest brought Egypt into the
far-flung network of Hellenistic maritime trade (Adams 1977), and the
Ptolemies sought to expand that network into Africa. Meroes command of

t control Egypt south
van in these periods

interior trade routes ensured Its success as a natural market for African
goods (Map J, Appendix A). In this Early Period, Ptolemaic Egypt heavily
influenced the economy and culture of the Meroitic Kingdom. In fact,
Herodotus reports that Meroe boasted an oracle of Zeus (Crowfoot
1911:30). The Kingdom grew in leaps and bounds during this period as the
primary trading partner of Ptolemaic Egypt. With the demand for African
goods such as ivory, spices, exotic animals and slaves (Taylor 1991),
commerce flourished. Manufactured goods, utilities as well as luxuries,
poured into the Meroitic Kingdom. For the duration of this period (332 to 30
BCE), the relationship between Meroe and Ptolemaic Egypt remained
Just east, in the highlands of modern Ethiopia and Eritrea, a pre-
Aksumite culture (400 to 150 BCE) emerged in the 5th century BCE.
Although its origins remain uncertain, pre-Aksumite culture shows strong
ties with Sabaean (South Arabian) culture across the Red Sea (Munro-Hay
1991). Very little is known of this period in Aksumite history apart from the
evidence of settlement patterns. These show a pattern of scattered
villages and hamlets; there were no large nucleated communities or
religious sanctuaries (Michels 1979:40). Although recent archaeological
work points to very early interaction with peoples (Kerma and C-Group) in

the (Sudanese) Nile valley (2400 to 1550 BCE) (Fattovich 1978),
interaction in the pre-Aksumite period has yet to be considered and is
believed to be lacking.
4.3 A Shaky Beginning:
The First Centuries BCE and CE
In the early years of the Classic Period (100 BCE to 100 CE), the
Kingdom of Meroe continued to prosper. When Ptolemaic power declined
in the 1st century BC, Meroitic ambitions of retaking Lower Nubia were
rekindled. Strabo indicates that they were about to make a move for Lower
Nubia when Rome intervened (Burstein 1998). Between 28 and 30 BCE,
the whole of Egypt as far south as Aswan was conquered by the Roman
Empire (Roman Period 30 BCE to 400 CE). Emperor Octavian intended to
extend Roman territory beyond that held by the Ptolemies (Burstein 1995).
He ordered C. Cornelius Gallus, the Prefect of Egypt, to cross into Kush.
He then forced Meroitic officials to recognize Roman suzerainty and pay
tribute (Burstein 1998). Rome also declared the Dodekaschoenus (a 12
English mile stretch of land beyond the southern reach of Aswan between
Upper Egypt and Lower Nubia) a protectorate (Map C, Appendix A). While
a strategically important territorial boundary, the Dodekaschoenus also
provided access to the lucrative Wadi Allaqi gold mines (Taylor 1991). After

30 BCE, Rome fortified the Dodekaschoenus with a string of Roman
military stations (Sadr 1991). Presumably, this was to ward off the hostile
nomads of the eastern desert and the Meroites to the south. The mid and
late 20s BCE were marked with raids and counter-raids (Burstein 1998).
Rome had planned on making the Meroitic state a client-kingdom
(OConnor 1993), but their plans were temporarily abandoned. In 24 BCE,
a campaign in Arabia led to the withdrawal of Roman forces from Upper
Egypt. The Meroitic Kingdom took advantage of their absence and
launched a campaign to seize control of the Dodekaschoenus (Taylor
1991). Reputedly 30,000 strong (OConnor 1993), Meroitic forces sacked
the cities of Philae, Elephantine and Aswan. Rome retaliated, and in 23
BCE Gallus Petronius, Prefect of Egypt, defeated the Meroitic army in a
punitive campaign. Napata was again sacked (Grant 1997 [1986];0Connor
1993; Shinnie 1996; Taylor 1991). What is more, Rome seized territory
deep in northern part of Meroitic kingdomthe Triacontaschoenusthe
240 mile stretch between the 1st and 2nd cataracts (Maps C and D,
Appendix A).
The Meroites surrendered and negotiations were reached in 20 BCE
between Meroitic ambassadors and [Caesar] Augustus at Samos.
According to Strabo, the Meroites obtained all that they desired, and

Caesar even remitted the tribute he had imposed (Burstein 1998:6).
Meroitic scholars claim that Rome recognized the administrative capability
and military strength of the Meroitic kingdom and granted their
independence (OConnor 1993). However, Roman sources indicate that
what the Meroitic ambassadors had proposed
and Augustus agreed to, was the restoration of
the status quo that had prevailed during most of
the period of Ptolemaic rule in Egypt, that is,
Roman withdrawal from the Triacontaschoenus.
(Burstein 1995:168)
Roman scholars believe that the Kingdom of Meroe may have
become an allied kingdom at this time (Burstein 1995). Evidence to prove
or disprove this theory is lacking. However, Roman frontier ideology and
policy are known (Elton 1996). Roman provinces were subdivided into
interior and frontier provinces. Beyond the frontier were either allied
kingdoms, autonomous kingdoms, or barbarians. Allied kingdoms were
considered part of the empire but were left entirely under local control
(Elton 1996). These kingdoms were subject to Roman taxes and
interference. Autonomous kingdoms were those with whom Rome had
negotiated a peace treaty. These kingdoms did not pay taxes nor tribute,
and were not subject to military interference. However, they were not
independent either. As is the case of the Meroitic Kingdom, it is hard to tell

the difference between allied kingdoms and kingdoms... with whom Rome
had a peace treaty (Elton 1996:36). Given that the Meroitic language
remains untranslated, it is impossible to say at this time which scenario
was the case. However, it does seem more likely that Meroe was
considered an autonomous kingdom. In spite of this discontinuity in
interpretation, one thing is clear: the Roman frontier was established at
Maharraqa, leaving the Dodecaschoenus under Roman control (OConnor
1993;Taylor 1991). This decision was no doubt hastened by Meroitic
resistance, but more so was discouraged by the poverty of the region
(Burstein 1998). Rome simply cut their losses without, however, failing to
secure important advantages for Rome, namely: control of the valuable
gold mines in the Wadi Allaqi and the security of Egypts southern frontier
(Burstein 1998:7) (Map D, Appendix A). In the 1st century CE, Roman
emperors undertook a massive program of temple building and restoration
in the Dodekaschoenus for the purpose of creating a sacred landscape
that would visibly proclaim divine sanction for Roman rule (Burstein
The physical presence of the Roman army, a total force of perhaps
400,000 men, in the frontier zones permanently altered economic patterns
(Elton 1996:2). Lower Nubia south of Maharraqa, which had been deserted

after the 6th century BCE Assyrian attack, was reoccupied by the 1st
century CE.
This seems to have been a mass popular
movement, unencouraged by official policy,
which was made possible by the introduction of
the ox-driven waterwheel or saqia irrigation
technology. (Adams 1977:379; Taylor 1991)
The saqia was introduced to Lower Nubia from Roman Egypt. The
dissemination of this technology was strategic. In other parts of the Roman
Empire, such assistance on the part of the Romans is associated with a
covert need to increase agricultural production for the resident Roman
army. This was the case in Lower Nubia. With saqia technology, the long-
abandoned northern region became a prosperous province of the Meroitic
Kingdom. Their economy was supported mainly by commerce in staples
with neighboring Roman settlements in the Dodekaschoenus (Adams
1977; Sadr 1991). The northern province exploded as the number of
settlements increased and population became increasingly dense
(OConnor 1993; Sadr 1991; Shinnie 1996). A lucrative interregional trade
system was established between Roman Egypt and Meroe. Indeed, the 1st
century CE was one of great wealth and power in the Meroitic kingdom.
Graves of this period contain large quantities of pottery, bronzework, glass

and silverware imported not only from Roman Egypt but from other centers
in the Mediterranean as well (Ibrahim 1977; Shinnie 1996; Taylor 1991).
During this time, administration of the province flowed from the
highly integrated and strongly centralized Meroitic political system. The
province as a whole was ruled by a peshto (a governor) who reported to
the peker (a crown prince) at Napata in Upper Nubia who in turn reported
directly to the Meroitic pharaoh residing in Meroe (OConnor 1993). The
province was of great importance in the administration of the Meroitic
kingdom. It was Meroes front line of defense against Roman Egypt
should they turn hostile as in the past (OConnor 1993). However, the
norths role in both the internal and external trading network of the kingdom
was absolutely crucial to Meroitic economy. The province was physically
located in the position of middleman between Meroe and Roman Egypt.
Although a tersely negotiated boundary, the Roman frontier established at
Maharraqa was nonetheless permeable: even Hadrian's Wall was
designed to be crossed by traders entering or leaving under Roman
supervision (Freeman 1996:434). Local trade between the Lower Nubian
province and the Dodekaschoenus consisted mainly of utilitarian objects
and staples. Long-distance trade between Meroe city and Roman Egypt
focused on luxury goods: Rome supplied manufactured glass and bronze

vessels (Ibrahim 1977), as well as bulk wines and oils and received in
return woods, ivory, exotic animals and animal products, and bulk cotton
(OConnor 1993). Romes greatest need, however, was for slavesan
estimated 140,000 were required annually to maintain the supply of the
empire (Freeman 1996). Elephants, for use in war and circus, were an
extremely important commodity (de Liedekerke 1997). Amicable trade
between Meroe and Rome continued into the Late Meroitic Period.
At the end of the early Meroitic Period, the city of Aksum was
founded (circa 150 BCE), and the Kingdom of Aksum emerged (Early
Aksum Period 150 BCE to 200 CE). This transition is marked by
monumental architecture, the striking of coins, new vessel forms and
styles, and the appearance of an indigenous form of writingGeez.
Aksum was sited in what would become the western part of the Aksumite
kingdom in the highlands of Tigre in northern Ethiopia (Map I, Appendix A).
Like Meroe, Aksum also lay at the heart of a network of old and important
trade routes (Munro-Hay 1993) (Map J, Appendix A). Control of these
routes, which flowed from Egypt, down the Red Sea and out into the Indian
Ocean, as well as to the great trade route across the low coastland and up
the escarpment of the Rift Valley, was the basis of Aksumite wealth
(Munro-Hay 1982). As a result, the Kingdom of Aksum grew quickly,

absorbing its weaker local neighbors (Munro-Hay 1991). Unlike Meroe,
Aksum was sufficiently remote from Roman influence to avoid open
conflict. It was neither conquered nor suffered from punitive expeditions
(Munro-Hay 1991).
In the Early Period, Aksum began to trade with the Roman Empire
(Kobishchanov 1979). Although in virtual infancy, the Aksumite Kingdom
was wealthy enough to mint its own series of coinsplacing the Kingdom
in the same ranks as the Roman Empire (Munro-Hay 1991). The Meroitic
Kingdom, however, did not mint any coins of its own. The emergence of
this powerful rival kingdom to the east of Meroe initially resulted in peaceful
and profitable trade.
Amicable relations would have been necessary
to carry on the trade which was essential to
Aksums prosperity; Aksum could never have
attained the wealth it did solely, or even mainly,
from the agricultural or natural resources of the
region in which it lay. (Chittick 1982:50)
Archaeological evidence supports only a meager level of trade between
Meroe and Aksum during the Early Aksumite/Classic Meroitic periods
(Chittick 1982). However, there are two sources from Greek literature
which attest to amicable trade between the two.

The first account is found in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a
practical guide to conditions encountered by merchants sailing to East
Africa and India written anonymously in the 70s CE. Ivory was of
outstanding importance in Early Aksums economy and, according to the
author, all ivory was brought from the African interior beyond the Atbara
through a district called Kueneion (which some have identified with Sennar
-deep in the heart of Meroitic territory) (Chittick 1982; Kirwan 1960). The
second source was written by Cosmas Indicopleustes, a Greek merchant
in the 6th century CE. In The Christian Topography, Indicopleustes
describes the practice of silent trade. He reports that the Aksumite king
annually sent special agents to bargain for gold in Kush. The agents were
accompanied by five hundred or so merchants, taking along with them
oxen, salt, and iron... the oxen were slaughtered, and the meat used with
the other goods to exchange for the gold (Adams 1977:385; Burstein
1998; Chittick 1982). This fragmentary evidence does not provide a
complete picture of the early relationship between Meroe and Aksum.
However, it is enough to indicate that initial relations may have been
peaceful and cooperative. It also indicates that the Aksumites were ranging
far beyond their native highlands and into Meroitic territory in search of
commodities (Adams 1977). Indeed, royal titles on inscriptions attest to

Aksums claim to control the catchment area of some of these exports,
including parts of such neighboring regions as the... Meroitic kingdom"
(Munro-Hay 1991:6).
In the Early Aksumite/Classic Meroitic period Roman and Meroitic
caravans and settlements were increasingly subject to attack by the Beja
(Adams 1977; OConnor 1993), a nomadic people who inhabited the desert
east of the Nile in modern Sudan and Egypt. Orthodoxy cites the increase
in trade between Rome, Meroe and Aksum as the reason for these sudden
hostilities. Want of wealth is an undeniable motive. However, Roman policy
may also have played a role. In Numidia, it is known that Roman officials
taxed transhumance by the individual animal while regular commerce was
not taxed at all (Elton 1996). My feeling is that Rome may have attempted
to similarly tax the Beja, garnering their violent objection. Whatever the
cause, by the 2nd century CE Beja raids were so frequent that, at one point,
Roman and Meroitic forces jointly defended the gold mines in the
4.4 Things Fall Apart:
The Second to Fourth Centuries CE
By the end of the 2nd century CE, the relationship between Aksum
and Meroe had turned, and the two were competing fiercely for Roman

trade. Aksum launched more and more aggressive campaigns into Meroitic
territory in search of trade goods (Burstein 1998; Taylor 1991; Welsby
1996). The Aksumite kingdom (still in the Early Period) expanded
westward, reflecting the kingdoms dependence on traditionally Meroitic
resources which had been fostered early on. After 200 CE, it expanded
eastward to the coast and took over the Adulite Red Sea port of Adulis
(Munro-Hay 1991). This acquisition allowed Aksum to command control of
Red Sea trade. During his reign, King Ze Haqile (208 to 210 CE) declared
Adulis an official Aksumite market (Kobishchanov 1979). From Adulis, the
Aksumite Kingdom exported many of the same products available in
Meroe: salt, slaves, incense, ivory and elephants, rhinoceros horn, and
tortoise shell. Into Adulis came a variety of imports from Egypt, Arabia and
Indiaand even, some argue, from China (Casson 1984). This included
such commodities as cinnamon, lances hatchets, daggers, awls, various
kinds of glass, wine and wheat (Wheeler 1971 [1954]).
The location of Adulis on the coast, and only eight days journey from
Aksum (Munro-Hay 1991), gave the Aksumite kingdom an enormous
competitive advantage over Meroe. In addition to the similar commodities
Aksum was able to provide to Rome, Adulis provided relatively easy
access to the markets of India. It also allowed Rome to avoid the arduous

(and now dangerous) overland routes that ran through the Meroitic
kingdom by sailing from Berenice directly to Adulis (Wheeler 1971 [1954]).
Adulis simply provided Roman merchants with a safer, cheaper manner of
trade. At the very end of the 1st century, the Meroitic Kingdom had
attempted to export goods through a small, harbourless town between
Adulis and Berenice called Ptolemais (Wheeler 1971 [1954]). Their efforts
were in vain. Many sources attest to an alliance between Aksum and Rome
(Kobishchanov 1979) in this period. In fact, Adulis was declared a
nomimon emporion or lawful market: special Roman trading-ports afforded
some special legal provision for trading (Wheeler 1971 [1954]: 124-125).
By the 3rd century CE, Aksum had become the principal source of gold and
ivory for the Roman Empire (Burstein 1998; Elton 1996).
Initial competition turned hostile in the late Early Aksumite/early Late
Meroitic period. The Aksumites incited the Beja to attack Meroitic trade
caravans (Adams 1977). Indicopleustus reports that, at this time, the
Aksumite king purposely created a road that would enable merchants to
travel directly from Axum to Egypt, thereby helping impoverish Kush by
diverting commerce from the Nile route" (Burstein 1998:83). Indeed,
Procopius mentions such a road from Aksum to Elephantine (Munro-Hay
1991). As Rome made increasing use of the Red Sea trade route to Adulis,

and safer caravan routes, Meroe was bypassed and became a commercial
backwater (Taylor 1991; Welsby 1996). Given the steady westward
expansion of Aksumite territory and increasing rivalry over trade resources
upon which the prosperity of both depended, animosity between Meroe
and Aksum was inevitable (Adams 1977;Burstein 1998). Indeed, all
historical evidence points to a state of outright enmity between the two
(Chittick 1982). It has been suggested that obviously political rock-relief
(Figure 6.11), which depicts the king trampling enemies underfoot, at
Gebel Qeili (the south-easternmost Meroitic settlement known) was
connected with some conflict with a rising Aksum (Munro-Hay 1991:54). It
is often noted that during the Late Meroitic/Pre-Christian (200 to 330 CE)
periods, the Butana was frequently the scene of armed clashes (Kirwan
During the Classic and Late Meroitic periods, the Beja continued
their assault on trading caravans and settlements in the Nile valley. In fact,
their capacity for disrupting everyday life and commerce had been vastly
increased by the introduction of the camel (Sadr 1991; Taylor 1991). Their
increased mobility and military power allowed them to menace the long and
exposed caravan routes between Meroe and Egypt as never before (Adam
1977). There is also evidence that some Beja groups sold their protection

to the caravan merchants at a high price. For Meroe, the end result was a
continuation of trade, but at a substantial diminution of profit (Adams
Rome also struggled with Beja aggression. They placed whole
garrisons in Berenice, Aswan, and the Dodekaschoenus (Kobishchanov
1979). A corps of meharists (dromedary cavalry) was created to patrol and
protect roads through the eastern desert (Kobishchanov 1979). The
Romans undertook several punitive expeditions in an effort to curb Beja
aggression. In 137 CE, Hadrian ordered such an attack in defense of a
road being built between Antinoopolis and Berenice (Kobishchanov 1979;
Magid 1998). Prior to the mid 3rd century, these efforts succeeded. But in
249 CE the Beja attacked Thebais and were turned away with difficulty
(Kobishchanov 1979). They attacked the city again in 268 CE, this time
maintaining control of a portion of the city until 280 CE. After this small
victory, Beja attacks intensified, were more devastating, and penetrated
deeper into Roman territory.
Taking advantage of the beleaguered Roman forces in the
Dodekaschoenus, the Meroitic Kingdom again attempted to regain control
of the area. While Meroitic scholars placidly assume that the treaty of
Samos resulted in a three hundred year pax Romana, Roman sources tell

another story. In the early 2nd century CE, Roman authority became more
overt (Burstein 1998). The status of the Dodekaschoenus as the estate of
Isis at Philae, a Meroitic sanctuary and pilgrimage site, was terminated.
Meroitic temple friezes from this time show trampled Roman soldiers. At
the Royal Enclosure in Meroe, the head from a statue of Caesar Augustus
was sunken into the floor of the entryway, where all who entered would
tread it on. This simmering hostility finally erupted in early 2nd century. A
papyrus has been found which describes a battle in Lower Nubia between
Roman cavalry and a defeated Meroitic force. There is also evidence,
mostly circumstantial, that points to further tension thereafter (Burstein
At first, Aksum also grappled with Beja who had expanded into the
northwestern portion of the kingdom. In the first half of the 3rd century CE,
Aksum led a punitive expedition against the Beja, soundly defeating their
forces. The Aksumite King, Aezana I, resettled those conquered in the
interior highland. He provided them with provisions, including a gift of
some twenty-five thousand head of cattle (Burstein 1998; Kobishchanov
1979; Sadr 1991). By the mid Pre-Christian Period, the southern Beja had
become part of the Aksumite Kingdom.

Full Text

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