Archaeological survey of settlement patterns in the Banda region, west-central Ghana: Exploring external influences and internal responses in the West African frontier

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Settlement patterns, Banda region, Ghana, Frontier

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Archaeological Anthropology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This is a study of settlement patterns occurring over the last 1000 years in the Banda region of central western Ghana. Research focused on two physiographically-distinct zones consisting of mountainous upland and undulating lowland that together comprise nearly 900 km 2 . The project was composed of two phases, a 5% survey of randomly selected 500 m x 500 m quadrats in four topographically stratified zones, followed by excavation of one 1 x 2 m unit in each of eleven archaeological sites. Guiding research was the conception of Banda as an internal African frontier (Kopytoff 1987) populated at least in part by immigrants from surrounding states and regions, and the conception of Banda as an intermediate level society organized around a host of characteristic sociopolitical institutions. Specific questions focused on the potential for differing occupation and use of the mountainous uplands versus the lowlands through time, use of the mountains as a refuge during periods of slave raiding and political unrest as documented by oral traditions, and specific site characteristics that might be indicative of sociopolitical organization and involvement in long distance trade. A major research focus was the collection of ceramic data to expand the relative ceramic chronology established by the work of Dr. Ann Stahl. To this end vessel formal and decorative attributes made up a significant component of this study since refining the ceramic chronology advanced understanding of temporal occupation phases necessary to place sites within a diachronic framework.

The survey component of the project succeeded in identifying 426 archaeological localities. These include 137 associated with the Late Stone Age and 289 spanning from approximately the first century AD through the twentieth. A wide range of site types and sizes was found and these vary within specific temporal phases and through time. With a focus on the last 1000 years, the earliest occupations are characterized by small habitations located only in the uplands. A shift occurs by the eleventh century when sites within close proximity to large rivers appear to have been favored. Both upland and lowland environments are occupied thereafter and by the nineteenth century a trend away from the large rivers occurs. The craft of iron smelting is evidenced at many sites and may have played an important role in the development of sociopolitical institutions and ultimately in settlement locations from the eleventh through mid sixteenth centuries. This time frame was characterized by a remarkable sense of stability that resulted in Banda becoming a major polity involved in the trans-Saharan trade. A major shift indicated by population loss and the end of many traditions in the seventeenth century potentially influenced by European activities on the south coast suggests that a much weaker Banda by this time is characterized as an internal frontier. Mountaintop sites indicative of refuge-seeking behavior were limited to three, suggesting that valley settings may have functioned as refuges rather than hill tops. An important question for future research is the relationship between the introduction of iron smelting and its influence on the occupation history of the region.


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