From cosaan to colony: Exploring archaeological landscape formations and socio-political complexity in the Siin (Senegal), AD 500--1900

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Christopher R. DeCorse


Colony, Archaeological, Landscape formations, Socio-political complexity, Siin, Senegal

Subject Categories

African History | Anthropology | Archaeological Anthropology | Arts and Humanities | History | Social and Behavioral Sciences


A modest historic province on the Atlantic coast of west-central Senegal, the Siin is portrayed in oral traditions and written documents as a vibrant cultural frontier, which oscillated between centralized and more dispersed forms of socio-political organization over the past 1500 years. Historical reconstructions, however, remain tied to the usual limitations associated with oral and documentary accounts. Between 2002 and 2004, the region was the focus of an archaeological project designed to address these lacunae. Using multiple lines of evidence, this research has sought to critically examine conventional histories of the region, and document how the longue durée of Siin's political trajectories was shaped in the encounter between local social landscapes and shifting political-economic conditions. Drawing on survey and excavated material, as well as archival research, this thesis presents and discusses the initial results of the project, focusing on settlement histories and changes in material assemblages over the past two millennia. While archaeological evidence is preliminary and unevenly illuminates different historical periods, it is possible to discern broad transformations in village landscapes and political economic entanglements until the first half of the second millennium AD, from a coastal orientation to a gradual incorporation into broader interaction spheres. These changes culminate with the formation of the Siin kingdom and its immersion into Atlantic commercial circuits. Conventional histories have depicted the Atlantic era as marked by the rise of predatory polities, economic dependency, and social violence. While royal authority and centralization appear to have intensified into the 19h century, the present research suggest greater nuance in political experiences in Siin, hinting at a state structure rooted in uneven regimes of power, and a dynamic process of cultural appropriation and mediation of external commercial forces. These preliminary conclusions, in turn, contribute some light on the diversity of historical experiences in Senegambia, and the complex historicities that shaped the past of the region.


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