Forests of power and memory: An archaeology of sacred groves in the Eguafo polity, Southern Ghana (c. 500-1900 A.D.)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Christopher R. DeCorse


Archaeology of Ghana, Oral history of Ghana, Archaeology of sacred groves, Sociopolitical complexity, Earthworks of Ghana, Atlantic trade

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This research examines changing patterns of complexity and the development of an agrarian order in Southern Ghana c. 500-1900. Sacred groves are used as sources of history and markers of associated archaeological sites, with specific reference to the territory of the historic Kingdom of Eguafo, in the Central Region of Ghana. The study of sacred groves, conceptualized as realms of memory, opens the way to a reflection on power, memory and change among coastal polities in Ghana. Together with a variety of oral and written sources, information collected about them serve as backbone to reconstruct the social and political history of Eguafo and its neighbors from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. Furthermore, the archaeological investigation of five sacred groves associated with abandoned settlements dating from the first half of the first millennium AD and the seventeenth century paves the way to an understanding of continuities and changes in the area during the last two millenniums. It reveals a deeper, more complex, long-term pre-Atlantic history and suggests coastal historic polities were not the sole product of the insertion of the area in the Atlantic economy by the end of the fifteenth century. The study of the Akrokrowa earthwork site leads to a critical reassessment of archaeological works conducted at similar sites in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. The resulting revised chronology of these sites challenges the chronological framework of societal evolution proposed by Ivor Wilks in his 'big bang' theory. I argue that a regional network of entrenched settlements, well-adapted to the forest economy, developed from the middle of the second millennium AD and disappeared in the fourteenth century AD, may be as a result of the Black Death.


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