Date of Award

Spring 5-22-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Christopher R. DeCorse


African archaeology, Atlantic trade, Pra River, Shama, slave trade, Supomu Island

Subject Categories

African History | African Studies | Arts and Humanities | History | International and Area Studies | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Archaeological and historical data are used to examine transformations in settlement organizationand settlement patterns along the Pra River, southern Ghana, from the first millennium BC to the mid-twentieth century. The study’s focus is on Supomu Island and Wawase, two abandoned settlement sites located in the lower reaches of the Pra River, 15 kilometers north of the coastal trading and port town of Shama. Mapping of surface features, surface collections, shovel test pits, and test excavations are used to document intra- and inter-site artifact distributions. These lines of evidence are used in conjunction with historical sources to explore the processes of settlement formation, expansion, and abandonment at Supomu and Wawase over the past three millennia. The study illustrates how local and the emerging global processes of the Atlantic world played out within the settlement histories of these communities. The assemblage of European trade materials including ceramics, pipes, glass beads, and liquor bottles, and local materials like pottery, stone beads, and lithics from the sites are analyzed and compared. Although limited, this study provides the first local ceramic chronology of this locality. Archaeological evidence of a lithic component that underlies the Atlantic era at Wawase suggests a long-term continuous sequence of occupation at the site. This evidence is supported by a series of radiocarbon dates, which place the earliest occupation levels at Wawase in the first millennium BC. By contrast, at Supomu, archaeological and documentary evidence suggest an occupation period between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Supomu may have functioned as a sociopolitical and commercial center in the Shama hinterland during the Atlantic period. This is evidenced in the number and variety of European trade goods and census data in 1891, as well as transitions in the Supomu toponym and modern political organization in the Shama traditional area. The island’s importance in the region may have derived from its strategic location in the Pra River, which made it ideal for trade particularly in contraband, possibly including a continued trade in slaves during the nineteenth century following the abolition. The locality’s comparative isolation again played out in Wawase, the successor town of Supomu in the second quarter of the twentieth century, which expanded along the plains on the east bank of the Pra River adjacent to Supomu. The Wawase settlement appears to have actively participated in and profited from the burgeoning illegal liquor trade in the Gold Coast colony and postcolonial period.


Open Access