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Of Shells and Men:

the Economy of Coastal Populations on the Bay
of Luanda (Angola) Throughout the Last Two Millenia


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In this paper, we present archaeological and ethnographic observations of several shell middens located near the Luanda lagoon in Angola, focusing on the evolution of the use of one mollusk, Arca senelis L., over the past two millennia. Known in the literature, the site of Cabolombo has been the subject of recent research (test pit 1) that supports the hypothesis that the site was first occupied by shellfish collectors, probably of the Bantu tradition. The sites of Kamabanga and Kitala suggest the existence of populations, between the 8th and 14th centuries, that were still collectors but who also took part in regional exchange networks. They may also have been specialized in the production of discs from shell test that could have been used as coins during the formative period of the Kingdom of Kongo. Test pits 4 and 14 at Cabolombo yielded indications of a colonial context (locally manufactured pipes) in an economic environment still oriented toward predatory activities. Test pit 9, on the other hand, revealed the use of mabangas as the raw material for lime production, probably under strict control by the Portuguese. Finally, though the major stages in the history of the peopling of the region can be reconstructed through archaeological research and though oral enquiries document the formation processes of the sites, the socio-economic and cultural status of the populations remains unclear.

To cite this article

Valdeyron N., da Silva Domingos S. L., 2012 – Of Shells and Men: the Economy of Coastal Populations on the Bay of Luanda (Angola) Throughout the Last Two Millenia, in F.-X. Fauvelle-Aymar, Palethnology of Africa, P@lethnology, 4, 111-140.