Title of the session

WHAT ROLE DID NATURAL AND CULTURAL DISASTERS PLAY IN THE DECLINE AND COLLAPSE OF AFRICAN SOCIETIES?

Session Organizer(s)

Chapurukha M. Kusimba,
Department of Anthropology & Institute for the Advanced Study of Culture and the Environment,
University of South Florida, Tampa, 33647
E-mail: ckusimba@usf.edu

Delivery format

Podium

Nature of a session

Open for contributions

Session abstract

The role of both natural and cultural disasters in the collapse of highly organized political and social systems has become a pressing research question. Current approaches to the study of societal crises have favored cultural factors, including warfare, political instability, slavery, and colonialism as the primary causal factors in the disintegration and eventual collapse of the state. The role of natural disasters such as climate change and diseases in the collapse of states remains woefully understudied. Advances in analytical approaches in environmental archaeology have made it possible to glean critical, previous inaccessible datasets for understanding how dynamics in climate instability, catastrophes such as floods, cyclones, tsunamis, wildfires, and drought might have unsettled human natural dynamics. By assembling a wealth of information on diet, disease, and other markers of health, it is now possible to understand and place in context what role disasters such as climate change and environmental degradation played in societal disintegration and collapse. The proposed session invites researchers who are examining how the effects of multiple factors, including drought, disease, tsunamis, cyclones, warfare, slavery, and colonialism impacted African societies over the last 1000 years. These societies were fully engaged in interregional trade, and some became hubs of international trade networks until the 17th century when most settlements were abandoned. What were the causes of collapse? What evidence can be gleaned from human remains and waste, bio-artifacts, and ecofacts that enable us to operationalize the cultural and ecological factors that contributed to the social upheavals and collapse? Contributions that will aim to answer these questions are welcome in this session.

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