Archaeology and Ethnohistory of the firki-Region in the Chad Basin

by Detlef Gronenborn

One part of the project is concerned with excavations of large settlement sites in a limited region south of Lake Chad. Predominant soils in the area are heavy clays, locally called "firki" by the Kanuri, or "firgi" by the Shuwa-Arabs, both today being the dominant ethnic groups. The clay soils were presumably build up when the retreating lake formed the so called Ngelewa-Beach-Ridge and lagoonal deposits accumulated at the exterior part of the ridge. Up to today vast areas become inaccessible during the rainy season because of floods, thus human settlements are restricted to dry sand dunes. As space for settlements is limited, villages remained on one spot for centuries leading to the accumulation of mounds, similar to the 'tells' in the Levant, southeastern Europe or the inland Niger delta.

Settlement Mound of Mutuwu, Kala LGA, Borno State,Nigeria
As early as the 13th century cal AD the existence of local kingdoms and of walled villages or towns are reported which are attributed to the legendary "So-people", believed by many researchers to be the antecedents of the Kotoko which today live in the northernmost part of Cameroon and form partly independant traditional city states.
The archaeological meaning of this specific part of the Chad Basin became evident through the work of Jean-Paul Lebeuf for the Cameroonian side and Graham Connah, the pioneer of archaeological research in Borno.

As it is well known, Connah surveyed the area intensively and excavated two of the settlement mounds: Kursakata and Daima.

Our team continued the work of Connah in the area:

During the years 1993 to 1996 four mound sites have been investigated: Kursakata, Mege, Ndufu and Ngala. In cooperation with the Borno Historical Society further excavations have been conducted at Rabeh's fort in Dikwa, a site dating to the last decades of the 19th century. The fort later served as a post for French, German, and British Colonial troops.

To obtain information on the individual sites, you may click on the map, or continue for further more general topics, such as economy, architecture, natural environment or references to publications.


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Gronenborn, Version 2.0, March 1997