The Indian Ocean trade in the Horn of Africa during the Middle Ages has received much less attention than in other regions of the Islamic world, such as the Gulf and East Africa. The Horn is still too often represented as a void in maps showing routes and distributions of trade goods.
Authors: Alfredo González-Ruibal, Jorge de Torres, Manuel Antonio Franco Fernández and, Pablo Gutiérrez de León Juberías
Institute of Heritage Sciences – Spanish National Research Council, Avenida de Vigo s.n., 15705 Santiago de Compostela, Spain
The Indian Ocean trade in the Horn of Africa during the Middle Ages has received much less attention than in other regions of the Islamic world, such as the Gulf and East Africa. The Horn is still too often represented as a void in maps showing routes and distributions of trade goods. In this article, we present the results of archaeological surveys conducted between 2016 and 2020 in places of trade around Berbera, one of the main Red Sea ports in Somaliland. We will be focusing on the period comprised between the eleventh century when the first traces of long-distance connections are documented, and the late sixteenth century, when commerce collapsed. We will review the archaeological evidence with particular attention to ceramic imports, which reveal the intense participation of Somaliland (and the Horn at large) in the Indian Ocean system. This participation went through different cycles in which the nature of commercial relations, the volume of imported goods, and their provenance varied. However, trade with Asia was always predominant, amounting, in the case of ceramics, to 90% of all imported items. Our surveys also suggest that Somaliland was not so much a destination as a transit market zone that conveyed products to the interior of the Horn of Africa.
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