Ambohidahy is located in the Central Highlands of Madagascar, far from the coastal settlements of the 15th century. And yet it seems to have had at least a tenuous connection with the Indian Ocean trade, as made visible in the few beads, ceramics and other trade goods that we’ve found. Ambohidahy must have been a significant settlement in the region at this time. Below are photographs of some of the beads and fragments of imported ceramics that we’ve recovered.
We’ve found a total of four beads across four trenches excavated in 2014 and 2018. Compare this with the more than 2000 found at the contemporaneous and earlier site Mahilaka, located on the northwest coast and excavated by Chantal Radimilahy.
The scale above is in millimeters. The yellow bead in the lowest row of photographs clearly shows the winding technique that was used to make it, in common with many trade beads. The blue bead in the row above in contrast, may have been made by the technique of glass drawing, where a long thin tube of glass is drawn out and then cut into segments.
Further reading on beads
Rasoarifetra, B., 2011. Les perles de Vohémar, origine et marqueurs culturels. Études Océan Indien, (46-47), pp.178-193. (Link)
Robertshaw, P., Rasoarifetra, B., Wood, M., Melchiorre, E., Popelka-Filcoff, R.S. and Glascock, M.D., 2006. Chemical analysis of glass beads from Madagascar. Journal of African archaeology, 4(1), pp.91-109. (Link)
Wood, M., 2015. Divergent patterns in Indian Ocean trade to East Africa and southern Africa between the 7th and 17th centuries CE: The glass bead evidence. Afriques. Débats, méthodes et terrains d’histoire, (Link).
Wood, M., 2019. Glass Beads and Trade in the Western Indian Ocean. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History.
The imported pottery is mostly tiny fragments of porcellaneous green ware, commonly known as “celadon”, coming from China as part of the Indian Ocean trade. Dating broadly to the 15th century they are consistent with the radiocarbon dates we’ve obtained for the town. Our largest piece is a rim fragment with what looks like a firing error in the glaze on the rim (bottom right). The rim form of this piece is reminiscent of the ledge-lip bowls made in local earthenware pottery. The scale of the pieces on the red background is in millimeters. These fragments are tiny.
Further reading on imported pottery in Madagascar
Dewar, R.E. and Wright, H.T., 1993. The culture history of Madagascar. Journal of World Prehistory, 7(4), pp.417-466. (link)
Martin, N., 2011. Madagascar, une île au carrefour d’influences. Études océan Indien, (46-47). (link)
Zhao, B., 2012. La céramique chinoise et de l’Asie du Sud-Est du site de Vohémar à Madagascar-vers une datation plus fine et une approche plus historique.
Zhao, B., 2015. Chinese-style ceramics in East Africa from the 9th to 16th century: A case of changing value and symbols in the multi-partner global trade. Afriques. Débats, méthodes et terrains d’histoire, (06). (link)