The archaeological site of Jenné-jeno is located within a huge, seasonally flooded basin called the Inland Niger Delta, in the West African country of Mali. Every year, after the rains begin further south, where the mighty Niger River has its source, the swollen river rushes downriver (towards the north!). When it enters the flat, Inland Niger Delta basin, the waters spread out and flood all the lowest areas to a depth of 2-3 meters. The floodwaters cover an area about 300 kilometers long by 100 kilometers wide! Needless to say, people who want to live in the Inland Niger Delta year-round have to build their houses on high ground, or create some high ground to live on. Many of the villages are on high mounds that have accumulated over centuries, with the surface getting higher and higher everytime a mud house is abandoned and decays. The mounds become like islands when the floodwaters rise. Sometimes they can be quite big. The modern town of Jenné, for example, has over 10,000 inhabitants settled on a mound over six meters high. Jenné will be our home while we are digging at Jenné-jeno, located three kilometers away across the floodplain.
According to tradition, Jenné-jeno ("ancient Jenné) is the early site of Jenné. The town moved to its present location sometime around a thousand years ago, although we aren't sure why the inhabitants moved, finally abandoning Jenné-jeno totally by 1400 A.D. The fact that Jenné and Jenné-jeno are so closely related historically and share many features allows us to look at Jenné for clues to help us understand how the early Jenné-jeno people lived.
One of the main goals of the project is to do some excavation at Jenné-jeno to salvage, or rescue, information from several areas of the mound that are cut by huge erosion gullies.
Thousands of potsherds, beads, and many other kinds of artifacts are being washed out of the soil and into the gullies every year during the torrential rains in June and July. Along with them goes all possibility for the archaeologist to figure out when and how they were used. Earlier work at Jenné-jeno by the two American archaeologists on the project, Rod and Susan McIntosh, showed that town life in large, settled communities began over 1500 years ago in this region. At that time, in the late 1970's, people thought that town life in areas south of the Sahara only developed in the last few hundred years. The discovery that Jenné-jeno had grown very large soon after it was first settled in 250 B.C. came as a big surprise.
As the earliest known urban settlement south of the Sahara, Jenne-jeno is one of the very few World Heritage archaeological sites recognized by UNESCO in sub-saharan Africa.
Because it is an important site for our understanding of the development of civilization south of the Sahara, its slow destruction by erosion is a matter of grave concern. The World Monuments Fund has provided money to Malian archaeologists to rescue archaeological information in endangered sections of the site, and to fill in the gullies in order to stop further erosion. Malian and American members of the project team are working together toward this important goal.
But in addition to the archaeology, the purpose of the Mali Interactive Project is to share information on another culture and way of life very different from our own in the United States.
In reality, Africa is amazingly diverse. In this particular corner of West Africa that we'll be visiting, you will find a rich history of brilliant civilizations and empires built on trade; fishing peoples who spend much of their lives in plank canoes on the Niger River, cattle herders who move seasonally with their herds across huge distances in search of pastureland, and town dwellers who create fabulous multi-story buildings out of mud.
to the Archaeology of Jenné-jeno
Looting Mali's Past
The project team consists of these individuals:
Roderick McIntosh has been involved in archaeology since the age of 12, when he worked during the summer on excavations at the site of Historic Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He majored in archaeology at Yale University and completed his Ph.D. in archaeology at Cambridge University, England. He began excavating in Africa in 1972 at the site of Begho, Ghana, and first travelled to Jenné in 1975. He began excavating at Jenné-jeno in 1977 with his wife, Susan, and returned with her for a second major field season in 1980-1981. He has also done excavation and survey at a number of other sites along the Middle Niger that had important connections with Jenné and Jenné-jeno, including Ja and Timbuktu.
Susan Keech McIntosh became fascinated with archaeology while a freshman at Wellesley College. She transferred to the University of Pennsylvania to pursue this interest, and later earned a Master's degree in archaeology at Cambridge University (where she met Rod) and a Ph.D. at University of California at Santa Barbara. She has excavated at sites in England, Sweden, Ghana, Senegal, and Mali.
Téréba Togola taught history at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Bamako, Mali before coming to Rice University to do his Ph.D. in archaeology. He now heads up the archaeology section of the Institute of Human Sciences, which is responsible for all archaeological research in the country.
Karol Stoker worked with Rod and Susan McIntosh at Jenné-jeno in 1977 and 1981 and in the Middle Senegal Valley in 1991. He hails from Colorado and does contract archaeology whenever possible. At other times, he works as a numismatist specializing in ancient coins. His hobbies include coin collecting and tennis.
Mary E. Clark is a graduate student at Southern Methodist University working towards her Ph.D. She began her research in Jenné in1994 and has returned this year to carry out a second season of dissertation fieldwork. Mary received her B.A. from the University of California at Davis and has 10 years of archaeological experience in California and the Great Basin.
David McIntosh is in the sixth grade at Mitchell Intermediate School in The Woodlands, Texas. This is his fourth trip to Africa. He loves to read (especially science fiction) and write (ditto) and draw. He is also a Boy Scout.
Annick McIntosh is a third grade student at Galatas Elementary School in The Woodlands, Texas. This is her third trip to Africa: she has lived for a year in Senegal and travelled in Zimbabwe. She plays soccer and the piano and especially enjoys mathematics. While in Jenné, she is expanding her bottlecap collection.
The following people and businesses have been instrumental in getting the Mali Interactive Project off the ground: World Monuments Fund; COMSAT, George Mitchell, David Gottlieb, Joan and Harold Denkler, Robert Stein (Dean of Social Sciences, Rice University), George Marcus (Chair, Anthropology Department, Rice University), Andrea Martin, Carolyn Cosgriff, Chilton Webb, Chad Johnson, Eric Salituro, Hubert Daugherty, Tom Lytle (all of Information Services, Rice University), Marilyn Suttles, Kerri Cargill and Peggy Gordon (all of George Mitchell Intermediate School), Mary Clark. Heartfelt thanks are extended to all of these project supporters.
Collins Intermediate School
Creighton Intermediate School
Houser Intermediate School
Mitchell Intermediate School
Reaves Intermediate School
These schools are in the Conroe Independent School District.