National Geographic : 1982 Sep
COOKING POT The city that grew on top of itself STAIRCASE into the past reaches to the earliesttime of human occupationat Jenne-jeno (left). Artifacts found by the authors (right) chronicle the city's rise as a center of trade and commerce in West Africa. The first inhabitants of ancient Jenne, perhaps herders and fishermen from the north, lived in circular houses (I) built of bent poles and woven reed mats waterproofedwith mud. From 250 B.C. to A.D. 300 (panel at right), the inhabitants used everyday bowls of a design common several centuries earlier in the southern Sahara, indicatingthat the original population may have migrated from there. The inhabitants wore necklaces of stone beads and employed sandstone cylinders for grindinggrain. Children's clay toys of domestic and wild animals this one is a bull- were made in great numbers. The second phaseof occupation, from A.D . 300 to 800, shows the use of urns for burial (2) and the eroded foundation of a house (3). Forbuilding material residents employed mud from the floodplain (4), carried to the site and stacked layer upon layer. Thus the city literallygrew on top of itself-to a depth of 5.5 meters over 16 centuries. By 800 the wall (5) that girded the city was complete. Inaddition to iron fishhooks and bracelets (panel), pots and bowls painted with white designs appear during this phase. Because the paint washes off readily, the authors conclude that the pottery served only decorative purposes. This use of luxury ware indicates a level of affluence and sophistication based on success of the city's trade system. A footed bowl is similar to others found as many as 750 kilometers upstream along the Niger. Saharansources likely supplied the copper for hair ornaments. City Sgoldsmiths fashioned an earring- the oldest yet found in West Africa-probably from gold mined far to the south. From 800 onward, mud bricks, uncovered in foundations (6), were employed in house construction. Terra-cotta statuettes (panel)and ceramic flasks may have had a ritualpurpose. Glass beads for a necklace came from North Africa. The top of a cooking pot is decoratedby fingernailindentations in the wet clay, the bottom by impressing braided twine. Jenne-jeno reached its heyday - defined by city size, diversity of artifacts, range of imported goods and luxury wares - between 700 and 1000, with round houses (7) and rectangular ones (8) seeming to vie with one another for space. When one house crumbled (9), another was built on top of it. Garbage pits (10) reached down to earlierlevels of occupation. After 1000, despite new commerce with North Africa, the city's fortunes began to wane, shown by a population decrease. Jenne-jeno was abandoned around 1400. Ties of gold bind nomadicFulani women with the women of ancientJenne. Wearing a nose ornament and rings that rim her ear, a Fulani (above) models an earringfound during the 1981 excavation (panel above). Two other Fulanis(facing page) wear modem gold earrings;the one at left adds silver coins and chunks ofpolished amber. 407 1000 -80 0 i i A.D. 300 250 B.C.