AIA-4F: Mobility, Migration, and Connectivity in North Africa (Colloquium)

  In-Person   AIA Session   Colloquium

Sponsored by:

AIA Archaeology of North Africa Interest Group


James Prosser, University of Michigan; and Stephen Collins-Elliott, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Overview Statement

As a region that bridges the Atlantic, Sahara, and Mediterranean, North Africa provides excellent grounds for studying the archaeology of mobility, migration, and connectivity. These themes have been sustained in prehistory, in antiquity with the rise of the Carthaginian and Roman Empires, and in the early medieval period with the invasions of the Umayyad caliphate. Questions however remain about the extent and degree of connection and migrations, as well as the geographical and cultural definitions of those movements, which take their departure from the colonial archaeology of the 19th and 20th centuries into the postcolonial approaches of the later 20th and 21st centuries. This colloquium therefore brings together new work on mobility and connectivity in this region to better situate the archaeology of North Africa within its broader spatial and temporal contexts.

This colloquium highlights the variety of methodological tools available for interrogating mobility. Current work on the ancient DNA evidence allows for a direct analysis of the biological links that connect populations to one another over time, leading to a reevaluation of demographic changes and migrations that have been attributed to imperial dynamics, whether Carthaginian imperialism in the first millennium B.C.E., or late antique upheavals in the Vandal and Byzantine invasions in the fifth and sixth century C.E. Biological connections can be set alongside cultural transfers and the way that identity formation took place via networked relationships that are discernible in art, architecture, and epigraphy, evaluating the degree of social connections across sites both internal to North Africa and from overseas, as during the Roman period. Similarly, the definition of geographical space and boundaries used to separate and demarcate regions as distinct from one another can profit from a comprehensive, holistic, and comparative perspective that contrasts the way that external empires sought to maintain their rule against and alongside local power structures, from antiquity to the Middle Ages, using computational modeling.

Overall, this panel highlights the way in which North Africa comprises not just a passive, monolithic background in which external powers arrive and colonize, each succeeding the next, but rather highlights the position of the region as a key area for discussion on mobility and migration in the ancient and medieval world more generally.