Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2015

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation investigates the relationship between mobility and urbanism in an Iron Age West African city. Isotopic and archaeological evidence reveal complex relationships among mobility, sedentism, and the livestock economy of Jenné-jeno, one of the earliest and best known urban systems in sub-Saharan Africa (occupied ca. 250 BC to AD 1400). Drawing on excavations at the ancient city of Jenné-jeno and those conducted at two neighboring sites (Tato à Sanouna and Thièl), and on serial, intra-tooth isotopic analysis (87Sr/86Sr, 13C, 18O) of cattle, sheep, and goat teeth, this analysis shows that multiple populations involved in animal husbandry, from seasonally mobile pastoral specialists to household-level producers, coexisted at Jenné-jeno. These findings provide the first concrete evidence of the nature of the livestock economy at Jenné-jeno. Furthermore, the importance of small-scale animal husbandry within the subsistence economy challenges prior assumptions of specialized subsistence economies at Jenné-jeno. While the excavations and the human and animal isotopic data presented here reinforce the importance of Jenné-jeno within the broader region as a market and population center, they also run counter to expectations that agricultural intensification and specialized subsistence economies are necessary for the sustenance of a dense urban population. In a relatively lush environment like that around Jenné-jeno, diversified, small-scale producers were able to meet the needs of the local population through a variety of strategies. In a context like Jenné-jeno, mobility (in the form of local and extralocal herd movements and trade routes), far from being anathema to urbanism, was in fact crucial to the maintenance of the urban system. This work builds upon previous studies demonstrating that analysis of food production strategies, small-scale interactions, and the role of mobility in urban settings can have profound implications for global discussions of urbanism and urban development.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Fiona B Marshall

Committee Members

Stanley H Ambrose, Michael Frachetti, Gayle Fritz, Tristram R Kidder, Robert Lamberton, Xinyi Liu


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