11th century ce

Excavations in Ghana Suggest Colonialism as Reason for Famines

Northwestern University archaeologist Amanda Logan, has spent eight years examining archaeological artifacts and charred grain remains from sites throughout the Banda District of Ghana. The Banda district of Ghana is an area that is today plagued with food shortage and long term droughts. However, Logan’s research has determined that the food shortage problem in the area was a result of colonialism rather than drought, and that before the mid-19th century, people usually had enough to eat — even when rains failed.

According to Logan’s findings, Banda was a thriving center for the production and trade of gold, ivory, and iron as early as the 11th century CE. Products from Afghanistan and other locations found on sites suggests that the area was established in long distance trading networks. This suggests that there was enough food to feed a significant number of people who weren’t farming, even when a two century long drought set in the middle of the 15th century.

It wasn’t until the mid to late 1800s, long after the drought ended, that Logan began to turn up evidence of food stress. Present-day residents of Banda still talk about ancestors around that time eating wild plants to survive, and the archaeological record backs them up. According to Logan, the beginning of the famines coincide with the incorporation of Banda into the British Empire. The British wanted to expand markets for their own industrial goods like iron and cloth, so they undercut local production of these items. This action weakened Banda’s economy, and consequently, crippled residents’ ability to survive drought and other disasters. 

According to anthropologist Scott MacEachern, Logan isn’t the first to highlight the role of colonialism on food shortage, but she among the first to do so using strong archaeological evidence. “It fits really well with the historical record,” says MacEachern. “We tend to think of colonization as a fairly dry process, as essentially changes in government. On the ground, they were fantastically disruptive processes to the patterns of everyday life.”


Kabah, Yucatan


The tall mound of rubble is an unrestored pyramid that dates to earlier in the site’s occupation.

The name “Kabah” or “Kabaah” is usually taken to be archaic Maya language for “strong hand”. This is a pre-Columbian name for the site, mentioned in Maya chronicles. An alternative name is Kabahaucan or “royal snake in the hand”.

The area was inhabited by the mid 3rd century BCE. Most of the architecture now visible was built between the 7th century and 11th centuries CE. A sculpted date on a doorjamb of one of the buildings gives the date 879, probably around the city’s height. Another inscribed date is one of the latest carved in the Maya Classic style, in 987. Kabaah was abandoned or at least no new ceremonial architecture built for several centuries before the Spanish conquest of Yucatán.

The most famous structure at Kabah is the “Palace of the Masks”, the façade decorated with hundreds of stone masks of the long-nosed rain god Chaac; it is also known as the Codz Poop, meaning “Rolled Matting”, from the pattern of the stone mosaics. This massive repetition of a single set of elements is unusual in Maya art, and here is used to unique effect.

Masks of the rain god abound on other structures throughout the site. Copal incense has been discovered in some of the stone noses of the raingods. The emphasis placed on Chaac, the “Protector of the Harvest”, both here and at other neighboring Puuc sites, stemmed from the scarcity of water in the region. There are no cenotes in this dryer, northern part of the Yucatán, so the Maya here had to depend solely on rain.

The site also has a number of other palaces, low stone buildings, and step-pyramid temples. While most is in the Puuc Maya style, some show Chenes elements. The site had a number of sculpted panels, lintels, and doorjambs, most of which have been removed to museums elsewhere. The sculptures mostly depict the site’s rulers and scenes of warfare.

The first detailed account of the ruin was published by John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in 1843.

The site is on Mexican highway 261, some 140 km south from Mérida, Yucatán, towards Campeche, Campeche, and is a popular tourism destination. Ruins extend for a considerable distance on both sides of the highway; many of the more distant structures are little visited, and some are still overgrown with forest. As of 2003, a program is ongoing to clear and restore more buildings, as well as archeological excavations under the direction of archeologist Ramón Carrasco.

Kabah was declared a Yucatán state park in 1993.

Śri Viṣṇu Viśwarūpa Aṣṭadaśabhuja Mūrti

A rare depiction of 18 armed form of the cosmic form of Śri Viṣṇu, the standing posture with the graceful “three folds” tribhañgimā which is more commonly seen in images of Śri Kṛṣṇa as the flute player (Muralidhara).

Sandstone, probably Central India, circa 11th Century CE

Michael C Carlos Museum, Emory University