Tombs, Landscape and Society in Southern Madagascar - Part I

Professor Mike Parker Pearson

Archaeological Fieldwork - SummaryScene

During field survey from September to December 1995 and from March to April 1996, our team of archaeologists, anthropologists, a geomorphologist and a botanist achieved many of the project's objectives. Principally, we identified some of the earliest stone tombs in Androy and established their landscape, social and geneaological contexts. We were also able to visit the burial cave of the Tandroy kings.

MembersOur excavations of the remains of ancient Ambaro, the likely location of the royal capital of Fenoarivo as visited by Robert Drury in 1703 (Drury 1729), recovered ceramics, gunflints, stone pipes and traces of house floors. Some 25 km south of Ambaro we located the most ancient royal centres in Androy, at Montefeno and Anjampanorora, dating to the 16th and 17th centuries. We carried out surveys of woodland composition in three locales, to provide comparisons with the classifications of primary and secondary forest derived from analysis of satellite remote sensing imagery. The search for associated Aepyornis (Elephant Bird) and human occupation sites was less successful, with only a small group of thousand-year old shell middens at the Manambovo rivermouth likely to yield evidence of Aepyornis eggshells exploited by human groups. We also initiated a ceramic petrology project, gathering clay samples from known areas of past manufacture.

A number of unexpected discoveries were also made. Whereas only two stone-walled enclosures of the 11th-13th centuries AD were previously known in Androy, we found another three in the region. One of them, at Mafelefo, has an impressively long wall circuit which encloses an occupation area of over 20 ha. A second surprise was the discovery of a direct link between the royal centre of Ambaro (Fenoarivo), first settled in the late 17th/early 18th century, and a late 17th century settlement site at Montefeno, 25 km to the south. We also identified two major 18th century enclosures at Amandabe (west of Antanimora) and on top of Angavo.

These and other survey discoveries allowed us to reconstruct the changing northern frontier of the Tandroy Shell hillkingdom and to hypothesize the processes of frontier expansion between the 17th and 19th centuries.Having shown that much of Robert Drury's tale is truthful (Parker Pearson 1996), we plan to look for the remains of other royal villages in Androy, including the one where Drury was kept as a slave. There is no trace of the sandhill east of the Mandrare river where his shipmates from the Degrave were massacred by the Tandroy but we intend to visit the Degrave's wreck site. We also plan to liaise with David Burney's palynology project. Further research on tomb origins must focus on those of the neighbouring Mahafaly people on the Menarandra river. We hope to visit these early tombs and the modern standing stone quarries, and discover the ancient Mahafaly capital described by Drury. Finally, more work is also needed on the social transformations in the lower Manambovo valley, from 11th-13th century enclosures to large-scale desertion to the formation of early Tandroy royal centres.