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Afr Archaeol Rev



Sensory Synaesthesia: Combined Analyses Based on Space

Syntax in African Urban Contexts
Monika Baumanova

# Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2020

Abstract The organization of past urban space con- Résumé L’organisation de l’espace urbain historique
tinues to be an important focus of archaeological re- continue d’être un axe important de la recherche
search in sub-Saharan Africa where the methods of archéologique en Afrique subsaharienne où les méthodes
space syntax now offer new interpretations of the built de syntaxe spatiale offrent de nouvelles interprétations de
environment. Traditionally, space syntax uses access l’environnement construit. Traditionnellement, la syntaxe
analysis graphs for buildings and axial maps for towns spatiale utilise des graphiques d’analyse d’accès pour les
to represent and analyze the configuration of space as bâtiments et des cartes axiales pour les villes pour repré-
a network. Using perspectives from neuroscience and senter et analyser la configuration de l’espace en tant que
the social sciences, this paper presents several case réseau. En utilisant les perspectives des neurosciences et
studies to illustrate how space syntax can be adapted des sciences sociales, cet article présente plusieurs études
to provide a multisensory “synaesthetic” perspective de cas pour illustrer comment la syntaxe spatiale peut être
on African urban environments while also addressing adaptée pour fournir une perspective «synesthésique»
their cultural contexts. These case studies, which focus multisensorielle sur les environnements urbains africains,
on historic towns from East and West Africa, incorpo- tout en abordant leurs contextes culturels. Ces études de
rate analyses of visibility and movement as tactile cas, qui se concentrent sur les villes historiques d’Afrique
perception to examine house layout, street networks, de l’Est et de l’Ouest, intègrent des analyses de la
and the socio-spatial role of urban quarters. This dem- visibilité et du mouvement en tant que perception tactile
onstrates how the graphic representation of space syn- pour examiner les plans des maisons, les réseaux de rues
tax analyses can help us better understand spatial et le rôle socio-spatial des quartiers urbains. Cela
partitioning and material dimensions of urban space démontre comment la représentation graphique des anal-
as cultural heritage that affects sensory perceptions yses de syntaxe spatiale peut nous aider à mieux
such as vision and kinaesthetics. comprendre le partitionnement spatial et les dimensions
matérielles de l’espace urbain en tant que patrimoine
culturel qui affecte les perceptions sensorielles telles que
la vision et la kinesthésie.
M. Baumanova (*)
Center for African Studies, Department of Middle Eastern Studies,
Keywords Space syntax . Visibility . Sensory
University of West Bohemia in Pilsen, Sedlackova 15, 301
00 Pilsen, Czech Republic archaeology . Synaesthesia . Swahili . West African Sahel
e-mail: monika.baumanova@uclmail.net

M. Baumanova
Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala The ways in which people perceived, interpreted, and
University, Uppsala, Sweden shaped their living environment have become central
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themes in archaeology, in part because they have direct more case studies, an alternative and complementary
relevance for the deeper understanding of present-day approach to the study of African urbanism, as explored
life. The recording of sensory characteristics of past in this paper, is to analyze the characteristics of the
environments adds a new dimension to the mapping built environment as they affected past peoples, while
of past human practices by tracing how they have been also critically reflecting on the possible interpretations
affected by the experience of space and the natural and of these characteristics with respect to historical and
constructed worlds. In urban archaeology, this effort to ethnographic data.
understand the sensory properties of complex space is Specifically, this paper develops the analytical ap-
particularly important for defining and discussing the proach of space syntax—a toolkit that uses the study
trajectories of cultural lifeways in a certain period or the of architectural layouts to highlight the patterns in built
accumulated effects of long-term development on environments that affected past movement. With roots
multi-layered sites and in historic towns (Psarra 2009; in the architectural theories of the 1970s and 1980s, and
Zardini 2005). growing popularity in archaeology during the 1990s,
The study of human sensory perception of the envi- space syntax has become useful in African archaeology
ronment contains an ever-present dichotomy for archae- over the last decade for the interpretive analysis of
ologists (Fleisher and Norman 2016). On the one hand, individual buildings (Baumanova and Smejda 2017;
it can be argued from a theoretical perspective that the Nevadomsky et al. 2014) and settlement patterns
human body’s capacities for perception have long (Monroe 2014). In this paper, I argue that space syntax
remained constant, and hence, we can apply the ap- can gain an added value when the interconnectivity of
proaches of phenomenology to engage our own senses spaces it analyzes is reinterpreted from a sensory per-
in inquiries about sensory aspects of the past (Tilley spective in which movement or “kinaesthesia” is under-
2008). On the other hand, applied sociological and stood as part of the human sense of touch (Laurence and
anthropological research shows that human perception Newsome 2011). Furthermore, I consider how space
is shaped by culture, which then affects how the roles syntax, which explores movement as a type of tactile
and interpretations of specific senses relate to perception perception, can be integrated with a critical study of
(Howes and Classen 2014; Tarlow 2012). Furthermore, other components of the sensory environment, and vi-
our knowledge of past environments—including their sual perception in particular. The result is a synaesthetic
visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, and gustatory space syntax approach that aims to highlight how mul-
aspects—is always limited, which then challenges our tiple and potentially overlapping sensory fields were
ability to understand how humans perceived them. To built into urban spaces, affected past urbanites, and
single out any individual sense brings the potential for continue to be represented today.
misconceptions because recent inquiries in neuroscience It has been noted many times that African urbanism
and anthropology reveal that human senses are much is somewhat unique and therefore represents a signifi-
more interconnected than previously thought (Howes cant contribution to our theoretical reference collection
and Classen 2014, p. 165). Hence, sensory research on urban experience (Fletcher 1993; Sinclair 2013). If
should target the synergy of multiple senses. we are to understand urbanism as a social process and
For the study of urbanism in African archaeology, undertake cross-cultural comparisons, we need to ex-
these underlying considerations of sensory research plore and develop adequate analytical toolkits. Among
bring possibilities as well as limitations. Sub-Saharan other criteria, these need to target the urban sensory
Africa was long believed to lack significant urban environments, which feature some characteristics that
history, so research on the complexity of socio- are locally specific and others that are universal to all
political development, although rapidly progressing in urban societies. An inclusive reference collection of
the recent decades, is still comparatively underrepre- urban traditions in Africa should therefore include both
sented (Fleisher and LaViolette 2005; MacEachern abandoned archaeological sites and continuously occu-
2015, p. 20). A similar trend can be observed for pied historic towns. Many of these latter, such as the
research on the associated complexity of the urban Malian case studies presented in this paper, have re-
built environment (but see Gensheimer 2018; Monroe ceived little archaeological study due to financial, polit-
2014; Nevadomsky et al. 2014). Although we are ical, and other constraints. A space syntax approach,
faced with the need to collect new data and compare however, provides a way to incorporate archaeological
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and ethnographic urban settings into comparative anal- mental image of urban space, have developed models
yses. Ultimately, this allows archaeologists to extend the from experimental fieldwork among contemporary ur-
concept of cultural heritage beyond “tangible” material- banites to clarify how people navigate or remember
ity and to further include spatial structures and sensory spaces. Applying this approach to the case study of
environments in their pictures of the past. Paris, Kevin Lynch has argued that people learn to
navigate complex urban environments by recognizing
landmarks, relatively long straight paths, and open
Analytical History of the Built and the Sensory spaces such as squares, and also by mentally dividing
Environments in Africa complex spaces into districts or urban quarters and their
limits (Lynch 1960). Although this theory is not wholly
The built environment consists of tangible architectural applicable to every urban cultural context, the key as-
and natural features as well as intangible spaces with pects of Lynch’s study have been further confirmed by
their own structures and material meanings (Baumanova research in environmental psychology (Gärling 1995)
2016; Knappett 2004; Low 2016). Both components of focused on how people interpret the function of material
the built environment—buildings and spaces—are cru- culture, including buildings, by the “affordances” or
cial for defining urbanity and culture. Walking through a roles associated with them (Gibson 1979).
human settlement today will leave someone with little Recent research in neuropsychology shows that
doubt about whether he/she is experiencing an urban senses are not as structurally distinct as once thought.
environment. This impression is always somewhat sub- The organization of the human brain is more multisen-
jective and influenced by the density of people, but also sory, implying that human perception rarely occurs
depends on the density and complexity of the built through a single sensory channel (Stein 2012). In this
environment. The width of streets, geographical loca- vein, sounds may be associated with smells, tactile
tion, or the height of buildings give out underlying perception with views, and so forth. Social science
messages, which may be perceived by multiple senses research, which is oriented toward cultural practice,
as markers of urbanity. In the European cultural tradi- has also begun to explore the interconnection of the
tion, we may see these markers transferred onto and senses, or sensory synaesthesia. Here, the multisensory
communicated through maps, plans, and artistic expres- environment allows the creation of a social body and
sions of cities in historic documents, while in the Islamic the unity of meaning by transforming characteristics of
world, cities were more often described in written the sensory environment into components of cultural
sources and less often depicted in images because cities or social ones (Howes and Classen 2014, p. 156).
were in a sense perceived as human beings (Burke 2013, Because sensory perception is culturally varied, we
p. 447). This paper centers on spatial contexts that both find that synaesthetic sensory analyzes the need to
present-day researchers and available historical ac- target and contextually interpret those aspects of the
counts understood to be urban (rather than nonurban) environment which appear to be culturally relevant
based on the relative complexity of their built environ- based on ethnographic, archaeological, and historical
ment, even as the sensory experience of these settle- data. In this way, archaeology can contribute to the
ments must have depended on the observer. Further- debate on sensory environments by adding both tem-
more, these settlements can all be defined as centers, poral depth and local understandings.
most often for trade, within their respective regions In theory, the themes of the built and the sensory are
based on their size and inner partitioning into smaller closely related under the rubric of environmental re-
units or urban quarters, as well as the presence of build- search, but in practice this mutuality remains unexplored
ings in a wide range of sizes and/or building materials. in the archaeology of sub-Saharan Africa. The built
Research from a number of disciplines has studied environment has most often been considered from two
how human perception and use of space are shaped by perspectives in research on past material culture. For
spatial configurations. Tim Ingold coined the term architects and historians interested in the built environ-
“taskscape” as an anthropological concept explaining ment of the early colonial era onward, analysis has
that people understand and remember places through focused on the architectural forms of standing buildings
the tasks they habitually associate with them (Ingold constructed by Africans as well as foreign colonizers,
1993). Theoretical architects, more interested in the with an accent on the latter (Bissell 2011; Maas et al.
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1992; Newitt 1995). For archaeologists, the study of urban studies (Vis 2018, p. 11) to understand di-
African built environments has advanced hand in hand versity in built and sensory environments through
with ethnoarchaeological research in sub-Saharan Afri- cross-cultural inquiry into their common and unique
ca dealing with human sensory perception and interpre- elements. Although archaeologists have yet to de-
tations of the world (e.g., Donley 1982; Hodder 1982; velop methods for exploring synaesthetic sensory
Moore 1986). These ethnoarchaeological studies gener- properties of the environment, they have success-
ated interest in deriving models of the built environment fully studied individual sensory aspects in urban
for archaeological application that have been widely built environments using a number of analytical
applied outside Africa, with some notable exceptions approaches (Betts 2017; Fahlander and Kjellström
such as the Central Cattle Pattern (Huffman 2001). As 2010), including the study of space syntax.
the research on urban built environments in Africa ad-
vances, archaeology is faced with a need to incorporate
analyses of the sensory components of past environ- Space Syntax
ments to better understand the logic of past spatial
organization and its continuing influence on present- The conceptual approach of space syntax, first devised
day social realities. in theoretical architecture (Hillier and Hanson 1984),
So far, analytical studies of past spatial perception strives to uncover the underlying regularities of complex
and sensory environments have been slow to develop in structures and partitioning of space, whether rooms and
African archaeology. Research on built environments in doorways in houses or in streets and open spaces in
Africa recognizes that the built form is culturally active, towns. Space syntax became popular in archaeology
promoting or hindering social change, but analyses re- especially for studying sites and buildings for which
mains largely focused on the synchronic assessment of layout plans have been excavated, preserved, or de-
the state of cultural heritage and the diachronic analysis scribed historically (e.g., Chatford Clark 2007;
of historical architecture (Brunfaut and Pinot 2017). Laurence and Newsome 2011; Morton et al. 2012;
Outside Africa, the study of past sensory environments Steadman 2015). The strength of the approach lies in
has become integral to spatial archaeology over the past its graphic representations that help to make sense of
three decades after gaining attention with the develop- layout plans, which are otherwise too complex for dis-
ment of post-processual thinking in the discipline. Si- cerning any patterns in the organization of space.
multaneously, archaeologists have applied and continue For example, space syntax addresses the issue of
to develop new methods of spatial analysis, such as relative privacy by establishing how spaces are organized
space syntax and sensory archaeology, especially in in a tiered structure of access in an individual building or
the urban settings of Europe and Latin America (e.g., within the delimited boundaries of a settlement unit. In
Goldstein and Sitek 2018; Moore 1996). There, these the case of buildings, the research questions determine
methods help archaeologists tease out new information what is selected as the access point, but usually this is the
from the logic of spatial organization (Morton et al. entrance/s. The organization of individual rooms can then
2012), as well as to add flavor, scents, and sounds to be represented as a schematic access analysis diagram
the bare bones of site layouts and settlement patterns showing how spaces/rooms are structured in levels of
(Betts 2017; Hamilton et al. 2006). access from the nearest to the most distant from the entry
These sensory environments belong to regional point. The structurally most secluded rooms are
social traditions and, by extension, cultural heri- interpreted as the most private. For the application of
tage. Although archaeologists recognize that senses space syntax to the entire settlement units/towns, streets
play a significant role in the (re)constitution of can be graphically represented as straight axial lines and
cultural life, they have tended to either avoid this then analyzed based on the frequency with which these
topic or refer to it in an unsystematic manner intersect with open (convex) spaces.
(Fleisher and Norman 2016). To better address ur- Walls and buildings are features that compartmental-
ban sensory environments, this paper proposes a ize space. The underlying assumption is that any con-
systematic comparative approach to emphasize structed environment adds to the complexity of space by
what elements appear as patterns within a single creating boundaries and channels for movement. This
cultural sphere, while answering the call from relates space syntax to network theory, especially in the
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sense that it represents a bounded network of nodes construction materials may have relevance for the
(e.g., rooms, open spaces) connected by edges (e.g., acoustic properties of a building, even as they carry
lines of streets or doorways). The outcomes of space specific cultural meanings (e.g., Hawkes 1996, p. 69).
syntax analysis become more reliable as one compares Along these lines, this paper examines how metric-
more sites from the same region or period, thus helping based analyses of space syntax can be effectively com-
to derive cultural traditions of non-tangible spatial struc- bined with ethnographic accounts, direct observations,
ture, as part of cultural heritage (Steadman 2015, p. historical data, and satellite imagery. This latter has
114). On its own, space syntax can reveal how structural become steadily more popular in archaeology due to
patterns in the built environment created certain condi- the level of resolution now freely available from sources
tions for movement, but when space syntax is used in such as Google Earth Engine. In Africa, this open-
combination with other approaches, it can provide a source imagery has allowed researchers to map out
more nuanced picture of past sensory environments. and analyze the structure of urban built environments
Space syntax is concerned with movement/ (e.g., Khalaf and Insoll 2019), and thus has significant
kinaesthetics of people in space, and in terms of sensory potential for enriching historical and archaeological re-
environment, movement is a form of tactile perception search on the spatial aspects of African pasts.
(Laurence and Newsome 2011). For archaeologists this Many analytical methods of spatial archaeology,
can contribute to research on sensory perception be- such as space syntax and synaesthetic approaches to
cause analyses of space syntax tell us about relative sensory environments, have either been
travel distances and the nature of structured movement, applied recently to African archaeological sites or re-
and so open up new possibilities for incorporating as- main to be tested with African case studies. For exam-
sessments of the materials used to build floors or roads. ple, space syntax has been used for research on royal
These multiple types of kinaesthetic assessments are palaces in West Africa, such as those in Benin city
particularly relevant for the study of pre-modern towns (Nevadomsky et al. 2014) and those associated with
insofar as these were experienced while walking (Knox the king of Dahomey at Abomey and Cana (Monroe
and Pinch 2010, p. 37). 2014), and in East Africa at the Palace of Gede
Adaptations and combinations of space syntax with (Baumanova and Smejda 2017). These studies aim to
other methodological approaches, particularly those as- reveal how royal power was negotiated in space and
sociated with geographic information systems (GIS), how political control was maintained and re-enacted
have been useful for assessing the reliability of space through movement. These research questions are close-
syntax results. For example, Fisher (2009) considered ly related to the relative privacy of spaces, so space
the width of interior doorways in Minoan palaces to syntax is suitable for answering them. However, the
combine space syntax with viewshed analysis and wider adoption of space syntax approaches in African
assessed the visibility from one room to another. When archaeology has been slow for various reasons, such as
combined with life histories and practice theory, this sort the insufficient data from many sites, even those with
of access analysis can also be used to confirm or dispute permanent architectural features, as well as a long-
interpretations about the function of the individual standing lack of critical theoretical debates in Africanist
rooms in a house based on archaeological data. Graph- archaeology (Wynne-Jones and Fleisher 2015).
ically, these functional interpretations can be represent- Here I explore how the spatial configurations of
ed as symbol or color coding on a space syntax graph, as urban environments—particularly the synaesthesia of
in studies of the rooms in Arizona pueblo houses (Fladd their kinaesthetic and visual fields—influence social
2017), Swahili palatial structures on the East African networks of communication within them. Specifically,
coast (Baumanova and Smejda 2017), and Minoan pal- I will apply synaesthetic space syntax and multisensory
aces (Letteson 2015). Beyond visibility, space syntax analysis to case studies of buildings and urban centers of
could also be combined with analyses of aural properties the East African Swahili coast and the West African
of buildings, similar to studies by architects (Everest and Sahel, thus demonstrating that the value of this approach
Pohlmann 2009). Drawing together analyses of individ- is not limited to any single region in Africa. At the same
ual sensory aspects helps to create a synaesthetic picture time, these case studies share some features that both
of the whole environment while also identifying past affected their urban development and played a role in
sensory affordances or capacities. For example, their selection for this analysis. First, they are either
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archaeological sites or historical towns in which build- importance of privacy through the display of wealth in
ings were made of durable materials, and thus remain private rooms made visible from outer rooms due to the
well-preserved. Second, these towns are all trading cen- placement of doorways in line with one another (Donley
ters occupied during the past millennium and shaped in 1982; Donley-Reid 1987). The house power model was
large part by Islamic culture. However, a comparison of later criticized for downplaying the political context in
these case studies does not aim to develop a general which the underlying ethnographic studies took place,
model or standardized method for the study of urban- and for relying too heavily on ethnography as its sole
ism, but rather to show how the combination of space source (Fleisher 2015), without using more formal tools
syntax and sensory analyses can be applied and modi- for spatial analysis, such as space syntax to assess the
fied for the study of urban contexts across Africa— house layouts recorded in archaeological contexts.
wherever the data available from preserved layouts, Moreover, the greatest stone houses or “palaces,” which
written accounts, oral histories, ethnographic observa- had 40–50 interconnected rooms and may have func-
tions, and/or archaeological and architectural surveys tioned as centers of elite power, are much more compli-
can highlight aspects of the built environment that may cated to analyze on the basis of ethnoarchaeological data
have been socially meaningful. or direct observation alone.
Still, it needs to be recognized that for at least five
centuries preceding Omani and European colonialism in
Visibility and Movement Within Buildings: the region, there was a remarkable coherence in the
The Swahili Coast material culture along the Swahili coast, which extends
over 3000 km from Somalia to Mozambique. Consider-
When addressing the organization of space inside struc- ing this, the study of Swahili building traditions is well-
tures, space syntax can compare the relative suitability of suited for comparison over the long term. Space syntax
individual spaces (such as rooms and corridors) for public has proven especially suitable for studies of the Swahili
or private movement and activities. At the same time, the built environment at archaeological sites because, in this
major shortcomings of this approach are its focus on ease cultural context, the importance of display and control
of access in terms of movement and its inability to of spatial access has been well-established through eth-
disentangle how social interactions might have changed nographic research on the Swahili Coast (e.g., Donley-
over time when they are not accompanied by the rebuild- Reid 1987; Middleton 2004, p. 45–46). Although the
ing of physical features. Nevertheless, the source data and specific connotations of architecture have undergone
underlying logic of space syntax make this a complemen- changes over time, the ethnography attests to how rela-
tary perspective for ethnoarchaeological studies and tra- tive purity or privacy were invoked across multiple
ditional archaeological research using material remains to occasions and in reference to particular rooms or
determine the function of and activities in individual inside/outside of houses, confirming that visual aspects
spatial units. of space had cultural significance (e.g., Kresse 2007, p.
On the eastern coast of Africa, for example, the 50; Loimeier and Seesemann 2006).
“house power model” introduced Swahili architecture The application of space syntax provides a tool for
into theoretical debates about the logic of spatial struc- quantitative analysis and review of the validity of the
ture in archaeology (Donley 1982; Donley-Reid 1987, house power model in terms of the relative placement of
1990), but it did not make use of any formal analytical the most private spaces in complex Swahili structures,
approach such as space syntax. This model is concerned such as the 55-room building known as the Palace of
with the Swahili stone houses built along the coast since Gede in Kenya (Baumanova and Smejda 2017). Al-
at least the thirteenth century AD, alongside the contin- though this structure was not recorded in European
uation of an older tradition of wattle-and-daub houses. historical accounts until the 1890s, it is the largest house
The majority of these stone houses had less than eight on the site, and archaeological research reveals that it
rooms, and their relatively small size made it possible to was occupied from the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries,
interpret the structure and use of space based on ethno- developing in three stages of construction (Pradines
graphic observation and ethnoarchaeological compari- 2010). It is unknown whether the Palace of Gede, exca-
sons. Linda Donley-Reid, for example, argued that the vated and cleared with outdated methods in the 1950s
layout of a Swahili house re-enacted in space the social (Kirkman 1963), was the residence of a ruling family or
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served more public purposes. Although research on also form the basis of navigation (Hirtle and Hudson
practices and specific activities in great houses at other 1991; Padgitt and Hund 2012).
Swahili sites (Gensheimer 2018) could provide parallels For analyzing space within Swahili stone houses,
for the Palace of Gede, this sort of analysis is beyond the visual turns or breaks in lines of sight can be estimated
scope of this paper. to change approximately at the right angles of walls
Using space syntax, an access analysis of the Palace abutting one another in rectangular buildings and rooms.
at Gede has shown that its rooms were organized in These visual breaks can be represented on a space
seven levels of depth (Baumanova and Smejda 2017). syntax access analysis graph in various ways, whether
Considering that there are multiple entrances from all by lines that cut across the links depicting movement
the cardinal directions, this signifies an investment in between individual nodes/spaces or by a dashed line
spatial depth—the relative level of privacy was impor- (Fig. 2). Because visual turns are shown directly on
tant. Beyond this standard access analysis graph, an the levels of access where they occur, we may notice
alternative graph of space syntax (Fig. 1) allows us to patterns that would not be observable in a GIS viewshed
associate the relative structural depth of rooms directly analysis or step depth analysis on its own (Baumanova
with their location on the layout plan. Although this and Smejda 2017). In some contexts, it might be impor-
graph somewhat downplays the role of network paths, tant to highlight sightlines which extend over several
it nicely shows how relative privacy was represented at rooms/levels of depth through doorways. This may be
the Palace of Gede. done on a space syntax graph by using color coding for
A graphic representation of space syntax only ad- the relevant paths permeating multiple levels where
dresses the possible movement patterns of physical ac- kinaesthetic and visual paths follow the same route, as
cess. However, Swahili ethnography suggests that visu- shown in Fig. 2.
al access also played a role in spatial configurations and Considering the palatial complex at Gede, Kenya
lines of sight made possible by aligning two or more (Fig. 3), it may be observed that kinaesthetic access
doorways are likely to be socially meaningful. The best lines diverge, but do not converge—a property of space
known example of this comes from the ethnographic that can be interpreted as signifying comparatively lim-
layout of a typical Swahili house where a view into the ited choice of movement inside the structure (Goldstein
back room was allowed through the main doorway and and Sitek 2018, p. 459). There are three sightlines which
courtyard, as well as several doorways from the front cross over at least three doorways/levels of depth and
room; this visual access, combined with physical dis- occur in different parts of the structure. Two of these
tance, was important for letting in light and also for begin at the second level of depth and one begins
negotiating social rules of proximity and privacy that between the third and fourth levels in the deepest part
differed among the various inhabitants and visitors to of the complex. The long sightlines are separated from
the house (Donley 1982, Middleton 2004, p. 45). the exterior of the structure so one has to enter and pass
By modifying a regular space syntax approach, it is to the second level of depth to begin following one of
possible to develop a synaesthetic sensory analysis of them. The path alternative to the long sightlines also has
movement and lines of sight together in one schema. visual breaks, which hinder vision and predictions about
This analysis has two important aspects. First, it allows the further configuration of space.
for a more inclusive sensory analysis of the built envi- This synaesthetic analysis allows us to appreciate
ronment, in this case the tactile/kinaesthetic and visual kinaesthetic and visual sensory experience of the palatial
senses, which comes closer to the logic of human per- complex at Gede. In parts of the structure, the depth of
ception than either sense alone. Second, using multiple space includes up to seven levels of access (Baumanova
methods of graphic representation allows the researcher and Smejda 2017), which is matched by long sightlines
to notice and interpret complex patterns. For example, a following the kinaesthetic access routes and connecting
combination of space syntax and select methods of up to five rooms. This pattern creates both kinaesthetic
visual analysis, such as those available in ArcGIS or in and visual alignment. In other places, the structurally
UCL Depthmap, allows us to highlight some visual deep alignment of rooms is made less permeable by
properties of space directly on an access analysis graph. visual breaks or turns which are encountered on paths
Especially relevant here are changes in the lines of sight leading from all four of the entranceways. Importantly,
that unfold as people move and turn corners, and which the visual experience of the house would have been
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Fig. 1 An alternative graphic representation of space syntax- structurally shallow and close to an entrance to the building, while
based access analysis at the Palace of Gede, Kenya. The levels the rooms with the darkest shade (7) are the most private and
of access for individual spaces are represented on the layout plan distant from any entrance (the colored version is available online)
by the depth of the color: rooms with the lightest shade (1) are
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Fig. 2 Graphic representations of visual turns. The interruption of visual access. c a color-coded line highlighting a visual path
a sight line may be represented. a a line across the movement path. through a kinaesthetic access analysis graph
b a dashed line where two rooms are linked by kinaesthetic but not

affected by the placement of lamps, closed doors, dec- the Gede palace itself that would not be observable by
orations, and furnishings (Gensheimer 2018; Meier analyses focusing on any one sense alone. Furthermore,
2016, p. 141–150), as would the kinaesthetic experi- this analysis of the built environment reveals where one
ence. However, a synaesthetic analysis reveals sensory kind of sensory property enhances or contradicts the
characteristics of the interior spatial structure inherent to effect of another.

Fig. 3 An access analysis graph of the Palace of Gede, Kenya. with “T” demarcating the locations of tombs and letters “A” to “C”
Possible visual paths at multiple levels are highlighted in orange. depicting entrances (the colored version is available online)
The layout plan (left) shows the numbered rooms inside the palace
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Movement and Visual Perception in Urban became increasingly Islamic and witnessed the estab-
Settlements: West African Sahel and East African lishment of the centrally located Great mosque
Coast (Levtzion 1985, p. 141). Covering an area of almost
46 ha, the core of the old town lies within the natural
Landmarks, sightlines, and visual turns are particularly boundaries of a peninsula in the Inland Niger Delta and
relevant to the sensory experience of transitory urban the urban street networks are shaped by architecture
spaces, such as trading towns, where visitors are numer- built of very durable clay (Morris and Blier 2004). As
ous or where navigation is crucial to the functioning of documented ethnographically and historically, residents
local social and economic mechanisms. Adopting a lived in quarters divided by specialized occupation and
synaesthetic approach to this phenomenon in East and ethnicity (Maas et al. 1992, p. 163–5). Furthermore, the
West Africa, I now compare trading towns of Timbuktu city was arranged in two halves that grew together over
and Djenné in present-day Mali, and Mombasa in Ken- the centuries: two Islamic quarters of traders and artisans
ya. Each of these towns is predominantly Islamic and in the east and two quarters of fishermen and agricultur-
has a functioning, well-preserved historical core (usual- alists in the west known today as Yoboukayna and
ly known as the “old town”), including established Djoboro (Maas et al. 1992, p. 39). This social and spatial
urban quarters whose social and spatial importance distribution of economic activities has been guided by
reaches centuries back into the past. These latter are complex and deep-seated social rules both within the
important because an analytical focus on urban quarters town of Djenné (Stone 2018) and across the Inland
can help to incorporate contextual information from Niger Delta where specialized production was distribut-
historical, ethnographic, and archaeological sources into ed in space according to intricate social negotiations—a
the present analysis of space syntax. process that played a key role in origins of urbanism at
Timbuktu was established as an Islamic settlement Jenne-jeno and in the historical organization of quarters
and important trade post on the edge of the Sahara within the cities of Old Djenné and Timbuktu (McIntosh
around the twelfth century AD (Mauny 1961). During 2005; Stone 2018).
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the town became Finally, Mombasa Old Town is an urban center of
more significant with the founding of a university at the 72 ha on the coast of the Indian Ocean where Swahili
Sankore mosque (Levtzion and Spaulding 2003) and the stone houses first appeared in the thirteenth century
construction of two more mosques known as key land- (Kiriama 2018). With the favorable location of a port,
marks or “towers” distributed evenly across the edges the Swahili of Mombasa were engaged in trade before
and the center of the town (Dubois 1896, p. 210). and after the arrival of the Europeans in late fifteenth
Beginning as two quarters built on opposing sand dunes century (Berg 1968). Overlaying the earliest structures
to control northern and southern access to the town, the in the town, however, most individual house plots and
Timbuktu Old Town grew over the next two centuries to new developments have a colonial history dating from
cover an area of approximately 52 ha by incorporating a the seventeenth century onward (Maitland-Jones et al.
third quarter in the central depression separating the two 1985). The town also features multiple mosques distrib-
original quarters (Insoll 2000, White et al. 2015, p. 188). uted across the different quarters, where houses were
In sum, the town was established in two halves, and the built incorporating Indian, Arab, European, and African
seamless layout of streets emerged in a process that took architectural features (Steyn 2015). The clans living in
nearly four centuries. From a regional perspective, Tim- these individual quarters formed confederations across
buktu has been described in historical accounts as an Mombasa Old Town, which also came to include a
outpost of Djenné further south (Dubois 1896). European quarter in the southeast part of the town in
In the case of Djenné, also known as Old Djenné or the sixteenth century (Kiriama 2018, p. 621–622). Town
Jenne, urban history reaches back to the first millennium quarters, called mitaa, have been established historically
AD, close to the much older settlement of Jenne-jeno and ethnographically as playing an important role in the
(McIntosh and Mcintosh 1981, p. 9–10). Originally a (re)distribution of power, forming the nuclei of urban
settlement of Bozo fishermen, the importance of trade in development (Sinclair and Håkansson 2000, p. 466),
Djenné grew steadily, with trade routes coming into the and structuring urban social and economic life, includ-
town from the northwest and the southeast. As part of ing craft specialization (Middleton 2004, p. 51)—a pat-
the Empire of Mali in the thirteenth century, Djenné tern which is reminiscent of the West African Sahelian
Afr Archaeol Rev

towns discussed above. The existence of such organized spaces, such as open plazas, and public buildings,
town quarters has also been suggested for archaeologi- such as mosques and markets.
cal sites like Shanga, Kenya (Horton 1994). An analysis of the role of urban quarters in Timbuktu
The sensory experience of space in these towns dif- (Fig. 4) and Djenné (Fig. 5) based on sensory
fers, of course, from the enclosed space of buildings synaesthetic analysis of the street network has shown
where both movement and vision are more restricted. A that the spatial structure of Timbuktu channeled traffic
synaesthetic approach to visual and kinaesthetic access through and across the urban quarters and mosques were
around African towns therefore needs to accommodate the ultimate landmarks guiding people’s movement.
wider spatial fields, given the greater scales and dis- Meanwhile, in Djenné movement was channeled by
tances involved in the perception of outdoor urban long avenues that pass along edges of the quarters to
space. For an observer with a vision span of 180 de- the center of the town where there is a concentration of
grees, movement in a straight line can be modelled as an landmarks (Baumanova et al. 2019).
unbroken visual field and line of physical access in the To allow a cross-regional comparison of these
approximate range of 45–135 degrees at any single towns with Mombasa, the features analyzed need to
moment. A visual or kinaesthetic turn can then be rec- be adjusted because past Swahili towns did not feature
ognized to occur on street turns, crossroads, and open markets (trade likely took place through the houses)
spaces bending at 0–45 degrees or 135–180 degrees and the low density of streets (Maitland-Jones et al.
relative to the observer. Although there is a potential 1985) would render a street network analysis unrepre-
margin of error of a few degrees, this model reflects the sentative. However, a synaesthetic sensory analysis
real character of human movement and sensory percep- can be complemented with the number and location
tion excluding peripheral vision. It also allows us to of transition routes between individual quarters and
analyze the length of direct sightlines, which are known access routes leading in and out of the towns, both
to be relevant for navigation and choice of movement of which represent important communication points
paths, as well as how people acquire spatial knowledge (Fig. 6). Access routes into the towns were defined
and remember spatial configurations (Gärling 1995). according to historical accounts and the recorded loca-
In order to compare the urban settlements of tion of town gates, while the importance of transition
Timbuktu, Djenné, and Old Mombasa with a classic points only emerges through interpretation of com-
space syntax analysis, an axial map would normally bined visual and kinaesthetic access. Although there
be produced as an overlay of a topographic map, may be several streets which connect any two town
which is defined by lines of maximum extension quarters, only those which allow both an uninterrupted
for any point in a straight line which connect physical access route and a straight sightline are con-
convex/open spaces (Hillier and Hanson 1984). sidered as relevant transition routes of the same qual-
Such a map can establish the characteristics of the ity; these are highlighted on the analytical maps
street network, highlighting the spaces and streets (Figs. 4, 5, and 6).
in a town that are better connected or integrated and Access routes follow different patterns into the
revealing important spatial properties that affect towns. For Timbuktu, the visual and kinaesthetic access
movement. If this method of graphic representation align and lead directly to one quarter (northern or south-
and analysis is modified to incorporate visual per- ern) of the town. For Djenné, visual and kinaesthetic
ception, the axial lines can be defined as streets that access align partially and run along the edges of two
have a beginning and an end determined by unin- quarters and usually go directly to the center of the town.
terrupted sightlines. A visual turn is then interpreted For Mombasa, these communication channels are also
as a different street in the analysis. In a graphic situated on and along the edges of urban quarters, but
representation, the street length may even be shown there is no defined town center.
as relative width. For the historic African towns, The towns also show differences in terms of the
which have complex street networks, the satellite transition points between individual quarters. While
photos from Google Earth provide an important and Timbuktu shows multiple transition routes between
up-to-date source of background data for this sort quarters, there is only one or two surrounding the center
of synaesthetic analysis. Importantly, this analysis of Djenné. In Mombasa, there is only one route between
can also help us to reflect on the location of public quarters, which combines visual and kinaesthetic
Afr Archaeol Rev

Fig. 4 An analytical map of

Timbuktu Old Town in present-
day Mali (West African Sahel).
The dashed lines mark the ap-
proximate border of the town

access. Furthermore, the communication channels in of the urban quarters, though shaped in local terms, was
Mombasa allow control of movement, but no quarter spatially constituted and emerged over centuries as the
is more important than the other in terms of general towns were being built.
connectivity. The central quarter has the quickest con-
nection to all others, but it does not have a mosque or
access to the ocean or the town gates. Hence, it can be Discussion
stated that Mombasa Old Town shows a layout which
was not built around a primary orientation to the ocean, The analyses presented above show that there is a great
and only the preferred location for the European-built and still unexplored potential for synaesthetic analyses of
colonial buildings caused the equilibrium among quar- urban sensory experience in research on the roles of the
ters to shift toward the oceanfront. built environment in African pasts. Although archaeolo-
Overall, this comparative analysis of three African gists are still somewhat wary to write emotion and the
trading towns and their layouts shows that the social role senses into the past (Fleisher and Norman 2016), the
Afr Archaeol Rev

Fig. 5 An analytical map of

Djenné Old Town in present-day
Mali (West African Sahel). The
dashed lines mark the approxi-
mate border of the town quarters

adaptation of space syntax-based research can pave the interpreting the function of spaces, but the synaesthetic
way in addressing the complexity of past sensory envi- modifications proposed in this paper improve its ability
ronments and their perception in accordance with ad- to incorporate contextual information and increase its
vances in neuroscience and the social sciences. The im- relevance for understanding the logic of human percep-
portance of space syntax and associated approaches in tion. On the basis of the presented case studies, it can be
African archaeology lies, among other things, in their stated that long sightlines on one hand, and visual breaks
potential application to both archaeological sites of or turns on the other, have significance for the percep-
deserted towns and living historical cities. These ap- tion of a moving observer and hence for combining with
proaches can also allow us to analyze sensory experience space syntax to analyze the kinaesthetic/tactile potential
at a broader spatial scale than we can with the exclusive of the built environment. With this approach, selected
use of traditional archaeological survey and excavation. aspects of visual and haptic perception can be synthe-
Space syntax on its own has many limitations, in- sized in the study of individual buildings and entire
cluding a somewhat generalizing approach to urban settlements.
Afr Archaeol Rev

Fig. 6 An analytical map of Mombasa Old Town in present-day Kenya (East African coast)

As much as analyses of movement based on space to understand the configurational logic of smaller units
syntax have usefully incorporated visual fields with within a larger spatial network, such as quarters within a
specific predefined characteristics, space syntax also town, which written and oral histories suggest were
holds potential for future research including other sen- socially meaningful. Furthermore, features that were
sory fields. Auditory perception, in particular, seems long suggested to be important, such as sightlines in
well-suited to the analysis of archaeological data for Swahili houses (Donley 1982; Ghaidan 1975), can be
the built environment, which could adapt some of the proven to be meaningful in the complex logic of the
quantitative methods used in architecture based on cal- multisensory environment, or at least discussed with
culations of the aural properties of various types of new arguments. In the study of African pasts, there
building material (e.g., Fowler 2017). Ethnographic may be other such social phenomena whose existence
studies can also significantly contribute to research in or mechanisms are suggested by historical or ethno-
this vein. For example, Eisenberg (2013) describes prac- graphic data, but for which there is little direct evidence
tices in present-day Mombasa where citizens negotiate in material records. Possibly, by further extending the
public space and interpret the acoustic traditions of reach of its spatial analyses, archaeology could shed
houses and their immediate surroundings to mark places light on more aspects of the past urban environments
of communal privacy. Similarly, it should be possible to in Africa and beyond.
model how sound would have travelled around, in, and
out of the houses identified on archaeological sites. Acknowledgments The author would like to thank Cameron
Sound could then be incorporated into synaesthetic in- Gokee and Carla Klehm for inviting her to contribute to the
“Spatial Approaches in African Archaeology” session organized
terpretations by updating access analysis graphs to rep-
at SAA conference in Washington, D.C. in 2018.
resent breaks in aural fields in addition to visual turns.
Synaesthetic analyses and their graphic representa-
Funding Information This paper was written with the support
tions, such as the combinations of visual and of the author’s project “Comparing urban morphological transfor-
kinaesthetic access presented in this paper, can help us mation in pre-colonial to colonial urban traditions” (No.20-
Afr Archaeol Rev

02725Y) awarded by the GACR -Czech Science Foundation and Everest, F. A., & Pohlmann, K. C. (2009). Master handbook of
is based partially on data generated during her Marie Skłodowska- acoustics (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Curie Individual Global Fellowship (No. 656767 - TEMPEA). Fahlander, F., & Kjellström, A. (2010). Making sense of things:
Archaeologies of sensory perception. Stockholm: Stockholm
Compliance with Ethical Standards University.
Fisher, K. D. (2009). Placing social interaction: An integrative
Conflict of Interest The author declares that she has no conflict approach to analyzing past built environments. Journal of
of interest. Anthropological Archaeology, 28, 439–457.
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