European Commission logo
English English
CORDIS - EU research results

An Archaeology of Exchange Networks in Central Africa. The Cases of the Copperbelt and Niari Basin Copper Deposits

Project description

An archaeological reconstruction of central African exchange networks

Despite evidence of the important role that exchange networks played in the history of central Africa, many questions remain unanswered. For instance, where were the trade networks located and how did they operate? The EU-funded ArCAN project will research the history of these networks by exploring exchange systems around the copper deposits in the Niari Basin (southern Republic of Congo) and the Copperbelt (south-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo). The style and manufacturing methods of copper and ceramic artefacts as well as the provenance of traded objects and materials will be examined as sources of information on trade networks and the spread of knowledge. The research results will allow historical reconstruction of regional and long-distance relationships and interactions, and an assessment of the role played by geographical features and socio-political contexts in these exchange networks.


Exchange networks have played a major role in the history of Central Africa, but their exact location and how they operated remain largely unknown. This project aims at investigating the history of these networks by studying the exchange from and to the copper deposits in the Niari Basin (southern Republic of Congo) and in the Copperbelt (south-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo). Both areas were part of large scale and extensive economic spaces during the 2nd millennium AD. An interdisciplinary approach – including archaeology, materials science, historical geography and history – will be used for unravelling the course of the trade routes and their regional interconnectivity. The late 19th century networks are historically well documented, and will serve as a starting point for tracing their earlier configurations, origins and precursors, using material culture as the main source of evidence. Copper and ceramic artefacts will be studied in order to provide information on trade networks as well as on exchange of knowledge and ideas through the examination of their style and manufacturing processes. The investigation – including laboratory analyses – will result in the reconstruction through time of the exchange networks, and of the socio-economical spaces of which they were a part. This will allow reconstruction of the history of regional and long-distance connections and interactions, and assessment of the respective roles of geographical features and the socio-political context in shaping and maintaining exchange networks through time. Besides improving our knowledge on the ancient economic history of the area, the project results will provide empirical grounds for the development of more robust analytical and theoretical frameworks for interpreting ancient interaction and exchange networks in Africa using material culture. The Researcher will receive training in archaeological theory, archaeometry, GIS and spatial analysis, and pottery analysis (secondment).


Net EU contribution
€ 224 933,76
CB2 1TN Cambridge
United Kingdom

See on map

East of England East Anglia Cambridgeshire CC
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 224 933,76