The archaeologists provide direct evidence of the settlement history of the eastern Congo Basin through excavations, and relate present and past material culture through interviews with contemporary artisans.
Until recently, the wider region around Kisangani was one of the blanks on the archaeological map of the DRC. The excavations of the River Connaissance Project (Eggert 1987, 1992, etc.; Wotzka 1995) are rather situated to the West, in the inner Congo Basin along the tributaries of the Congo River from Lake Tumba until the Lulonga River, whereas Mercader’s sites are further to the Northeast, north of Epulu (Mercader 2003). The only data from the eastern Congo Basin have been obtained by the BANTURIVERS archaeologists during surveys in 2010 and 2013. The excavated sites demonstrate the presence of settlements at the Aruwimi, Lomami and Lindi rivers between 2200 and 1900 BP. Analyses of pottery reveal different styles of pottery production, one of which seems to have its origins in the Sahel (Livingstone-Smith et al. 2016). The preliminary results are promising with respect to uncovering the past of the current cultural crossroads.
A first objective of the archaeological part of the project is to provide direct evidence for the settlement history of the region. Depending on the preservation conditions of excavated sites, direct evidence may even be found of past subsistence strategies, such as the exploitation of rivers. The archaeologists will establish a chronological and cultural framework for communities who live in the rainforest today. Due to preservation issues in the acidic soils under forest cover, archaeology here is mainly concerned with potsherds and pottery vessels, as well as with stone implements and manufacturing debris thereof. The most efficient surveying method is riverine-oriented and though this introduces a bias towards identifying river-bound occupation it has proven to be a powerful means in exploring the densely vegetated habitats of the riverbanks in the rainforest. Large-scale survey in the Inner Congo Basin has revealed the potential of the area for the reconstruction of occupation over the last 2500 years (Wotzka 1995; Eggert 2014) and has been applied successfully also to the northeastern bend of the Congo river including the lower stretches of its tributaries (Livingstone-Smith et al. 2016).
Second, contemporary data will be gathered to study pottery techniques, exchanges and networks in past and present. Interviews with potters provide details on the “chaîne opératoire” and the social side of the work, information that is not readily available for excavated pots but that offer insights on the manufacturers and the networks that shaped them.
Eggert, Manfred K.H. 1987. Archäologische Forschungen im zentralafrikanischen Regenwald. In: Portner, R. & Niemeyer, H.G. (eds.). Die großen Abenteuer der Archäologie, Band 9. Salzburg: Andreas Verlag, pp. 3217-3240.
―. 1992. The Central African Rain Forest: Historical Speculation and Archaeological Facts. World Archaeology Vol. 24 (1): 1-24.
― 2014. The archaeology of the Central African rainforest: Its current state. In: Renfrew, C. & Bahn, P. (Eds). The Cambridge World Prehistory (1). New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 183–203.
Livingstone-Smith, A., Cornelissen, E., de Franquen, C., Nikis, N., Mees, F., Tshibamba Mukendi, J., Beeckman, H., Bourland, N. & Hubau, W. 2016. Forests and Rivers: The Archaeology of the North Eastern Congo. Quaternary International.
Mercader, J. 2003. Foragers of the Congo. The early settlement of the Ituri Forest. In: Mercader, J. (ed.). Under the Canopy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. pp. 93-116.