Kirikongo Archaeological Project

Mouhoun Province, Burkina Faso

The archaeological site of Kirikongo, an extremely well preserved Iron Age village (occupied ca. 100-1700 CE), is contributing a significant new case study of a developmental trajectory leading to a modern egalitarian society. I started the project with an intensive excavation and mapping program at the site itself (2004 and 2005/2006 field seasons). Most recently, the field program has expanded to include survey of the surrounding area and excavations at three contemporary sites (2011 field season). Future fieldwork will continue the survey and excavations, and revisit Kirikongo as the site is threatened by the maintenance and planned improvement of Burkina Road #10.

Research at Kirikongo is carried out with the support and permission of the CNRST, Ministry of Culture, and Laboratory of Archaeology at the University of Ouagadougou. The project has been facilitated from its inception by Dr. Lassina Koté, Chair of the Department of History and Archaeology at the University of Ouagadougou and Director of the Local Museum of Douroula, where artifacts from Kirikongo are curated. 

Field research and material analyses for the Kirikongo Archaeological Project have been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the ACLS New Faculty Fellows Program with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Michigan, and the University of Oregon.


Summary of Major Results:

My research at Kirikongo has revealed a dynamic socio-political sequence, with the development of institutionalized inequalities over the course of the 1st millennium CE, followed by an egalitarian revolution in the early 2nd millennium CE. The consequent social formation, despite being structurally egalitarian was actually more complex than the vertically oriented system that preceded it, and calls into question common assumptions of directionality in socio-political evolution.

In addition to the socio-political reconstruction, research at Kirikongo has contributed to a variety of practical and theoretical issues in the region’s archaeology. For example:

• I employed ceramic seriation and architectural analyses, anchored by radiocarbon dates, to develop the first material culture sequence in the Mouhoun Bend, the regional applicability of which was demonstrated during the 2011 survey.

• Kirikongo’s chickens are currently the earliest known in sub-Saharan Africa, and I have argued that chickens are of greater relative importance in egalitarian political systems since they are less likely than other domestic animals to be a symbol of inequality. These results are featured in the 2014 popular science book Why Did the Chicken Cross the World: The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization by Andrew Lawler (Atria Books)

• Hereditary craft specialists, particularly iron workers and potters are common in the region today. My analyses at Kirikongo indicate that these technologies became specialized along different pathways. Iron working began as a generalized practice, but became co-opted by elites in the mid 1st millennium CE, only to be removed to the exterior of the village after the early 2nd millennium CE revolution. Potting became specialized after the revolution, when it was coupled with iron-working.

• Following the revolution, Kirikongo’s residents stopped keeping cattle and began to participate in collective hunts. I have argued that this was a socially motivated change related to increasing equality, as this type of hunting practice often cross cuts individual houses and binds the community together, while cattle can be a source of individual or familial wealth.

• Research at Kirikongo points to the importance of savanna regional networks. I have found similarities in Early Iron Age ceramics throughout the region currently inhabited by Gur speakers, leading me to propose the existence of a “Voltaic Tradition”. In addition, my faunal analyses indicate that the Voltaic region may be a source area for small cattle and possibly chickens seen in the 1st millennium CE Inland Niger Delta.


Relevant Publications:

In 2012, I published a book on my ongoing research at Kirikongo titled Egalitarian Revolution in the Savanna: The Origins of a West African Political System.

The book is available via Routledge or through major distributors.

The book has been reviewed in AzaniaAntiquity, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Instituteand Journal of African Archaeology

Dueppen, Stephen
2015         Expressing difference: Inequality and house-based potting in a first
                 millennium CE community (Burkina Faso, West Africa). Cambridge Archaeological                  Journal 25(1): 17-43.

Dueppen, Stephen
2012         From kin to great house: Inequality and communalism at Iron Age Kirikongo,
                 Burkina Faso. American Antiquity 77(1):3-39.

Dueppen, Stephen
2012         Cattle in the West African Savanna: Evidence from 1st Millennium CE Kirikongo,
                 Burkina Faso. Journal of Archaeological Science 39:92-101.

Dueppen, Stephen
2011         Early evidence for chickens at Iron Age Kirikongo (ca. AD 100-1450), Burkina
                 Faso. Antiquity 85:142-157.

Dueppen, Stephen
2004         The Kirikongo Archaeological Project.  GEFAME 1(1)