Abiola Ibirogba, Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Anthropology, Penn State; Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University
Two decades after the first archaeological research conducted in the Badagry region on the coast of Lagos State, Nigeria, there is still a lacuna in the multilayered histories associated with lived experiences on the West African coast in the Atlantic era in the region (beginning in the 18th century). This article presents the results of a preliminary archaeological survey conducted as part of the author’s doctoral dissertation research in the summer of 2022. It highlights the materiality of coastal populations living on the edges of African kingdoms caught in the crosshairs of European mercantilism and the trade in enslaved persons in the 18th century. This research points out evidence of Atlantic entanglements on the one hand as well as dissociation from the webs of connections formed during the Atlantic era (15th–19th centuries) on the other. It contributes to the debate on the agency of African peripheries on the coast in the 18th century. The survey revealed mound structures, remains of architecture, smoking pipe fragments, cowrie shells, and potsherds, showing intense human exploitation of coastal resources to navigate enslavement on coastal edges. The paper meshes these data with myth stories, oral histories, and documentary sources to highlight the agency of African peoples in making movement and settlement decisions in response to the uncertainties of war and enslavement on the coast of West Africa.