The Development of Nomadism in Ancient Northeast Africa

Karim Sadr

University of Pennsylvania Press 1991
A book review by Danny Yee © 1997
Sadr takes as his starting point Kroeber's "symbiosis" model for nomadism, which stresses linkages between nomads and state-level societies. He prefers this to the more popular "ecological" model, which stresses nomadism's direct economic advantages in particular environments. There are, then, different kinds of pastoralism: mixed economy, with symbiosis within the family; agropastoralism, with symbiosis between segments or clans within an ethnic group; and true nomadism, with symbiosis at the regional level, between specialised nomadic and agricultural populations. Sadr suggests that the origins of nomadism lie in a progression through these three stages, accompanying population growth and an increase in the complexity of social organisation.

Having briefly discussed some of the problems distinguishing different forms of pastoralism in the archaeological record, Sadr then presents his major case-study. This is of the Southern Atbai, a region of south-east Sudan on the modern border with Ethiopia, from 3500 BC through to 500 AD. The remainder of the book presents evidence from elsewhere in Northeast Africa during the same period. The support this offers for the symbiosis theory is (as Sadr himself clearly realises) sketchy, particularly for the origins of nomadism in a progression between stages of pastoralism. But the analysis is intriguing and The Development of Nomadism in Ancient Northeast Africa is a deft and suggestive combination of theory and evidence. Anyone interested in nomadism should read it.

July 1997

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%T The Development of Nomadism in Ancient Northeast Africa
%A Sadr, Karim
%I University of Pennsylvania Press
%D 1991
%O hardcover, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0812230663
%P xiv,180pp