Although debate rages in the academy over what archaeology “is,” one definition is the scientific investigation of past human culture. A particularly important line of evidence to the archaeologist is material culture, or artifacts. Though the careful study of material items discarded lost, created, or used by previous societies, archaeologists open windows into the lives of these groups.
Archaeological data, in the form of artifacts and architectural information, is gathered by field work that involves systematic exploration for “sites”, or areas where archaeological evidence of past human land utilization exists. After the sites are identified, archaeologists often excavate test units to search for deeply buried material.
For this project, Neil Norman directed the team which conducted a systematic archaeological survey of a 10 kilometer region surrounding the palace complex at Savi, which was identified by Kenneth Kelly in the 1990s. Survey lines were cleared through heavy brush, and every 100 meters the area was searched for archaeological sites containing artifacts and architectural features such as fallen walls and defensive ditches. The project team conducted excavations at seven sites containing artifacts dating from the early 17 th century to the early 20 th century. To achieve a date for the sites, careful attention was paid to the types of artifacts found at each site and the relation of the style of artifact to the stratigraphy of each archaeological unit.
The archaeology of societies from the 17 th through 18 th centuries AD in southern Bénin has particularly profited from the comparison of archaeological data derived from survey and test excavation with oral and written sources. While often archaeological data supports oral and historical sources, there are at times conflicts between these sources. For example, while European maps of the palace complex at Savi suggest that European trading lodges were as large as the Xwéda palace complex; archaeological research conducted by Kenneth Kelly at the palace suggests that these lodges were actually very small in comparison to the residence of the Xwéda king.