4. Discussion – The Exploitation of Aquatic Resources

4.1 Ninth-seventeenth centuries

The radiocarbon date (260 ± 30 yrs BP) obtained from level 180-190cm of the excavated unit appears younger than that from a stratigraphically higher level (130-140cm) (Table 1). This result was very unexpected and difficult to explain considering that there were no disturbances in the stratigraphy of the excavated unit. Hence, the earliest date for the arrival of the Ahanve people in their present location is inferred from about the time they left their ancestral home, Ile-Ife. That there was some relationship between Ahanve and Ile-Ife is supported by the recovery of pottery with classical Ile-Ife decoration motifs (incised and grooved) from the lowest levels of the Ahanve excavation (Orijemie 2013). Thus it is inferred that Ahanve people probably migrated from Ile-Ife after the 9th century; this is the oldest date yet recovered from Ile-Ife (Garlake 1974; Babalola, pers. comm. 2012). It is also possible this migration occurred any time between the 9th–17th centuries AD. The oldest dates yet recovered from Ahanve are cal AD 1440-1640. When the people arrived in Ahanve a variety of food resources was available including a range of 'bush' (i.e. forest) animals like baboons for example, African giant snails, cat-fish, bivalves (Figure 5), salt and Typha australis. I will focus on the aquatic resources.

In Phase I, Ahanve people engaged in fishing. The cranial bones recovered from the excavation were identified as those of Clariidae (cat-fish) (Mrs Folorunso, pers. comm. 2011). Among the Clariidae, Clarias gariepinus is the most common in Nigeria; though tolerant of many habitats it is natural to freshwater environments (Vitule et al. 2006; Fishbase). Hence its recovery in the Ahanve excavation does suggest the presence of freshwater nearby. This inference is further strengthened by pollen evidence, which reveals that Ahanve has been dominated by freshwater swamp for the last c. 3000 years (Sowunmi 2004). Furthermore, from that time until the present, there has been no significant change in the hydrology of the area, hence Clariidae is still caught in the Ahanve swamp, and eaten today in Ahanve.

Bivalve shells (Anodonta sp.) were recovered whole (Figure 5b), an indication that this shell-fish might have been eaten. Bivalve shells are used for paving floors in rural coastal communities in Southern Nigeria, though this was not observed in Ahanve. To use the shells for this purpose, the flesh must first be removed and it is unlikely it would be discarded. However, the very low number recovered (Table 1) suggests Anodonta were probably an insignificant part of the people's diet. Anodonta sp. is natural to freshwater environments (Ugwoke et al. 2013). Its recovery from the excavation lends credence to the inference made earlier about the presence of freshwater. Another item worthy of note and which served several purposes (cooking, preservation of foods and dyeing) is salt. According to Allsworth-Jones and Wesler (1998), the process of salt production in Angorin and Ganyingbo sea beaches in the BCA involves boiling brine from the Atlantic Ocean in large clay vessels and/or pots. After evaporation, a grey-white sludge or paste is formed. After cooling, this substance is scooped and rewashed to remove dirt; the residue is salt. This process, which was in use as early as the 15th century on the West African coast (Allsworth-Jones and Wesler 1998), is like that at Ahanve at present but with a few differences. In Ahanve, large pots were used for salt production and, upon evaporation, a whitish rock-like substance crystallises at the bottom of the pots. This substance is then washed, the dirt (soil and other debris) is discarded, and the salt that remains is ground into small particles and eventually sold in the market (Tunde Toyon, pers. comm. 2013). Large pots of 61-80cm in diameter, possibly used for salt production, were recovered from the Ahanve excavation. In addition, salt residues were recovered from the excavated unit in Ahanve, particularly at the lowest levels (Table 1). Ahanve today is c. 6.3km from the coast, unlike towns such as Angorin and Ganyingbo sea beaches which are less than 219m from the coast and have salt production traditions. Did the Ahanve people engage in salt production, considering its much greater distance from the Atlantic Ocean?

TPI was on a refuse mound and the recovered salt residues reflected the small-scale production of salt for domestic rather than industrial purposes. The Angorin and Ganyingbo sea beaches (Allsworth-Jones and Wesler 1998) and Gberefu (Alabi 1998) were considered to be industrial salt production sites based on the presence of numerous mounds and associated pottery there. It is a well-known fact that salt production along the Gulf of Guinea in the 14th-18th centuries was very common. Avoseh (1938) reported that a salt-making tradition was prominent in the BCA between the 16th and 18th centuries. Furthermore, salt production in the Lagoon of Bénin Republic was reported by Rivallain (1977, in Allsworth-Jones and Wesler 1998). Lagoons in Bénin Republic are directly linked to the Atlantic Ocean and thus are highly saline, whereas Badagry creek and the Yewa River are freshwater bodies that could not have been used for salt production. Ahanve oral traditions indicated that salt was produced locally; the archaeological evidence, i.e. the recovery of salt residues and the reconstructed large vessels, seem to support this. However, unlike Angorin and Ganyingbo sea beaches, the few salt residues recovered indicated that salt production in Ahanve was most probably done on a small scale, perhaps by a few individuals and/or families. The high cost of labour and fuel contributed to the subsequent abandonment of the trade. Salt was later acquired at the Badagry market, where other salt-producing peoples came to sell their products.