6. Conclusion

Fish were consumed as part of a varied diet that included meat (both hunted and domesticated) as well as shell-fish, with sorghum, millet and rice providing the carbohydrates. The fish element, as with other food, is closely linked to both natural and cultural processes; for example, fishers make decisions about how and when to fish by considering environmental factors (e.g. monsoon currents, tides, and fish habitats) as well as cultural factors (e.g. age, skill, and socioeconomic status, perceived status of fish). Because the archaeological record of fish remains is a result of the effects of these factors, ichthyo-archaeological analysis allows us to reconstruct both social and environmental aspects of life on the Swahili coast. A systematic analysis of exploited fish habitats at various Swahili settlements shows the variability of fishing practices along the coast. Five main habitats are found along the Swahili coastline although in different proportions around each settlement: coral, estuary, sandy-muddy, mangrove, and open sea. Overall, the exploitation of marine habitats reflects the proximity of these habitats to the settlements. For example, around offshore islands, where coral reefs are more abundant and accessible, fishers exploited more coral species. However, the types of exploited fish taxa within habitat groups varied among settlements; this could reflect a combination of variability in fish taxonomic distributions and the use of different fishing strategies or tools to exploit similar environments. Furthermore, open-sea fishing occurred in the second millennium CE only in settlements with more capital, attested by higher numbers of coral-stone architecture, imported ceramics, and higher proportions of domesticated animal meat. This regional analysis demonstrates that although Swahili settlements shared a reliance on marine resources, variability in fishing practices resulted from a combination of their particular cultural and environmental contexts.