Everything To Know About Songo Mnara : History, Layout, Excavations : Songo Mnara’s ruins are located along Tanzania’s southern end of the Swahili Coast. Between the 14th and 16th centuries, people lived in this stone town. Songo Mnara and the nearby town of Kilwa Kisiwani are both recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

 On the island, archaeologists have uncovered four cemeteries, six mosques, 12 housing complexes, and three enclosed areas. The town was built with mortar and unprocessed coral. One of the many trading centers along the Indian Ocean was this stone town.


In order to recognize the significance of the Swahili coast to the functions of specific towns and Islamic culture, including the intricate economic and traditional land ownership processes, archaeologists’ analysis of the designs of stone towns using Swahili architecture along the Swahili coastline primarily focused on emphasizing the relationship between the houses and mosques.

 The public spaces in the town were used for practical needs and for social organization. Both inside and outside the town’s boundaries are cemeteries. Songo Mnara’s architecture is reminiscent of stone towns on the Swahili coast, despite the fact that its wall is a unique element.


Archaeologists now have a better understanding of Songo Mnara’s lifestyle thanks to excavation efforts. Numerous of the 40 homes in the nearby stone town were among the many different sites where excavations were carried out.

Trench digging sites included House 23 outside of the houses, House 44 near a tomb, and a well. Many different kinds of artifacts were found, but some of them were taken out of already-dug-up houses. Archaeologists carefully mapped and recorded their finds.

Due to the complexity of the spaces and the fact that it was a person’s home, House 44 at Songo Mnara was an important research location. Each trench in the house had a unique number, and there were excavations in every room of the house. A test unit measuring 1 x 1 m was progressively dug out of the ceramic layers in the southwest room.

When the excavation reached a plaster level below the floor, it was stopped. Another, measuring about 4 by 2.25 meters, was on the southwest side of the house. Additionally, ceramics were found here. Coral and plaster were found in the layers of debris in the adjacent room, which was in the center of the house. 

The plaster floor is where the excavations here were stopped. Additionally, the home’s southeast room, back room, and entrance room all underwent excavations. At house 44, ceramics from the fifteenth century were found.

 House 23 was situated in the southwest portion of Songo Mnara. Due to time restrictions, only samples rather than a full excavation were taken from this house. In the courtyard of the house, a 4 x 1m unit was erected.

Steps were discovered during the excavation process, along with a coral bedrock floor. A 2 x 2m unit was positioned in the middle room, which was adjacent. There was a plaster floor similar to that at House 44.

 Houses 31, 34, and 40 were excavated as part of the 2011 Songo Mnara field school. The initial investigation took place during a field school in 2009. The Songo Mnara 2009 excavations were conducted by archaeologists in six different parts of the home. At every home, including those with artifacts, plaster floors were once again found.

 The ceramics found at one of the front doorways were tested and found to support a lot of activity. Because they were so well kept, in contrast to the front room, the tested backroom never displayed the same level of activity.

Under the floor during this field school, coins resembling those in Kilwa were found. The open space and the fact that houses were shared at the location were both revealed by the information found at these houses.

On the open spaces at Songo Mnara, excavations took place as part of the 2009 field school. Every activity that distinguished private space from public space was planned out in the structures. Numerous activities were discovered through archaeological analysis of the ceramic layers and other artifacts.

Considering all the open spaces there as spaces utilized for activities done specifically outdoors, coins were among the discoveries in the open spaces. The open space was taken into account during the shovel test pits at the Songo Mnara field school in 2011, as well as what the soil might currently reveal to a person about the site. In order to demonstrate the connection between the excavation sites and daily household activities, trenches were also dug.

 Unlike the field school at Songo Mnara in 2009, the field school in 2011 included a look at mosques. To comprehend Songo Mnara, one looked at the main mosque. It was clear from the graves that people took care of the dead right away.


Built on top of bedrock and a sandy subsoil, the town is situated on an island. The location’s proximity to the Kilwa Kisiwani epicenter and low population density provide an ideal setting for geoarchaeological research.

By 2011, soil samples from Songo Mnara had been collected for phytolith and microstratigraphy chemical analyses, which helped geoarchaeologists distinguish between naturally deposited material and human occupants’ deposits.

 At the northern and southern ends of Songo Mnara, respectively, two open areas were tested. Samples from the floors of the houses as well as those taken from rooms with fill were tested. In 44 of the samples, different palm phytolith were found, which is unnatural.


At Songo Mnara, research was done in the open spaces to see how urban centers could help us realize the designs for towns. There is a sizable public area, devoid of any architecture, within the town’s perimeter wall. Mosques and cemeteries are situated in public areas.

 Modern approaches to examining public areas include phytolith techniques, testing, and archaeological micromorphology. The western shoreline and locations with daub and wattle housing were two of the seven areas taken into consideration for this study.

 There are many different artifacts connected to houses in the open space at these Songo Mnara locations. Geochemical data revealed that there was significant human activity along the western shoreline and in areas with daub and wattle.

Location three was given consideration for space, particularly for public spaces like those for cemeteries and mosques. During testing at this site, iron implements in a primary context were found, indicating that the town had an iron smithing industry.

In the middle of location 4, there are graves and tombs, indicating that the people who lived there remembered the people whose graves are there. Kilwa coins were used to remember loved ones buried there by honoring the deceased. The ceramic fragments that were found were probably used to pay tribute to the dead.

 The mosque and the cemetery are located at location five. The layout of the markers, including the placement of the mosques, was taken into consideration when choosing this specific Songo Mnara location. The geophysical evaluation evaluated the soil as being suitable for burial, but no grave goods were found.

The presence of a public well area at the sixth location reveals it to be the safest of all the other locations. While digging near the well that contained a variety of artifacts, a landfill was present. The northern community area is the final area to take into account because phytolith research suggests that there may be orchards or garden plots there.

 Since it was so close to the houses, numerous domestic and household items were found there during excavation. There were three distinct community spaces in Songo Mnara: a green space, organized centers, and one for non-elite residents.


The architecture of House 44 at Songo Mnara has been studied. Although the soil sample for the hallway contained signs of palm phytolith, the backrooms contained artifacts. Compared to the open area, every backroom showed evidence of various activities. Some discoveries in House 44 are followed by excavations of various other homes. Since house 23 is superior to house 44, the hallway in house 31 with the middle room for house 23 was different from the corresponding rooms in house 44.

At Songo Mnara, artifacts were found in every room, which indicated a special activity. The presence of coins in the middens (garbage heaps) and burials in the backroom suggested that the house wasn’t private but rather a place where the community conducted business. This is different from earlier studies on the homes along the Swahili coast.

 The evidence suggested that what occurred in the commercial city was also happening in people’s homes. This demonstrated the lack of a set method for distinguishing between a public space and a private space.

Everything To Know About Songo Mnara
Songo Mnara


The coins were made between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries. Most coins had legible writing on them. These were discovered by digging trenches throughout Songo Mnara, primarily in the floor’s layers. The types identified at this location are Ali b. al-Hasan, Nsir al-Dunya, and al-Hasan b. Sulaimn. Reading Nsir al-Dunya was challenging due to poor preservation.

 At Songo Mnara, many of the Kilwa coins bore writings by Ali b. al-Hasan. Since these coins predate the site’s occupation due to earlier periods than when it was inhabited, people may have left them there.


Swahili Coast trade came from India, China, and other Indian Ocean trading nations. When looking at Songo Mnara’s trading partners, ceramic shards from Southeast Asia and China were discovered. Chinese ceramics from the 14th century included blue and white porcelain and stoneware with green glazing.


 Southeast Asian pieces were unglazed, while Thai stoneware had green glazing. Because of on-site agriculture, only a small number of foreign items were discovered. The ceramics discovered at Songo Mnara were available for trade.

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