Excavations

Excavation of this Swahili city-state was primarily conducted by James Kirkman. He began excavation with his team in 1948, the year that Gedi had been turned into a National Park.  During his time spent in the city-state of Gedi, he excavated three mosques, a palace, fifteen houses, and part of the town walls. Kirkman continued working on the East African coast for 8 years until 1956.

Analysis of test pits and core samples suggest that Gedi was originally inhabited in the thirteenth or possibly twelfth century. Three stratified layers were identified, the most recent being from the 17th century. A few houses were proven to be from before the fifteenth century. Kirkman observed and documented a standard floor plan used in the construction of these early structures. Essentially, each house was laid out with a sunken hall or aisle in the front, two suites each consisting of two rooms, and long room which tended to be the bathroom. Running water was common among the wealthier houses. Most houses that Kirkman documented had ovens (jungu la mofa) set into the floor. Slight variations in architecture of the houses and other buildings allowed Kirkman to relatively date the structures; he described them as “bungalow types”. He found that the palace was similarly laid out to that of the oldest house (fourteenth century). The only difference was that the suites containing bedrooms became anterooms containing courts. Two tombs were identified surrounding the Palace: the Imam’s tomb of the 15th century made of coral, and a dated pillar tomb, dated 1399.

pillarpalace

The mosques were found to be laid out very differently than dwellings. They were much more heavily decorated than houses; however houses were also decorated to a large extent. The Great Mosque had 13 blue and white Chinese porcelain bowl structures inserted into the apse; the Mihrab, prayer niche facing Mecca, was also decorated with blue and white porcelain.  Surrounding the inner city, which great-mosqueinhabited the wealthy, was a stone wall dating back to the 1400’s.