Jenne-Jeno: Africa’s Lost City which was Home to Dozens of Artisans in Mali

Stephen Nartey September 14, 2022
A relic of the lost city, Jenne-jeno/Photo credit: Wikipedia

Jenne-jeno, one of the lost cities of Africa, bear no evidence of a town controlled by the social elite and has no architecture or monuments signifying the inhabitants were ruled by kings.

Its settlements were made of mud-brick with an organized layout, suggesting at least between 7,000 to 13,000 people lived in the city. They were free and simply classless.

 Archaeological excavations only show a fertile land and remains of moderate settlements near the Niger River. The city is considered to be 1,000 years old.

Early findings by archaeologists Susan and Roderick McIntosh showed that the city which is located in modern Mali was a crowded settlement dating to around 250 B.C. It’s one of the oldest cities in Africa, according to the national geographic.

Literature on the economic activity of the city indicate that it had expansive trade networks which centered on fold and forest goods producers who brought into in stone and salt from the Sahara to trade.

The city’s fame and growth centres around it legion of craftsmen who added value to raw materials brought by travellers from Middle Niger and western Sahel.

Jenne-jeno in archaeological journals has been described as home of artisans because the economic engine of the city was built on the craftsmen dexterity in building ceramics. It is considered as a vibrant ancient city because of their dominance in trade across the Sahara.

Excavations show shaped fine pottery and expressive sculptures in artifacts produced at Jenne-jeno.

Archaeologists say the hundreds of little clay animals found there may have been crafted as toys to keep children amused. 

Aside from the skill in crafts, the inhabitants of the city also invested in agriculture planting rice, sorghum and other cereals.

The city however began to witness a decline in the 11th and 12th centuries as a result of the rise of other cities like the Timbuktu. Today, Djenne and its neighboring sites are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

According to the encyclopedia of global archaeology, it was the first indigenous city recognized in south of the Sahara, contradicting the long-held assumption that African cities were initially colonies of or in some way stimulated by Greco-Roman, Punic, or Egyptian urbanism north of the desert. 

Although there are other cities which are considered older than Jenne-jeno, its architecture and the dominance of the small city gives a sense of its authority in medieval times.

Little has been known of the city because many archaeologists missed its age and significance because there weren’t relics of palaces, temples and other indicators of civilization they could relate to with regard to Jenne-jeno.

Archaeologists often classified a city and its importance by these historical landmarks and palaces as well as splendid temples in which kings and gods are celebrated.  

But, one fact is clear, Jenne-jeno is a city that displayed great resilience in a challenging environment as the Sahara transformed from a well-watered savanna as late as the fourth millennium BCE to its present condition by the late third or early second millennium.

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