BIEA Research Themes

Retelling the past

There is a growing tendency to discount knowledge about the past, with archaeology and historicized ways of thinking seen as an unaffordable luxury irrelevant to an African future. At the same time, historical narratives and knowledge play an ever more potent role in discussions about national cohesion, and in debates and litigation over land rights, citizenship and the politics of culture and heritage. Opportunity also comes from wider debates over the nature of scholarship and decolonisation of knowledge. Challenge and opportunity are linked, and the past – whether deep, or recent – must be revisited and retold from new perspectives. Archaeology, ethnography, anthropology, history and a host of complementary disciplines can be used to retell the past.

Changing environments

Climate change, bio-diversity loss, urbanisation, large infrastructure projects and technological innovations all impact the environments in which people live in ways that are having, and have long had, profound demographic, socioeconomic, cultural and political effects. It is critical that these changes – including their histories, their varied and complex impacts, the challenges and opportunities that they throw up, how these changes are conceptualised, negotiated, understood and represented, and the varied responses of governments, ordinary citizens and other stakeholders (including cultural actors) – are studied so as to better understand the past, present and possible futures.

Urban lives

Often seen simply as problematic, urbanisation is also a driver of creativity and innovation – from music-making and art to political mobilisation and mobile banking. This theme encourages research that explores and questions peoples’ imaginations, negotiations and everyday realities of urban life today and/or in the past.

Technologies of politics

Africa’s ‘digital revolution’ creates new realities, and provokes fresh thinking, on how power is mobilised, organised and exercised. Social movements, street protests, democratic elections, state authority and economic innovation are enabled and constrained in different ways as communication technologies, new and old, are innovated, imported, adapted and controlled. The BIEA brings its commitment to empirically grounded and multi-disciplinary local scholarship to promote research that builds worldclass knowledge on the digital age in and from the region.

Next generations

Across the region the idea of who constitutes the youth commonly extends to people in their 30s. This theme looks at the lived experiences, concerns, identities and strategies of the current youth, as well as at the changing and possible educational, socio-economic, employment, cultural, political, and environmental contexts which will help to shape the lives of future generations.

Epidemics, pandemics and epizootics

COVID-19 and varied government responses, popular responses and narratives, and cultural, socio-economic, and political impacts, have provided a stark reminder of how diseases help to make history, but also how they help to bring various social relations and realities into the spotlight. This theme encourages research that looks at both of these aspects – namely, on the impacts of, and insights provided by, disease – in the context of COVID-19 or earlier epidemics, pandemics and epizootics in the region.

1. BIEA-led Research

Jane Humphris –BIEA Director

Kushite iron production, Sudan
This large research project focuses on the ancient iron production technologies of the Kingdom of Kush. Since 2012 Jane has led a team excavating at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Royal City of Meroe in Sudan, and collaborated with teams working at other Kushite iron production locations. To investigate the large-scale remains of ancient technological practice she employs a combination of archaeological and archaeometallurgical methods, including experimental archaeology, to understand the technological nature, socio-cultural role and politico-economic impact of ancient technologies and technologists during this key period of Sudan’s history. Having revealed particularly early dates for iron production at Meroe, the research also considers the origins of ferrous technology in Africa.
Jane and her team have developed a comprehensive and diverse programme of community engagement and capacity building activities in Sudan, as well as site management strategies and an open air, bi- lingual information point.


Recent publications:

2021 Humphris, J. Iron production at Meroe. In G. Emberling, & B. B. Williams (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, DOI:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190496272.013.47

2021 Humphris, J., Emberling, G. & and Bradshaw, R. Archaeological Practice in the 21st Century.
Reflecting on Archaeologist-Community Relationships in Sudan’s Nile Valley. In G. Emberling, & B. B. Williams (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190496272.013.57

2020 Humphris, J. Is the archaeometallurgical record a valuable tool when considering Meroe within a Trans-Saharan landscape? In C. Duckworth, A. Cuénod, & D. Mattingly (Eds.), Mobile Technologies in the Ancient Sahara and Beyond (Trans-Saharan Archaeology, 259-289). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, DOI:10.1017/9781108908047.009

2020 Ting, C. & Humphris, J. Pottery Production in Ancient Sudan: A Case Study of the Pottery from the Slag Heaps of Meroe and Hamadab. In A. K. Hodgkinson & C. L. Tvetmarken (Eds.), Approaches to the Analysis of Production Activity at Archaeological Sites. Archaeopress Archaeology, 141 – 160.

2020 Humphris, J. Sudan Today. Exploring the Cultural Heritage of Meroe’s communities (Bi-lingual book), Akkadia Press.

Freda Nkirote – Country Director

Freda has been conducting research within the Mt. Kenya region, Northern Kenya, Kenyan Coast and Western Kenya. Her research ranges from Iron Age period in Kenya, Historical period, to Present day. She looks at environments, populations, heritage and livelihoods.


  • Mt. Kenya Iron Age research (PI)

This research is about Iron working in Mt. Kenya region, its objective is to give a higher resolution to the question of Bantu Migration. She has been carrying out surveys and excavations in order to collect comparative data around the region which will help in giving a more nuanced information about the Bantu migration narratives. This research is funded mostly by the British Institute in Eastern Africa, but has also received funding from Wenner Gren foundation.   It is done in collaboration with the National Museums of Kenya and University College London.

As part of the pottery studies, Freda has also conducted research on pottery making chaine opératoire among the potters of Ishiara in order to offer comparative data for archaeological pottery. She has also engaged in promotion of the craft through funding from UNESCO. This has been of great benefit to several women and women groups in Ishiara, Tharaka and Tigania regions.

  • Wells Project (PI)

This is a collaborative research project between archaeologists and pastoralist community organisations on the long-term history of indigenous water management and well digging in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia. Community archaeology on the bio-cultural heritage of extant and abandoned wells will bring together stakeholders with diverse knowledge, skills, and experience to exchange understandings of pastoralist self-organisation and sustainable development in these arid but resilient landscapes. Overcoming inter-community violence through dialogue about the shared past and promoting cultural heritage as pathways to security, identity, and dignity are key goals. Demand for water drives government and investor development in these arid regions and is focused on building infrastructure to extract new energy sources (oil, wind, hydroelectric) to the exclusion of pastoralist rangelands and water points.


  • To show how community archaeology research on wells as bio-cultural heritage can empower communities to engage constructively with external actors such as governments, companies, academics, and NGOs
  • To encourage and foster archaeological research skills among local communities, democratizing and decolonizing research-based knowledge
  • To ensure that development policy decisions respect the cultural and livelihood rights of local communities

This Project is funded by GCRF through the British Academy, and it is in partnership with the University of Cambridge, Gabra and Borana communities of Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia. More information can be found on

  • Traditional Technologies of the Daughters of the Azanian Coast (PI)

This project is working with women groups along the Kenyan Coast with an aim of coming up with value addition for their tradition products. The products that we are interested in, are those that derive from the Marine Cultural Heritage (MCH). Our project which is done in partnership with National Museums of Kenya, the County government of Kilifi and University college London is mostly interested in pottery making, basketry and thatching materials (makuti). It is funded by Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) through Rising from the Depth, RFTDs project 

  • Biocultural Protocols for the Kenyan Coast Traditional Technologies (CoI)

This is a collaborative research project between the BIEA, National Museums of Kenya, and the County Government of Kilifi, with an aim of supporting the community in developing biocultural protocols so as to protect their Marine Cultural Heritage. Most Marine Cultural Heritage is threatened by population growth, rising sea levels due to climate change, and development projects. This project is funded by RFTDs. The project is closely related to the Azanian daughters project which has been researching, documenting and finding ways of adding value to the MCH products.

  • Thimlich Ohinga Project (PI)

Thimilich Ohinga archaeological site, is one of the world’s cultural heritage sites that are protected by UNESCO in Kenya. It is an Iron Age site with stone wall enclosures and is found in Western Kenya. The early users of this site and the dates of its construction are not well known although a lot of archaeological work has been done there to understand the sources of the construction materials, the architecture, site use and economy. The current project is directed towards excavations of a probable burial with the hopes of retrieving datable and DNA material. These will help to answer the questions on population dynamics and the dates of its construction more accurately. The project is funded by the BIEA, and is a collaborative venture between the BIEA, National Museums of Kenya, and Jaramogi Oginga University of Science and Technology.

Recent Publications:

  • M’Mbogori, F.N. (2020) Human and Environmental Interactions in Late Iron Age Kenya. Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Anthropology
  • M’Mbogori, F.N., Gakii, K., Ochieng, P.N. (2020) Pottery Chaîne Opératoire among the Mbeere People of Mt. Kenya Region: Continuity and Change. Archaeological Review from Cambridge Volume 35 (1) 160-171
  • Madingou, B.T., Herve, G., Perrin, M. M’Mbogori, F.N., Guemona, D., Mathe P.E , Williamson, D., Brunner, C.R. (2020) First archeomagnetic data from Kenya and Chad: Analysis of iron furnaces from Mt. Kenya and Guera Massif. Physics of the earth and planetary interiors Vol. 309, December 2020

Prince Guma – Research Fellow/Assistant Country Director

Tackling Infrastructure: Lessons from Creative Solutions of the Urban Poor in Fragile and Marginal Contexts

This project takes the case of Hoima, a fragile and marginal city located in western Uganda, to unearth ways through which the urban poor navigate and negotiate the absence and inadequacy of formal technical infrastructure; and how they put together a semblance of viable life through modest, low-cost, small-scale and sometimes improvised interventions in their everyday lives for survival. Interest in this project stems, in part, from urban studies in the Global South that have studied large/central cities to reveal how diverse populations manage to operate successfully (albeit with constraints and limitations), despite limits on formal institutions of governance and service delivery. This project will draw from a smaller/marginal city in a low-income country in sub-Saharan Africa where violent conflict, extreme poverty, infrastructure devastation and endemic disease might constitute ‘the norm’, thus providing lessons for ‘tackling infrastructure’ and realising ‘sustainable economies and societies’.

2. BIEA Collaborative Research Projects

BIEA staff collaborate on major international research projects.

Jane Humphris

Project Director, Western Sudan Community Museums (WSCM) Phase II. 

Project Partners: The National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums, Sudan; Mallinson Architects; University of Cambridge Department of Archaeology. 

The Aliph-funded WSCM Phase II project is designed to have maximum impact in post-conflict Sudan through promoting cultural heritage as a force for peace in three museums: Nyala in Darfur, El Obeid in Kordofan, and Omdurman, Khartoum. It builds on the success of the British Council Heritage Protection funded, phase I of the project which began to restore the three museums. Phase II sees the completion of high-level security, display cases and exhibitions (including production and delivery of bespoke, international-standard display cabinets), and the development and implementation of a conservation and management plan for the collections at each of the museums. See for more information and live updates.

Co-I, Mapping Africa’s Endangered Archaeological Sites and Monuments

Project Lead: Professor Paul Lane, University of Cambridge.

Project Partner in Kenya: National Museums of Kenya

Additional Co-Is:

    Dr Stephanie Wynne-Jones, Department of Archaeology, University of York

    Professor Kevin MacDonald, Institute of Archaeology, University College London

    Professor Tim Insoll, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter

    Dr Daniel Löwenborg, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University, Sweden

    Professor Ibrahima Thiaw, IFAN, University Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar, Senegal

    Professor Amanda Esterhuysen, Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

Project aims:

1) Collating, digitising and synthesising existing national archaeological site inventory records and published data on archaeological and cultural heritage sites; 

2) Using remote sensing, historical maps and automated site detection methods to identify and document previously unidentified archaeological and cultural heritage sites with particular emphasis on identifying sites under threat from urban growth, conflict, sea-level change, and infrastructural development; and, 

3) Undertaking, in collaboration with relevant national authorities and other in-country heritage managers, targeted field assessments of a sample of threatened sites to assess the reliability and accuracy of remote sensing methods for site detection, and provide suitable training for site detection, recording, database entry and for ensuring database sustainability. 

All the data collected during this project will be assembled in an Open Access relational database utilising the Arches version 5.0 platform. The nature of current and past threats to these heritage resources will be compiled to reconstruct the sequence of changes to heritage sites and landscapes over the last several decades, and predict potential future threats. The collated and analysed data will be used to develop country-specific recommendations for future research priorities and management and mitigation strategies.

Two Research Fellows, Dr Pamela Ochungo, and Ms Angela Kabiru, are employed by the BIEA to work on this project.

For further details please see:

Co-I, Refugee Study Centre (RSC), University of Oxford.

The RSC aims to build knowledge and understanding of the causes and effects of forced migration to help improve the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people, by leading research and education in the area of refugee and forced migration studies.

For more information please see:

Prince Guma

GlobalCORRIDOR proposal for partnership arrangement with the British Institute in East Africa

European Research Council funded five year project beginning in July 2021. Led by Dr Jonathan Silver, University of Sheffield the project will be the first comprehensive, social science study of this new global, urban geography of Corridor Urbanization through an agenda-setting programme of research to respond to the immense changes to urban life these visions, plans, and investments are likely to impose and the gaps in knowledges addressing this phenomenon. The aim of GlobalCORRIDOR is to address the challenge of how we understand Corridor Urbanization and to assess how these infrastructure led transformations are shaping urban inequality, as an everyday experience of techno-social differentiation. The East African region will form one of three global case studies on this phenomena.

Dr Jonathan Silver (PI), University of Sheffield, UK


Regional Futures: The territorial politics of digitalisation-as-urbanisation in the global south

ERC project that examines how the transition from paper to digital in the global south is literally mapping the future of urbanisation and how peripheral municipalities and communities – from stakeholders to subaltern actors – are assisting, contesting and disrupting this digitally led urbanisation. The core focus of the research will be the municipalities where digitalisation is implemented as they transfer paper records to digital information infrastructures, prepare new strategic development plans, plan the extension of infrastructure into new territories, as well as the reorganisation of populations within these territories. The study examines four municipalities in the peripheries of metropolitan cities have been selected for study (Bhiwandi, Mumbai; Zapopan, Guadalajara; Kajiado, Nairobi; Taoyuan, Taipei).

Prof. Ayona Datta (PI), University College London, UK


Guma P.K. 2021. “Rethinking Smart Urbanism: City-Making and the Spread of Digital Infrastructures in Nairobi” (Doctoral dissertation, Utrecht University). Published as: Eburon Academic Publishers. ISBN: 978-94-6301-302-4.

Guma, P.K. 2021. Recasting provisional urban worlds in the global South: Shacks, shanties and micro-stalls. Planning Theory and Practice. DOI: 10.1080/14649357.2021.1894348

Guma P.K. 2021. “Localising the smart city? A view of urban plans and technologies in Nairobi,” In, Jochen M., de Bercegol R. and Bon B. Translating the Networked City: Urban Infrastructures in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Routledge Studies in Urbanism and the City.

Guma, P.K. 2020. Incompleteness of urban infrastructures in transition: scenarios from the mobile age in Nairobi. Social Studies of Science, 50(5), 728-750

Guma, P.K. & Monstadt, J. 2020. Smart city making? The spread of ICT-driven plans and infrastructures in Nairobi. Urban Geography. DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2020.1715050

Guma P.K. 2020. “Situating urban smartness: ICTs and infrastructure in Nairobi’s informal areas.” Ed. Aurigi A. and Odendaal N. Shaping Smart for Better Cities: Rethinking and Shaping Relationships between Urban Space and Digital Technologies. Academic Press.

3. BIEA Partnerships


Rethinking prosperity for Africa

Prosperity Co-Lab (PROCOL) Kenya is an innovative collaborative research programme seeking to broaden the discussion of what constitutes prosperity in Africa. Led by the Institute for Global Prosperity at University College London in close collaboration with local partners, our research harnesses cutting edge science, community knowledge, astute policy development and participatory research methods to develop smarter, localised understandings of prosperity that can be tailored to communities across Africa. Find out more on the  PROCOL Kenya Website.

The BIEA endeavours to build relationships with organisations who are working to advance research excellence in Eastern Africa. We work with many of our partners to deliver seminar series and special events both in the region and globally.

The BIEA works with the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA)r, Collaborative Research Center (CRC), Refugees Research Centre (RSC) and the Rift Valley Institute (RVI), and some of our events are co-organised with these institutes. The BIEA has also partnered with the DirtPol Project.

The Marakwet Research Station

The Marakwet Research Station is situated in Tot-Sibou Village in the Kerio Valley, northwest Kenya (see map below). The Station has emerged out of longstanding interdisciplinary research led by Henrietta Moore and Matthew Davies in collaboration with the Marakwet community and now offers a unique center for the conduct of humanities and social science based research in a rural African setting.

The Station is run by Mr Timothy Kipkeu (Director) and Ms Helena Chepto (Assistant Director), alongside a well-trained team of local research assistants. The Marakwet research team are highly experienced in interview and oral historical research, audio-recording, photography and filming, GPS mapping, and translation and transcription. Research assistants regularly work independently and can communicate with external researchers via local mobile and 3G internet networks. To date the research team have worked independently on a wide range of topics including mapping of landscape features (field systems, land-tenure, irrigation features), issues of cropping and farming practice, mapping of social and ceremonial landscapes, recording of oral histories, recording of ceremonies and public events, recording of political events and speeches, surveys of market trends, and arrangement of interviews and focus groups.

In addition to research assistants and guides the Station can provide a research base, local cooks and some logistical equipment on arrangement. The Station can also advise on appropriate local research strategies, goals, aims and objectives, as well as local sensibilities, standard rates of pay/remuneration, and logistics.

The Station is able to support research projects who would like to operate in the Marakwet region and further information can be gathered by contacting Janet Njoroge ([email protected]) in the first instance.