Tom Fitton


Thesis: 'Pushing the Boat Out; a study of spatial organisation and redevelopment in the early Swahili ports of East Africa’

Supervised by Dr Stephanie Wynne-Jones

The focus of my research is the use, location, and role of harbour spaces in the 1st millennium CE Swahili ports of the East African Coast.

The ports of the Swahili coast have been a source of fascination to travellers for over a thousand years, inspiring tales of adventure in the exotic cities of the spice trade. This romanticism has given rise to an assumption that the Indian Ocean in this period was a lawless world, neither as organised as the Greco-Roman networks of the preceding era, or as significant as the trade established following the arrival of the Portuguese merchants in the 15th century. The Early Islamic period was a time of exploration and enormously successful trade. The role of the East African ports in events was crucial, but our current understanding of them is fragmentary. It is only recently that we have begun to shake off the limitations of Eurocentric comparisons, and to reassess the significance of the Swahili sites in relation to the Indian Ocean maritime networks of the late 1st and early 2nd millennium.

The aims of the project are to survey a series of early Swahili ports in order to analyse their spatial organisation with regard to harbour activity; assess their comparative roles within a regional network; and to investigate changes in the use and location of harbours. The focus of the study will be on a geophysical survey and GIS analysis of harbour activity at a series of coastal settlements on Zanzibar and Pemba Islands





My research interests in the archaeology of coastal and maritime landscapes are reflected in my academic background. My BA Archaeology (2:1) at The University of Southampton included a dissertation survey of a relict 19th century Somerset harbour, which was followed by an MA (Distinction) at Durham University studying Near Eastern landscape archaeology with Professor TJ Wilkinson.  My MA dissertation, a comparative GIS study of ports in the Early Islamic Persian Gulf, formed the methodological pilot of my current thesis project.

Since my MA I have worked as an archaeological GIS consultant and geophysical surveyor, volunteered as a supervisor on excavations in the UK, France, Kuwait and Tanzania, and spent 2 years as Computing Officer for the Archaeology Department here at the University of York before starting my PhD. As a Post-Graduate Who Teaches (PGWT) at York I am currently teaching the Geophysical Survey component of Field Archaeology Survey Methods, and supervising seminar teaching in History and Theory for 1st year Undergraduates; supervised seminars in Islam in Iberia (Themes in Historical Archaeology), and Research Skills for Archaeologists workshops in Excel, Illustration, and GIS for 2nd year Undergraduates; and have supervised both the GIS and Geophysical Survey modules for MA students with Helen Goodchild for the past 4 years.


Academic History

BA Archaeology The University of Southampton 2007 2:1
MA Landscape Archaeology Durham University 2009 Distinction


Contact details

Tom Fitton
Department of Archaeology,
Kings Manor,
Exhibition Square,