Ghana has over fifty European trade fortifications along its 500 kilometre coastline. Built by the Dutch, English, Brandenburgers, French,Swedes and Danes over a three hundred year period, their main purposes were initially to secure for these nations a foothold on the Guinea Coast to facilitate their commercial activities with the various ethno-linguistic groups occupying the area.

They also served as warehouses where major European imports such as gunpowder, ceramics, metal products, guns, glass beads and alcoholic beverages were stored prior to being exchanged for traditional African goods like gold, ivory, palm oil and later slaves. From the late sixteenth century, they served additional purposes as accommodation for commercial and administrative staff of these nations as well as soldiers and Fort workers.

These fortifications have been the focus of several archaeological research projects. However, the Ankobra Gold Route Project concentrates on two historical periods: from the mid-17th to the second half of the 18th century, and the decades between the 19th and 20th centuries that saw the rise of modern mining enterprise in the region. The operational focus of the project revolves around three historical and archaeological sites that were to a large extent marked by the interaction between Ghanaians and Europeans (Dutch, but also Portuguese): Fort Duma (built by the Portuguese in 1623, and suspected to have been destroyed or abandoned by the end of 1636), Fort Ruychaver (built by the Dutch in 1654, and destroyed in 1659), and Fort Elise Carthago (built by the Dutch in the early 18th century).

Archaeological research conducted at the site of Fort Ruychaver and the settlement of Awudua Dada (‘Old Awudua’) located in the Prestea-Huni Valley District; and archaeological research conducted at the site of Fort Elise Carthago located at Axim in the Ahanta West District, unearthed items such as the following:

  • spirit bottles
  • ink bottles
  • imported smoking pipes
  • shot gun cartridge ends
  • burnt daub (soft adhesive matter)
  • fragments of glass shots and a tumbler
  • fragments of imported roofing tiles
  • fragments of European porcelain
  • pieces of unidentified metal objects
  • a fragment of the base of imported ceramic
  • local potsherds (pottery fragments)
  • two pharmaceutical vials
  • a perfume container
  • local pottery
  • glass beads
  • faunal remains (remains of animals)
  • a piece of slag (dross or scoria of a metal)
  • a quern (primitive hand mill for grinding grain)
  • a grinding stone.

Judging from the large number of alcoholic beverage containers and fragments of drinking glasses and a tumbler, revelry was probably an important leisure pastime of both the natives and the Dutch. The recovery of large quantities of alcoholic beverage bottles suggests that European liquor was in high demand by the locals, and that it constituted an important export item to the area. The abundance of liquor bottles and some case bottle seals in the archaeological assemblage is also suggestive of the fact that European liquor was an important exchange item at Awudua Dada. Ceramics, roofing tiles and metal objects constituted other European export items to the area.

Dutch records indicate that the above-named European trade goods were transported by canoe upriver on the Ankobra to Awudua Dada during the period. Gold was the most important export commodity from Awudua Dada. Historical records indicated that there were abundant reserves of gold, which was the raison d’être for the Dutch presence there. Other important local exchange items may have included ivory, farm produce and slaves.

Tobacco and the culture of smoking tobacco through pipes were introduced onto the Guinea Coast by early European traders in the first quarter of the 17th seventeenth century (Anquandah: 1982: 11). This assertion is based on the fact that trade and social interactions between the coastal communities and various European traders began in earnest and were brisk and vibrant during this period.

The recovery of slags, which are by-products of the iron smelting process, is testimony that the people of ancient Awudua Dada had in-depth knowledge of iron smelting and metalworking. This would have facilitated the mining and exploitation of gold in the area, because the geology of the research consists of largely arenaceous rocks (resembling, made of, or containing sand or sandy particles) of the Tarkwaian series, which are very hardy and difficult to work. It would have required the use of very robust iron tools like axes, handpicks and shovels to enable the extraction of gold.

The recovery of remains of both domesticated and undomesticated animal species at Awudua Dada suggests animal husbandry and hunting constituted important vocations of the people in the past.

It was also revealed that the ancient settlement of Awudua Dada was quite expansive and completely encompassed Fort Ruychaver in ancient times, except to the south, which was bordered by the Ankobra River.

What’s next for archaeology on the Ankobra Gold Route Project? The good news is that a main component of the Project is heritage conservation, involving the three key sites, as well as the identification and restoration of objects of mutual cultural heritage (documents, artefacts, etc.) in the Western Region. Fort St. Anthony in Axim will host an exhibition organized by the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB), displaying the results of the conservation work, with an introduction to the history of Ghanaian-Dutch interaction in the Ankobra valley and the surrounding areas.

Come and be a part of this exciting adventure!








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