Studies of liminality have a long history in anthropology. In archaeology, identifying past people - rather than faceless entities - through material culture is still a work in progress, but a project that has seen increased attention in recent years. Focusing on West Africa, this book argues that we should explore what happens when the primary label assigned to a person's identity is that of an outsider - when he or she is of, but not in, society. Such outsiders can be found everywhere in the West African past: rulers show off their foreign descent, traders migrate to new areas, potters and blacksmiths claim to be apart from society.
Thus far, however, it is mainly historians and anthropologists who have tackled the question of outsiders or liminal people. This book asks what archaeology can bring to the debate, and drawing together for the first time the extensive literature on the subject of outsiders, looks in detail at the role they played in the past 1000 years of the West African past, in particular in the construction of great empires.