My name is Nik Petek and I have been a PhD student at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History since January 2014. My research focuses on the historical ecology of the Lake Baringo Basin in Kenya, and on pastoralism in East Africa.
My project is, in particular, investigating how the Ilchamus, a pastoralist ethnic community living in the southern Baringo lowlands, have shaped the landscape around them through their subsistence and habitation practices since the start of the community's existence, c. 200 years ago. The Ilchamus have had a very interesting history. Their settlements were important stopping points for caravans looking for ivory in the 19th century and they built extensive irrigation systems. They have survived several extreme droughts and were among the first people in East Africa subject to extensive land rehabilitation projects and state funded irrigation projects, which all failed. The land which they occupy was a supposed granary and safe haven for people and animals alike, but now it is one of the most degraded areas in Kenya.
My research will contribute to the discussion on the environmental degradation of the Lake Baringo landscape and assessing the human impact. The Ilchamus have shaped the vegetation of the area through their abandoned homesteads, which leave easily recognizable vegetation features in the landscape. Additionally, while they were once recognised as successful farmers with a well-adapted irrigation farming system, food supplies are often a concern these days. Hence, focusing on subsistence and habitation practices through archaeology could provide new information on the human influence in the landscape-wide changes and fill a gap in the knowledge already produced by other disciplines.
Before my PhD, I worked in commercial archaeology in Slovenia and the UK, and I was a member of the ERC-funded Sealinks project. With the project I participated in excavations in Tanzania and Madagascar and in post-excavation analyses in Kenya. I previously worked on the archaeology of the Swahili coast and the Indian Ocean trade links. My research interests also include slavery, social archaeology, social complexity, pottery and GIS.