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How Ancient African Societies Used Social Distancing to Manage Pandemics

Archaeology lends tremendous insights into how the world encountered and dealt with historic events, including pandemics.  From burial and migration patterns, we can draw conclusions as to the practices that ancestors deployed to combat illness and protect their communities.  Africa, in particular, offers up a host of fascinating examples of how societies adapted to disease with social distancing being chief among them. Archaeologists’ findings at Mwenezi in southern Zimbabwe also show that it was a taboo to touch or interfere with remains of the dead, lest diseases be transmitted in this way. Archaeological work at early urban settlements in central and southern Ghana identified the impact of pandemics at places such Akrokrowa (AD950 – 1300) and Asikuma-Odoben-Brakwa in the central district of Ghana. These settlements, like others in the Birim Valley of southern Ghana, were bounded by intricate systems of trenches and banks of earth.