Clay Source Variability And Implications On Archaeological Interpretations: An Ethnoachaeological Perspective.
Clay being the most important ingredient of pottery making has been a subject of research by archaeologists over the years. Using mineralogy and chemical composition studies, archaeologists are able to point at the source of the clay under study and consequently, to suggest pottery making centers. Equally, having identified the provenience of the pottery in question, the archaeologists are able to infer social contacts in form of trade or exchange through identification of non-local clay within the ceramic assemblage. Using ethnographic studies, archaeologists e.g. Arnold (1985) have studied and documented distances that potters cover in order to fetch their clay. These range between 0-7km. This paper discusses problems that clay source variability and acquisition methods may pose in the interpretation of archaeological social contacts which result from the perceived pottery making centers or craft organization. Clay variability in the archaeological record is illustrated using Tana ware, which is an archaeological “Bantu speakers pottery” from Manda and Ungwana Iron Age sites in Kenya. In order to understand the observed clay source variability in Tana ware, possible causes are drawn from ethnographic work conducted among ten potters of Bantu and Cushitic linguistic groups of Kenya. The study demonstrates that it is problematic to infer pottery making centers, craft organization, and/or social contacts based solely on clay provenience.
Keywords: Tana ware, clay variability, provenience, Ethnoarchaeology
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