Ceramics and Society on the East African coast

  • Author: Stephanie Wynne-Jones and Jeffrey Fleisher
  • Topic: Theory and method,Pottery studies
  • Country: Kenya, Tanzania
  • Related Congress: 13th Congress, Dakar

The locally-produced ceramics of the Swahili coast have long been studied as an index of cultural similarity between the coastal towns and their associated hinterland settlements. This is particularly true of Tana Ware/Triangular-Incised Ware, which is found in the earliest levels of the towns and has been the focus of research aimed at demonstrating indigenous development. Inevitably such research focussed on similarity and the recognition of common types, rather than diversity within and between assemblages. More recently, however, archaeologists have begun to explore regionalism and difference within the Swahili cultural grouping, and to seek the meaning of ceramic similarities between sites rather than accepting them as reflective of social or ethnic homogeneity. This paper reports on a new research project that has been revisiting the excavated collections of Tana ware, using a common framework to analyse ceramics from different areas and types of site. This will allow comparison between regions and it is hoped that it is a step on the way to developing a more unified approach to coastal ceramics. We therefore comment on preliminary results in terms of regional ceramic trends, as well as thoughts on the viability of creating a common methodology for Swahili ceramics.

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