Change of hearths: A social chronology of practices involving fire and flames during the Later Iron Age in southern Africa.
Narratives of modernity often convey an understanding of people’s interaction with the material world expressing varying degrees of mastery and control. However, recent theoretical attention to the intimate relations between people and their surroundings has underscored the problematic aspects of such narratives, not least for our understanding of past and present non-Western knowledge systems. Fire is an element which triggers ambiguous fascination at both a material and a psychological level. In archaeological interpretation fire seems to occupy an ambivalent position in the perceived hierarchy between people and things. Focusing on differences in pyrotechnology, the morphology of fireplaces and their location in household space, the paper presents a social chronology of fire practices during the Later Iron Age (AD 1300-1840) in southern Africa. Discussing present-day ethnographic examples as well as archaeological examples from settlements associated with the LIA Moloko sequence, the approach is informed by the sub-Saharan thermodynamic philosophy.
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