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Population and Ceramic Traditions: Revisiting the Tana Ware of Coastal Kenya (7th-14th Century AD)

Freda Nkirote M'Mbogori
Publication Year:
154pp, Illustrated throughout in black and white
Sub-series name:
Cambridge Monographs in African Archaeology, 89
ISBN 10:
BAR number:


This research is a departure from the traditional archaeological pottery analysis in Kenya, where emphasis has been on decorations and forms. It uses a technological approach to offer additional information on Bantu pottery. Pottery decorations and formsare still powerful instruments in defining the spatial and temporal distributions of prehistoric populations, but the ability of these attributes to mark social boundaries is limited by their obvious visibility on the finished product. Whilst this explicit visibility is an advantage for archaeologists who seek to explore temporal and spatial distributions of different wares, it is problematic, since it is possible for socially, ethnically, and linguistically distinct communities to copy from each other, making salient pottery features unreliable indicators of social boundaries. Therefore, this study emphasises the production stage, which is not as obvious on the finished product and must be learnt by apprenticeship only through kinship. This study sought to establish the social boundaries for makers of Tana ware; an Iron Age pottery attributed by some to Bantu speakers, whilst others attribute it to Cushitic speakers. Chaîne opératoire was used as an analytical tool for archaeological data collected fromManda and Ungwana site assemblages. Ethnographic reference data was collected from Cushitic and Bantu speakers from the Coastal and Highland regions of Kenya. Ethno-historical data was derived from library resources, while experimental data were obtainedfrom the field.

‘M’Mbogori’s monograph offers a new and important intervention in the long-standing debate concerning eastern African Tana Tradition pottery… The strength of this volume is in the analysis of contemporary potters and the remarkable and well-documented presentation of their chaîne opératoire. The application of this to the archaeological data offers a new and fascinating approach to a long-debated issue and adds credence to the arguments of Chami (1994) and Helm (2000), who both reached similar conclusions based on decorative analysis alone…This important volume pushes debates about ceramics in eastern Africa forward in an important and useful way.’ Jeffrey Fleisher, Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa, 52:3, 2017