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When the smith is a woman: Innovation, improvisation and ambiguity in the organisation of African iron metallurgy
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, African and Comparative Archaeology. Uppsala University.
Central European University.
University of Zimbabwe.
University of Cape Town.
2017 (English)In: Archives, Objects, Places and Landscapes: Multidisciplinary approaches to Decolonised Zimbabwean pasts / [ed] Manyanga, M and Chirikure, S., Bamenda: Langaa RPCIG , 2017, p. 295-318Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Archaeologists are accustomed to the idea that metallurgy is the domain of men. Anything outside this framework in the recent and distant past has always been considered an exception. This article exposes such an exception among the Murazvo family where, in defiance of the male norm, the chief smith is a woman who performs several livelihood crafts. Circumstances have made her the focal person entrusted with the task of passing on the smithing and several other categories of technology in the family, bequeathing them to her sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. This case goes against most stereotypes in iron working. It challenges the received thinking in ascribing gender roles to metallurgy, as well as other categories of technology and expertise in the past. The chapter brings forth a discussion of the complexity and ambiguity of social relations in technology, and the tendency for the politics of inclusion and exclusion on gender and age axes to shift and become more tenuous. The aim is to foreground especially the world of women as innovative members of past and contemporary societal structures, whose co-authorship of our human past and present, together with men, is not just in procreation, but is daily enacted in many different spheres of life.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Bamenda: Langaa RPCIG , 2017. p. 295-318
National Category
Archaeology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-334792ISBN: 9956764191 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-334792DiVA, id: diva2:1160685
Available from: 2017-11-28 Created: 2017-11-28 Last updated: 2018-01-12
In thesis
1. Technology, Ideology and Environment: The Social Dynamics of Iron Metallurgy in Great Zimbabwe, AD 900 to the Present
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Technology, Ideology and Environment: The Social Dynamics of Iron Metallurgy in Great Zimbabwe, AD 900 to the Present
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis provides insights into the nature and organization of iron technology associated with past and present communities of Great Zimbabwe in southern Africa. Written accounts, ethnographic enquiries and, results of archaeological field surveys and excavations are combined to provide the first detailed account of Great Zimbabwe’s iron production technologies. The existence of a considerable iron industry in Great Zimbabwe with complex and innovative designs and processes of iron smelting is established. Evidence includes tap slags, natural draft furnaces, one with a unique rectangular morphology, and the exploitation of manganese-rich iron ores or fluxes. Moderate to low levels of iron oxide in slag samples point to large-scale production of good quality iron for an extensive market at some time in the past of Great Zimbabwe. Iron slags, possible bloom pieces and broken tuyeres are examined using standard archaeometallurgical laboratory techniques to establish the decisions and choices underlying technology and pyro-metallurgical processes in and between sites. The results are explained using theoretical concepts of social practice and agency to address the worldviews, social values and beliefs of iron related practices in Great Zimbabwe over time.

The study provides an alternative angle for approaching the social complexity of Great Zimbabwe (with its peak in the 12th–16th centuries AD), previously understood from the perspective of its spectacular architecture. Evidence of primary and secondary production activities in domestic and specialized settings outside settlements suggests a greater spatiotemporal complexity and ambiguity of the organization of technology than previously thought. Iron production in domestic contexts provided an inclusive space, creating the possibility for transformation of not just materials, but also women and children into social agents of technology, adding an alternative and more socially embedded perspective of technology in Africa.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, 2017. p. 84
Series
Studies in Global Archaeology, ISSN 1651-1255 ; 22
Keyword
Great Zimbabwe, Iron Metallurgy, Urbanism, Innovation, Landscape, Social Dynamics, Natural Draft, Forced Draft, Southern Africa, Archaeometallurgy, Anthracology, Archaeometry
National Category
Archaeology
Research subject
Archaeology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-334799 (URN)978-91-506-2591-2 (ISBN)
Public defence
2018-01-19, Humaniska Teatern (Eng/22-0008), Engelska parken, Thunbergsvägen 3H, Uppsala, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2017-12-22 Created: 2017-12-05 Last updated: 2018-01-18Bibliographically approved

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