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Iron production in second millennium AD pastoralist contexts on the Laikipia Plateau, Kenya
Univ York, Dept Archaeol, York YO1 7EP, N Yorkshire, England..
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9936-1310
2015 (English)In: Azania, ISSN 0067-270X, E-ISSN 1945-5534, Vol. 50, no 3, 372-401 p.Article, review/survey (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Iron has played an important role within East African pastoralist societies for many hundreds of years, yet the means by which iron was produced or obtained by these communities has not been thoroughly documented. The bulk of our understanding is presently based on a limited number of ethnographic and artefact studies, which have tended to focus on the functional and symbolic nature of iron objects themselves. We argue that the research presented here provides the first opportunity to add to this narrow knowledge base by reconstructing the iron production technologies of pastoralist communities in Laikipia, Kenya, using an archaeometallurgical approach. Seven furnaces and one iron-production refuse area were excavated at two discrete workshop sites in Laikipia, central Kenya, that date to the second half of the second millennium AD. The recovered archaeometallurgical materials were analysed using optical microscopy, SEM-EDS and ED-XRF. These techniques revealed that the smelting technologies in question were complex and sophisticated and that they utilised titania-rich black sands and lime-rich charcoal. Whereas the technical approach and raw materials were found to be similar at both sites studied, there was striking stylistic variation in furnace design for no apparent functional reason, which might suggest nuanced differences in the socio-cultural affiliations of the smelters who worked at these sites. This paper explores some of the possible reasons for these differences. In particular, by integrating archaeological data with existing ethnographic and ethnohistoric research from the region, we discuss the technological choices of the smelters and what this might tell us about their identities, as well as considering how future research should best be targeted in order to develop a greater understanding of the organisation of production within pastoralist central Kenya.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. Vol. 50, no 3, 372-401 p.
Keyword [en]
iron, pastoralism, Africa, Kenya, archaeometallurgy
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-267608DOI: 10.1080/0067270X.2015.1079379ISI: 000362549600004OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-267608DiVA: diva2:873814
Available from: 2015-11-25 Created: 2015-11-25 Last updated: 2015-12-21

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