Book chapter
Open access

Ceramic technology between past and present : a study of Malian traditions

ContributorsMayor, Anneorcid
Published inField Manual for African Archaeology, Editors Smith Livingstone A., Cornelissen E., Gosselain O. & MacEachern S.
PublisherTervuren : Royal Museum for Central Africa
  • RMCA, series ‘Documents on Social Sciences and Humanities'
Publication date2017

Ceramic studies in archaeology have long focussed only on the stylistic classication of artefacts, through space and in time, based on morphological and decorative criteria. Few researchers were interested in the technical and functional aspects. It is now accepted that a set of stylistic traits does not necessarily coincide with a certain population. Many studies have demonstrated that technical aspects, on the other hand, are closely correlated to the identity of the producer group, as they often result from an early apprenticeship within the ethno-linguistic group. The transmission of technical knowledge can also follow other social configurations, such as clan, socio-professional class, or gender. Technical elements therefore provide essential information, even if they seem difficult to access. Furthermore, all pottery is produced in a particular context and is made to be used. The artisan will therefore make technical choices that take into account environmental and cultural constraints, as well as intended use. Studying the technical variability of ceramic assemblages thus aims at understanding the artisans' technical choices and their meanings. The technological analysis of archaeological ceramics involves a reconstruction of the different manufacturing steps following a chaîne opératoire framework. The main stages are clay processing, shaping, nishing, and ring. In archaeology, the interpretation of ceramics usually refers to – explicitly or not – a series of knowledge built by different approaches. Ethnoarchaeology provides explicit references that are useful for interpreting the past by studying systematically, in the present, the links between ceramics and their various meanings, as well as the mechanisms behind observed regularities. technological analyses therefore often rely on ethnoarchaeology, and other approaches such as experimental archaeology or archaeometry. These methods are varied and borrow elements from cultural anthropology as well as analytical tools from the natural sciences.

  • Ethnoarchaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Ceramics
  • Interpretation
  • Anthropology
  • Human population
  • Methodology
Citation (ISO format)
MAYOR, Anne. Ceramic technology between past and present : a study of Malian traditions. In: Field Manual for African Archaeology. Tervuren : Royal Museum for Central Africa, 2017. (RMCA, series ‘Documents on Social Sciences and Humanities”)
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Book chapter (Published version)
  • PID : unige:97520

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