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date: 29 March 2023

West African Iron Production in Its Sub-Saharan Contextlocked

West African Iron Production in Its Sub-Saharan Contextlocked

  • Philip L. de BarrosPhilip L. de BarrosPalomar College


The study of ironworking in West Africa encompasses a fascinating set of research topics which inevitably draw upon theories, methods, and issues from the African continent as a whole. An underlying perspective is the notion that African iron production can best be understood within its various cultural contexts, rather than from strictly Western technological perspectives, theoretical models, and universalist generalizations that have often separated science from anthropology, and which often do not work well, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Among the many topics of interest, the most intellectually useful and rewarding for their insights include those that: (a) involve debates that have been of importance in the literature on African ironworking, such as the extent to which ironworking led to serious deforestation; (b) investigate important methodological, typological, theoretical, and ontological issues, such as understanding the role of ritual and ideology within ironworking processes; (c) involve important substantive issues, such as the rise and utility of archaeometallurgy in the study of ironworking; (d) are historically important in our changing concepts of sub-Saharan Africa, African peoples, and African societies, such as African invention and innovation within ironworking technology in the historical and racial context of the African’s supposed lack of technological inventiveness; and (e) taken together, and individually, emphasize a holistic approach to the field of African ironworking, especially the interrelationships between the technical and the social, such as the development of distinct technological styles and understanding the significant variability in African furnace designs and ironworking technologies. Indeed, the rise of ironworking in Africa had major effects upon the technical, social, cultural, political, symbolic, and ideological aspects of African societies over time. This is especially true for West Africa which became the center of several major iron-producing regions.


  • Archaeology

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