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date: 06 December 2023

Ceramic Ethnoarchaeology in Africa: Status and Scopelocked

Ceramic Ethnoarchaeology in Africa: Status and Scopelocked

  • Per Ditlef FredriksenPer Ditlef FredriksenDepartment of Archaeology, University of Oslo


Studies of social practices that include the making and use of ceramics constitute a significant part of the subfield of ethnoarchaeology. Pottery is still the archaeological artifact par excellence in many parts of the world, not least in Africa. Because of its omnipresence, pottery not only persists as a convenient way of dating but is also a frequently used point of entry to meaning in the archaeological record. Ethnoarchaeology gained momentum in the 1960s to improve reasoning and inference, by conducting studies of 21st-century practices viewed as providing analogical insights of value for archaeology. Needless to say, this studying of Others in the 21st century to understand Others in the past is a source of severe critique. However, since the late 1990s ethnoarchaeology has transcended the handmaiden role. The debates are not only critical but also vibrant and forward-looking. Key issues relate to ethics, the use and continued development of postcolonial critique, the archaeology of technology, and new forms of interdisciplinarity in the wake of increasing amounts of data coming from laboratory disciplines. The latter issue compels the question what a “slow” science field like ethnoarchaeology can and should offer, not least since there is a clear tendency for modeling and syntheses of past societal change to be constantly “lagging behind.” Viewing research within the field in Africa so far in the early 21st century against a geographically wider and temporally deeper backdrop, comprising key developments in the research field globally since the 1960s: what are its main contributions and challenges? What is the status in the early 21st century, and what can and should the near future hold?


  • Archaeology
  • International and Indigenous Anthropology

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