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Ceramic variability and change: a perspective from Great Lakes Africa.

Ashley, C.Z.; (2008) Ceramic variability and change: a perspective from Great Lakes Africa. Doctoral thesis , University of London. Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis explores the dynamic role of archaeological ceramics through an examination of variability and change within communities of Great Lakes Africa, in the first and early-mid second millennia AD. It will be argued that ceramic evidence presents a multifaceted archaeological resource, providing detailed empirical evidence of variation and anthropogenic patterning, as well as a powerful insight into wider social, cultural and economic structures of the past. Despite this acknowledged importance, it is believed that Great Lakes ceramic studies have historically failed to capitalise on this potential, and continue to portray ceramic phenomena as passive correlates of fixed and immutable social identities. It is suggested that this dormant role for ceramics emanates from a wider reliance on narrow culture historical models of archaeology, in which society is viewed as discretely bounded, internally homogenous and lacking in self detenrunation and will. Ceramic variability therefore, is typically seen as co-terminous with these putative social boundaries, and ceramics have thus become proxy indicators for wider archaeological 'cultures'. Drawing on a range of theoretical approaches from material culture studies, ethnoarchaeology, and from wider modelling in archaeology and anthropology, this thesis argues that such an approach is unduly simplistic, and masks the depth of empirical diversity as well as restricting interpretive scope. In response to this situation this thesis proposes an alternative approach to ceramic evidence, emphasising diversity and variability, and thus, by extrapolation, social diversity and variability as well. This alternative approach to ceramic variability, is applied in an examination of a substantial new body of ceramic data from the northern shores of Victoria Nyanza, a previously poorly documented area, which is typically regarded as a geographical and conceptual 'periphery7, in discussions of Great Lakes social and political dynamics. Five case study areas have been identified within this region, and individually investigated for micro scales of patterning. By selecting this specific geographical area, and this localised scale of analysis, this study is re-centring attention on the 'hidden' or 'forgotten' communities of the Great Lakes. As a result, research findings have provided unprecedented evidence of ceramic variability, identifying internal variation within known ceramic typologies as well as completely new ceramic phenomena. Interpreting these ceramic patterns, this thesis proposes local, site-specific explanations (inter community contact, regional variation) as well as exploring macro, diachronic patterns that suggest a slow decline in the role and prominence of ceramic technology, linked to a speculated decline in domestic authority. This thesis concludes with some speculation on future research directions and potential.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Ceramic variability and change: a perspective from Great Lakes Africa.
Identifier: PQ ETD:592494
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by Proquest
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1445177
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