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Iles, Louise Elizabeth

Grant Type
Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship
Insitutional Affiliation
Sheffield, U. of
Active Grant
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Project Title
Iles, Dr. Louise E., U. of Sheffield, From sand to spear: metallurgical participation and innovation in precolonial eastern Africa - Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship

Archaeological and anthropological research expounds the significance of iron metallurgy to communities in sub-Saharan Africa, prior to the introduction of imported iron that disrupted local production and value systems. Based on fieldwork in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, this monograph examines the socio-cultural and economic relationships that structured participation in the precolonial iron technologies of eastern Africa. Iron production was not a singular technology with a simple linear process. Instead, the production of iron objects from rock or sand depended on a complex network of interlocking crafts. These activities were framed through a shared understanding of socio-cultural behaviour and the use of space and resources, influenced also by the personal relationships and negotiations of individual craftspeople.

Here, I argue that these elements must be considered as a whole. This monograph thus presents a reassessment of the connection between the multifarious craft activities involved in taking an iron ore and transforming it into an iron object, and the values and divisions in labour that structured those tasks. Case studies are drawn together to explore how iron production was organised as a collaborative endeavour, embedded in rather than isolated from the society it operated within, bringing together ethnography and archaeometallurgy to consider how these intricate networks of activities facilitated the sustainability of metallurgical production in the face of changing social and environmental landscapes.