Ceramic ethnoarchaeology among the Gamo of southwestern Ethiopia


Material Information

Ceramic ethnoarchaeology among the Gamo of southwestern Ethiopia
Physical Description:
xiii, 320 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.
Arthur, John W ( John Wood )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Anthropology thesis, Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Anthropology -- UF   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 2000.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 301-319).
Statement of Responsibility:
by John W. Arthur.
General Note:
General Note:

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 024875241
oclc - 45286899
System ID:

This item is only available as the following downloads:

Full Text







Copyright 2000


John W. Arthur

For Ray C. Arthur and Frances B. Arthur


I would like to thank the Gamo people for their patience and graciousness

concerning my questions about their household pottery.

There are a number of people who I would like to thank for giving me support

and guidance, which helped me to accomplish this research. I was blessed with an

outstanding dissertation committee. They provided critical editing and positive

suggestions concerning both my field research and my dissertation. In the summer of

1995, Steven A. Brandt took me to Ethiopia. While surveying the different ethnic

groups in southwestern Ethiopia, I realized the continued importance of pottery

production and use among all these groups. Therefore, I am in debt to Steven A.

Brandt, my mentor, who introduced me to the wonders of Ethiopia. He was supportive

as a committee chair and I admire his patience and enthusiasm. Peter Schmidt

demonstrated to me the powerful need to listen to the African voice and provided a

sound methodological framework concerning my ethnoarchaeological research.

Lynette Norr provided unlimited support throughout my research and helped me

sharpen my technological skills associated with deciphering pottery function. Abe

Goldman guided me through the complexities of African agriculture and the

relationship between technological advancements and environmental sustainability.

William Marquardt thoughtfully read my dissertation and pushed me to write in a

more concise manner. Kenneth Sassaman's support and continued positive influence


throughout the writing of the dissertation was invaluable. I also thank Melanie Brandt

for producing wonderful maps and illustrations for my dissertation. I thank James M.

Skibo for his positive suggestions concerning my use-alteration research.

The graduate students' discussions provided me with new insights into

anthropology and archaeology, and I appreciate their support and kindness. These

students include: Florie Bugarin, Matt Curtis, Jim Ellison, Girma Hundie, Birgitta

Kimura, George Luer, Audax Mabulla, Agazi Negash, Donna Nash, Fred Smith,

Johnathan Walz, Terry Weik, Karen Weinstein, and Ryan Williams.

There are several Ethiopian institutions that made field research possible. I

would like to thank Ethiopia's Ministry of Culture and Information's Center for

Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (CRCCH), the Southern Nations

Nationalities and Peoples Regional Government (SNNRP) Bureau of Culture and

Information, and the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (IES) and the Herbarium at Addis

Ababa University. Certain individuals in these Ethiopian institutions helped facilitate

the field research, therefore I greatly appreciate the support of: Jara Haile Mariam

(CRCCH, director), Yonis Bayene (CRCCH, director of archaeology), Mulageta Belay

(CRCCH, field representative), Tadale Tekiewe (CRCCH, field representative),

Muluneh Gabre-Mariam (Director of the Ethiopian National Museum), Kebbede

Geleta (CRCCH, maps/geographer), Yohannes Hadaya Kanate and Solomon Tesfy

(Heads of SNNRP Bureau of Culture and Information, Awassa office), Filamon

Hadro and Ababanu Agabebo (Heads of Bureau of Culture and Information, Arba

Minch office), Zenebe Bonja Bonke (Chencha official), Dr. Abdul Samed (IES

director), Taddese Bereso (IES assistant director), Adane Dinku (Department of Soil

and Water Conservation, Chencha office), and Sebsebe Demissew and Melaku

Wondafrosh (Addis Ababa Herbarium).

My research assistants and friends made fieldwork enjoyable and profitable.

These people include: Berhano Wolde, Gezahegn Alemayehu, Getacho Girma, Paulos

Dena, and Ato Saleh. There a number of friends that made life in the Gamo region a

more enriching experience and these include: Tihun Mulushewa, Chunga Yohannes,

Tesefaye Mekuria, Daniel Tadesse, and Ato Nega. I also would like to thank Calche

Cara and his wife, Goonashay Dara, for providing us (my wife and I) with a home in

Doko Shaye. During my fieldwork, the Catholic Missions provided invaluable help in

repairing our truck, therefore I greatly appreciate the help that we received from

Father Denis and the people working at the Chencha and Arba Minch Catholic

Missions. I would like to thank Dena Freeman, who was living in the next valley over

in Doko, for her insightful knowledge concerning Gamo life. I thank John Fleagle for

allowing me to use his generator, which provided much needed electricity.

I would like to thank some extraordinary friends I met in Ethiopia, who made

life away from home a fantastic journey. Declan and Kate Conway and Ibrahim

Labouts for being my friends and experiencing life with me in Addis Ababa. They

kept me motivated and gave me strength to finish my fieldwork. A special thanks goes

out to Carlo Iori, my friend, supporter, and facilitator, who made research in Ethiopia

possible by providing a vehicle and then his continued support throughout the two


There are a number of institutions that provided financial support for my

research. I would like to thank the National Science Foundation for funding this

research. I also extend my gratitude to the five anonymous National Science

Foundation reviewers, who provided me with insightful comments concerning my

research. I would like to thank the Center for African Studies for furnishing me a

travel grant in 1995, so that I was able to conduct predissertation research in Ethiopia.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences McGinty Fellowship provided me with a

scholarship, which allowed me to focus and finish writing this dissertation. Finally, I

would like to thank the Charles H. Fairbanks committee for awarding me a scholarship

to defray the cost of producing this dissertation.

My family has continually supported my work in archaeology with their

positive belief in my success. My mother, Frances Arthur, provided an endless amount

of kindness and support. My sister, Ellen LeBlanc, and my brother-in-law, Steve

LeBlanc, helped me in many ways while I was living in Ethiopia, and for this a special

thanks goes out to them. My brother, Jeffrey S. Arthur, has given me an unlimited

amount of encouragement to achieve my goals.

My last acknowledgement goes to my wife and best friend, Kathryn Weedman,

who insightfully commented on drafts of this dissertation and has given me strength

and motivation each and every day for the last ten years.



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................................................. iv

ABSTRACT ................................................................................... xii


C E R A M IC S ..................................................................... ....

Social and Economic Variation among the Gamo ................................... 3
Ceramic Life-Cycle ................................................................. 7
Use-alteration ..................................................................... 10
Spatial Analysis ................................................................... 12
Vessel Frequency and Size ......................................... ............ 14
Use-life ... ............................. ........................ ............... 17
Organization of the Following Chapters ............................................. 19

2 THE GAMO .......................................................................... 22

The Research Area ................................................................... 22
Political Organization ........................................................... 28
Castes ............. ............................ .... .... ........ ........... 32
Economic Wealth ................................................................. 37
Markets ............................................................................. 38
Agriculture ............. ... ..... .. .. ............ 41
D iet ................................................................................. .. 43
Conclusion .................. ........ ............................................... 48

ETHNOARCHAEOLOGY ........... ............................................... 49

Methodological Approach .. ............................................................ 50
Fieldwork among the Gamo ............................................................. 51
Village Selection ..................................................................... 52
The Census and Mapping of Three Gamo Villages ............................... 53
Pottery Census ......................................................................... 54
Gamo Potter Interviews ........................................................... 58

Interpreting Social Status and Economic Wealth in the Household ........... 60
C conclusion ................................. .. ...... ... ......... ....... ....... ......... 66

PRODUCTION, AND DISTRIBUTION .......................................... 68

Gamo Ceramic Procurement and Production ................................... ... 69
The Learning Process ............................................................ 69
Clay and Temper Acquisition ..................................................... 72
Technical Factors in Clay and Temper Selection .............................. 75
Forming the Vessel Forms .......................................................... 76
Drying the Vessels .................................................................... 82
Decorating the Vessels .............................................................. 84
Selection of Fuelwood .............................................................. 87
Prefiring and Firing the Vessels .................................................... 89
Vessel Postfiring Treatment ...................................................................... 90
Village Ceramic Distribution .......... .............................................. 91
The Market and Patron-Client Systems ........................................... 92
Consumer Pottery Preferences ...................................................... 95
Household Origin of Ceramics .............................................. ...... 99
V essel C ost ...... ................................................. ..................... 104
Caste Ceramic Distribution ............................................................... 106
Caste and Expenditure on Pots .... .............................................. 106
Caste and Origin of Household Ceramics ............................................ 107
Economic Rank Ceramic Distribution ............................................... 110
Economic Rank and Expenditure on Pots ........................................ 110
Economic Rank and Household Origin of Ceramics .......................... 11
Summary and Conclusions ................................................................ 114

USE AND DISCARD ................................................................. 121

Village Ceramic Use and Discard ................ .................................... 122
Industrial Types ....................................................................... 122
Ceramic Frequency and Distribution ............... ........... .................. 124
Ceramic Life-cycle ................................................................ 128
Caste Groups ................................................................................... 140
Frequency of Vessels ..................... ...................................... 140
Ceramic Types .............................................................. .... 143
Ceramic Life-cycle ................................................................. 148
Economic Ranks ............................................................... ........ 154
Frequency of Vessels ............................................................... 155
C eram ic T ypes .......... .. ............................................................ 156
Ceramic Life-cycle ............................................................... 162
Summary and Conclusions .............................................................. 167

SPATIAL AND USE-ALTERATION ANALYSES .......................... 173

Household Storage Areas ...................................................... ... 174
The Village and the Spatial Analysis of Household Ceramics ................... 175
Prim ary-use ............................................ ........................ .... .. 175
R euse ....................................... ................... ...... ................ 176
D iscard ........................................ ................... ..... ..... .... 180
Caste Groups and the Spatial Analysis of Household Ceramics .................. 183
Primary-Use ................................................................. ...... 183
R euse ......................................... .............................. 184
Discard .................................................................... 186
Economic Ranks and the Spatial Analysis of Household Ceramics ............... 189
Primary-Use ........................................................................... 189
Reuse .............................................. 191
D iscard ............................................. .................. .. .............. 194
Gamo Ceramic Use-Alteration Analysis ............................................ 196
Summary and Conclusions ............................................................ 208


Household Developmental Cycle ...................................................... 216
Vessel Types and their Size Range ..................................................... 217
V village A analysis ........................................................................ 217
Vessel Types and Population .................................................... 218
Vessel Frequency and Size and Household Population ...................... 219
Uselife ................................ ........................................... .... 224
C aste G roups ........................................................................... 233
Vessel Types and Population .................................................... 233
Vessel Volume ..................................................................... 234
Vessel Size and Frequency and Household Population ...................... 236
Uselife and Social Status ........................................................... 242
Economic Ranks ........................................................................... 244
Vessel Types and Population .................................................... 245
Vessel Volume ......................... .......................... .............. 246
Vessel Size and Frequency and Household Population ........................ 246
Uselife and Economic Wealth ...................................................... 253
Feasting and Vessel Frequency and Size ..................................... ..... 257
Summary and Conclusions ........................................................... 259

ETHNOARCHAEOLOGY AND ARCHAEOLOGY .......................... 266

Village, Caste, and Economic Wealth Variation ................................... 266
Industrial Wares ......................................................................... 266
Ceram ic Life-Cycle ........................... .................................... 267
Spatial A analysis ........................................... ......................... 272
Use-alteration ..................................... ............ ............ .. 273
Vessel Volume and Frequency .................................................... 274
Uselife ................................................................................ 275
Future Research ............................................................................ 276
Future Ethnoarchaeological Research .......................................... 276
Future Archaeological Research ............................................... 279
Closing Thought ......................................................................... 280




C VESSEL TYPE DATA .................................................... ............ 285

VESSEL FREQUENCY AND SIZE ........................................... 289

REFEREN CES ................................................................................ 301

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................... ........ ...... .......... 320

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



John W. Arthur

August 2000

Chair: Steven A. Brandt
Major Department: Anthropology

The goal of this research is to provide an understanding of ceramic assemblage

variation in the interpretation of nonwestern agrarian societies. My research in a

contemporary setting was undertaken among the Gamo people of southwestern

Ethiopia. The Gamo are an agrarian society who produce and use pottery for the daily

activities of cooking, serving, storing, and transporting water and a variety of foods. I

spent two years working among the Gamo focusing on pottery procurement,

production, distribution, use, reuse, and discard within a household context. I use the

life-cycle of pottery to explore how pots move through different social and economic

contexts from the time they are produced to eventual discard. In addition, research

issues concentrating on spatial analysis, use-alteration, population size, and use-life

are explored through the regional, social, and economic conditions of Gamo society.

I inventoried and measured 1,058 vessels from 60 households in three villages.

My study indicated that ceramic variability exists between regions, castes, and


economic ranks throughout the entire life-cycle and within the larger issues of space,

population, and vessel use-life. The regional analyses revealed dramatic differences

between pottery-producing and non-pottery-producing villages concerning how

households obtain, use, mend, reuse, and discard their pottery, as well as how pottery

correlates with population size, storage of vessels, and vessel longevity. The analyses

concerning caste and economic wealth variability concluded that household ceramic

assemblage variation has great potential to decipher household socioeconomic


The significance of this project is that it will allow archaeologists to move

beyond commonsense inferences about ceramics to those derived from detailed

documentation in a living context. Finally, this ethnoarchaeological research will

allow for global cross-cultural comparisons and, more specifically, aid researchers in

interpreting regional, social, and economic variability at Ethiopian archaeological



A potter once lived, by herself, on top of Tsudo Mountain. The potter collected
the clay from the mountaintop and made her pots. One day she tested the
strength of her pots, by rolling a pot down from the top of Tsudo Mountain.
When the pot reached the bottom of the mountain it still had not broken.
Knowing that she would not make a living because her pots were too strong,
she left Tsudo Mountain, and that is why today no potters live in the Doko
region of Gamo.'

This traditional story of a Gamo potter epitomizes the interrelationships among

social identity, economic wealth, and occupation in Gamo society. The potter was

born into a low caste and she will remain in this low caste until her death. The story

also reflects the economic alienation of potters in Gamo society. Potters and other

artisans usually have households located on poor agricultural land and they are

clustered together away from higher caste households. In the story, the potter lives by

herself on top of a mountain that is an area of high soil erosion and unsuitable for

farming. Without farmland, the potter must provide a livelihood for herself by

producing and selling her pots. She needs consumers to continue purchasing her pots

after they break, but since her pots were too strong, she was forced to live in another

region of Gamo. This story illustrates how pottery interfaces with many of the social

and economic variations that occur within Gamo society.

'The story was told to me by a Maka (a Gamo religious leader) living in Etello, a non-pottery-producing
village, and one of the three villages discussed in this analysis.


As the potter depended on her pots to break, archaeologists depend also on

broken pots to help us understand social and economic variability. Earlier studies (e.g.,

Deetz 1968, Hill 1970, and Longacre 1968, 1970) showed that ceramics could help to

distinguish inter and intrasite variation by attempting to explore the relationship

between ceramic style and social complexity. These earlier studies inspired

archaeologists to use their ceramics to go beyond defining culture areas and

chronological sequences. However, the success of interpreting social and economic

variation from pottery has been limited for archaeologists (Plog 1980:6-12).

Documenting and understanding the complexity of social and economic variation

through pottery suggests there is a need for multiple lines of evidence to control for

socioeconomic variation. I use the life-cycle of pottery, specifically procurement,

production, distribution, use, reuse, and discard among different villages and

households to understand social and economic variation. Within the framework of the

life-cycle of pots, I explore the spatial use of pots, their use-alteration attributes, the

correlations between the frequency and volume of pots with household population,

and their use-life.

Ethnoarchaeological analyses allow archaeologists to observe and interpret the

different life-cycle stages that household ceramics undergo. This is important to the

study of archaeology because archaeologists should not assume that the material

remains uncovered were last in a state of discard. Depending on the type of

abandonment, people may abandon their primary-use or reuse vessels. Therefore,

understanding how to interpret the different life-cycle stages in the archaeological

record may allow archaeologists to make more meaningful inferences relating to

activity areas, abandonment, formation processes, and scavenging behavior. In

addition, translating the different life-cycle stages in the archaeological record should

provide a more accurate delineation of the social and economic context of prehistoric

and historic sites.

The southwestern region of Ethiopia (Figure 1-1) is one of the few places in

the world where locally made pottery is a dominant material in the everyday life of

rural societies. The Gamo continue to produce and use pottery on a daily basis for

cooking, storing, serving, and transporting water and a variety of foods. At present,

industrial vessels have not made a significant impact on household assemblages.

Ethnoarchaeology undertaken in a society where people still use low-fired ceramics in

everyday life provides a powerful contextual framework for archaeological inferences,

especially since little behavioral information exists concerning the use of low-fired

ceramics in past and present societies. I believe the Gamo people of southwestern

Ethiopia offer a unique opportunity for testing a range of hypotheses encompassing

each life-cycle stage.

Social and Economic Variation among the Gamo

To analyze social and economic variation, I collected information on 1,058

vessels from 60 households in three Gamo villages, three castes, and across

socioeconomic rank. Caste membership in Gamo society is ascribed, endogamous,

occupational, and has restrictions on commensality and concepts of purity and

pollution. Interpreting the social and economic variation from pottery requires an

Lake Zwai

SLake Awasa

Lake Abaya



Figure 1-1: Map of the Gamo region within Ethiopia and Africa.


analysis that is not direct or simple, and requires linking the socioeconomic context

with the life-cycle and structural properties of Gamo society (Figure 1-2).

Castes and economic wealth are two types of Gamo socioeconomic

organization that I investigated using household ceramic assemblages. A major goal

was to test if patterns in Gamo household pottery represented different castes and

economic ranks so that archaeologists could identify castes and economic wealth in

the archaeological record. It should be clear that caste hierarchy and economic wealth

are not commensurate in Gamo society. For example, an elderly widow who belongs

to the highest caste is not necessarily wealthy. Her lack of wealth comes from her

inability to farm her land and her income comes only from spinning cotton. Her

reduced income situates her in the poorest economic stratum.

Another component of my research addressed if differences occurred within

the ceramic assemblages among pottery-producing and non-pottery-producing

villages. I hope to show in this study that patterns found in each type of analysis help

archaeologists document social and economic variation between villages and

households. As the above parable indicates, there are some Gamo regions where

potters do not live. Previous research among societies demonstrates variations in

household ceramic assemblages among these two types of villages (Aronson et al.

1994:101; Nelson 1991; Tani 1994). Previous ethnographic studies have found that

non-pottery-producing villages have a larger number of vessels because of stockpiling

(Aronson et al. 1994:101; Nelson 1991:171; Tani 1994:56). In order to test if the

Gamo exhibit a similar pattern to the previous research, I investigated how they

distributed their pottery in relation to these two village types.


Occupation Ascribed -- Potter / Consumer

Procurement, Production,
A and Distribution


Pottery-Producing Non-Pottery-Producing
Village Village

Natural and
Social Resources VILLAGE --

Surplus / 4 ECONOMIC Discard /
Purchasing Power WEALTH Replacement

Figure 1-2: Gamo society and pottery model demonstrating the relationship among
structural, socioeconomic, and life-cycle properties.



Ceramic Life-Cycle

As the Gamo parable shows us, pots have their own life-histories, pots are

born; go through multiple life experiences of use, and eventually are discarded at their

death. The patterns of variation occurring throughout each life-cycle stage provide a

framework for interpreting household ceramic assemblages.

Ceramic procurement, production, and distribution provide the foundation for

the use and eventual discard of ceramic containers within a village setting. I asked two

questions concerning the differences among pottery-producing and non-pottery-

producing villages. First, how do nontechnological factors (e.g., proximity to markets,

vessel cost, social relationship between potters and consumers, etc.) found in different

villages influence the production and use of pottery in a cultural system (Aronson et

al. 1994; Gosselain 1998)? Second, are the differences in the potter's production

techniques or materials used in different villages significant enough to influence how

pottery consumers obtain their household pots (Schiffer and Skibo 1987)? I

investigated whether consumers were purchasing their pottery based on social ties

with potters or if consumers were concerned more with the potter's techniques and

materials. These questions are important because archaeologists are not always able to

identify the technological and nontechnological factors that influence the distribution

of ceramic production and use within a region. I conducted household censuses in both

types of villages to understand the decision consumers make in choosing their pottery.

I also investigated the life-cycle stages of vessel use, reuse, and discard to

understand the variation found among villages, castes, and economic ranks. Following

Braun (1983), ceramic vessels are tools that are directly associated with people's

actions concerning their food preparation, consumption, storage, and transport.

Previous ethnoarchaeological research indicates that the ecology and the technology of

food processing directly affect vessel frequencies and the types found within different

villages (D. Arnold 1985:127-144; P. J. Arnold 1991:64-65; Nelson 1985:168-169).

Different vessel forms are tools that allow households to process different resources

into edible foods.

The study of possible associations between ceramic use and social

stratification in a contemporary setting has the potential to provide inferences that are

more powerful for interpreting social differences in prehistoric societies. The types of

vessels used in preparing, transporting, and serving specific foods may provide a

better understanding of the relationship between ceramics, foods, and the distribution

of power and status (Goody 1982:37).

There have been a number of different ethnographic and historical studies

indicating that the different items used in food preparation reflect the quality of diet

and wealth in agrarian societies (Castro et al. 1981; DeWalt 1983; Lewis 1951; Otto

1984). Trostel (1994) found that vessel volume (including metal vessels) is a better

indicator of wealth among the Kalinga than the number of vessels present.

Archaeological research also indicates that different ceramic assemblages may

indicate dietary differences between low and high status residences (Cowgill et al.

1984). In addition to possible dietary differences among the distinct socioeconomic

classes, differences may also exist concerning frequency of ceramic forms, discard

rates, and taboos and proscriptive rules that limit use and ownership. For example, the

wealthier segments of society may reuse their ceramic vessels less because they can

afford to replace vessels more often. This would affect the number of forms present

and the discard rates that would serve as indicators distinguishing wealthier

households from poorer households.

The ecological setting of a Gamo village and its associated resources affected

the types and number of ceramic containers that households use. Differences in village

ecology and available foodstuffs affected the types of cooking vessels and their use

within a village. The Gamo region is extremely mountainous and the production of

agricultural crops corresponds to specific ecological zones governed largely by

altitude. Researchers have not systematically explored the variability in ceramic use

between settlements where people grow different crops in distinct ecological zones.

Farmers located in different ecological zones often grow different types of crops due

to environmental restrictions such as soil type and water availability. If we understand

the movement of crops between villages located in different ecological zones and how

people use ceramics to process, store, and transport these specific foods, then

archaeologists will have a fuller understanding of ceramic function. I documented the

context of ceramic vessels and their corresponding uses within households and

between settlements located in different ecological zones. I believe my study linking

the ceramic assemblages with the ecological setting will provide archaeologists with

information in which to build models that are more effective for interpreting ceramic


Vessel use, reuse, and their eventual discard have important implications

concerning how archaeologists interpret the function of different vessel types,

subsistence, food processing, activity areas, socioeconomic status, and the interaction

between potters and consumers (Aronson et al. 1994; D. Arnold 1985; P. J. Arnold

1991; Deal 1985, 1998, Deal and Hagstrum 1995; Hally 1983; Miller 1985; Nelson

1991; Schiffer 1972). My study of vessel use, reuse, and discard provides contextual

information that archaeologists can use to help in their interpretation of ceramic

function and household socioeconomic variation.


Use-alteration is another aspect of ceramics that I examined in this study. The

use of a pottery vessel leaves markers on the ceramic wall, both interior and exterior,

that can inform the archaeologist how the vessel functioned in the past.

Ethnoarchaeological studies of ceramic use have proven vital for revealing specific

use-alteration patterns, such as carbon deposits and surface abrasions on ceramic

vessels that represent specific types of food processing (Kobayashi 1994; Skibo 1992).

Matson (1965:202-217) was the first to advocate that archaeologists need to focus on

the processes of pottery production and use, rather than just using ceramics for

cultural-historical reconstructions. He suggested that archaeologists should analyze

wear patterns for evidence of use in the form of abrasions.

Systematic archaeological use-alteration studies began in the 1970s with

research by Griffiths (1978), whose work was then followed by a number of other

researchers (Bray 1982; Crown 1994:99-113; Hally 1983; E. F. Henrickson 1990; R.

C. Henrickson 1992; Jones 1989). These researchers linked specific use-alteration

patterns to: (1) specific abraders (Griffiths 1978; R. C. Henrickson 1992); (2) patterns

of carbon deposition and oxidation discoloration indicating how vessels were placed in

the hearth (Hally 1983); and (3) specific vessel use by pitting, abrasions, striations,

and carbon deposition (Bray 1982; Crown 1994; Hally 1983; E. F. Henrickson 1990;

Jones 1989; Skibo and Blinman 1999).

Experimental research also has revealed that different materials interact with

pottery including salt (O'Brien 1990) and water (Skibo and Schiffer 1987).

Furthermore, experimental research indicates that specific types of abraders produce

specific wear patterns on pottery (Schiffer and Skibo 1989).

Skibo's (1992) and Kobayashi's (1994) studies among the Kalinga are currently

the only other ethnoarchaeological studies of ceramic use-alteration within a village

setting. Kobayashi (1994) and Skibo (1992) obtained household pottery inventories,

ceramic use-alteration data, economic and census information, and made observations

of pottery use from 40 households in three villages from which they also collected 189

used vessels (Kobayashi 1994:129; Skibo 1992:63). Skibo's (1992) research correlated

specific types of ceramic use-alteration attributes (i.e., carbon deposition, pedestalled

temper, and thermal spelling) to specific types of cooking processes. Kobayashi's

(1994) research indicated that the Kalinga cook rice and vegetable/meats differently

from each other, subsequently producing distinct use-patterns such as color

differences, thermal spelling, interior nicks, and oxidized patches on the vessels.

Nonetheless, at present archaeologists have little information for understanding

how use-alteration reflects the complex nature of ceramic life-cycles (single use,

multiple use, storage, cooking, transporting, serving, etc.). Researchers have revealed

a number of use-alteration attributes, but archaeologists need to develop further their

understanding of the various use-events a vessel undergoes during different stages of

the life-cycle and how these life-cycle stages relate to use-alteration. Furthermore, no

ethnoarchaeological studies have addressed use-alteration variation among different

villages and socioeconomic households.

The Gamo villages' ecological setting should influence the use of certain vessel

types that may have a direct effect on the types of use-alteration that occur throughout

the life-cycle of the vessel. For instance, differences in the types of foods grown

between the lowland and highland regions may have an effect on the types of foods

eaten that should influence the use-alteration patterns found on ceramic vessels. In

addition, I expected that Gamo vessel types used for a single function will leave

distinct use-alteration patterns, compared to vessels used for multiple functions. I also

expected that a portion of the population would have a higher access to social and

economic status. These high caste and wealthier households should eat specialized

foods in specific vessel types, causing distinct use-alteration patterns.

Spatial Analysis

In order to further understand the variation among villages, castes, and

economic wealth, I investigated the storage of pots within these three units of analysis.

No studies that I am aware of have explored how different villages, castes, and

economic ranks store their ceramic vessels. One of the most important criteria

concerning the spatial locations of the ceramic assemblages is the organization of the

household compound. Differences among villages, castes, and economic rank

households concerning how they organize their compound and the amount of land

they own should determine where domestic pots are stored throughout the different

life-cycle stages. Ethnoarchaeological studies can address questions of discard

patterning through the observation of social rules, and the location of activity areas

versus discard areas. How households curate, reuse, and scavenge pottery are also

important sources of information.

The storage location of household pots is an important type of analysis in

deciphering how to interpret the primary-use, reuse, and discard stages of pots. Few

ethnoarchaeological studies focus on where village households place their ceramic

vessels (Deal 1998:83-89; Miller 1985:70-7 1). Deal's (1998:83-89) study of two

villages in the Tzeltal Mayan area of Chiapas, Mexico, found the same spatial pattern

in both villages, with pots stored in formal and informal contexts. The storage of food

preparation vessels in the interior of structures was usually associated with a food

processing table, located adjacent to the back wall. Other areas of storage include

clusters of vessels on benches or racks, as well as ritual type vessels associated with

the house altar (Deal 1998:88). During the reuse stage, there were specific spatial

locations for cooking and water-carrying vessels among the Tzeltal Maya and the

Wanka of Peru (Deal and Hagstrum 1995). When vessels reached their discard stage,

formal and informal contexts continue with individual vessels randomly stored

throughout the household that are eventually lost. The storage of groups of vessels was

located adjacent to structures that continued to serve as functional household items

(Deal 1998:118-123). Comparisons to other villages around the world indicate similar

types of storage of provisionally discarded pots (Lindahl and Matenga 1995:106;

Reina and Hill 1978:247; Weigand 1969:23). Among the Dangwara households in

Malwa India, household pots are found in five different locations: around the hearth,

on the water storage table, around the large clay grain-storage bins, near the back wall

of the house, and in the courtyard area, each of which are associated with specific

functional types (Miller 1985:70-71). Discarded vessels are placed in household

rafters and in clusters outside the households (Miller 1985:70-71).

Working with the Gamo, I investigated the idea that ceramic vessels with

specific functions, whether they are primary, secondary, etc., had a specific spatial

location within the household area. The village location and the household's

socioeconomic level determined the storage location of pots. Gamo households have a

central area for cooking and subsequently cooking vessels were spatially concentrated

near the hearth. Other vessels such as storage and serving vessels were stored or used

in different areas of the household compound. The primary function of vessels may

reflect their location within the household, such as the association between the hearth

and cooking vessels or the storage of specific types of foods in different areas of the

compound. In addition, when households use ceramic vessels for different types of

functions than their intended or primary function, the spatial location of specific

vessels may reflect their secondary or tertiary function. The mapping of the spatial

location of ceramic vessels and correlating this with their observed uses provided a

basis for assessing the relationship between ceramic use and space. I focused on the

spatial changes of ceramic forms within household compounds to provide a greater

awareness with which we can infer different ceramic life-cycles.

Vessel Frequency and Size

My research among the Gamo also focused on vessels used throughout their

life-cycle from three villages and different caste and economic households to help to

clarify the factors that affect the relationship between the household's ceramic

assemblage and population. Once archaeologists are able to interpret different stages

of the life-cycle of pots, they may be able to determine accurately prehistoric and

historic demography. Intervillage variation between vessels and population has not

been studied previously and only one study (i.e., Nelson 1981) has addressed the

relationship between vessel volume and household population when controlling for

socioeconomic variation. However, caste variation between vessels and population has

not been studied previously. Exploring the association between household population

and the number and size of pots throughout the different life-cycle stages provides

valuable information concerning how to analyze household pots as an indicator of

household population. Vessel volume is often employed to determine household

population (Nelson 1981; Tani 1994; Turner and Lofgren 1966). Investigating the

relationship between household population of a village with vessel volume was first

conducted by the classic study of Turner and Lofgren (1966). They examined Anasazi

sites in the American Southwest that were occupied for an 1100-year period. They

found that household populations could be correlated with the volume of cooking

vessels (Turner and Lofgren 1966). Turner and Lofgren's (1966) study was tested in

ethnographic settings among the Maya in Mexico (Nelson 1981) and the Kalinga in

the Philippines (Longacre 1991; Tani 1994).

Tani's (1994) study comparing household size and vessel volume was in

agreement with Turner and Lofgren's (1966) analysis, showing a significant

correlation between the mean volume of regular-sized cooking vessels and household

population. In contrast, Nelson's (1981) study indicated that specific cultural cooking

activities can affect the relationship between the members of a household and their

vessel volume. In addition, his study correlating household volume with population

found that status was a major influence on whether pots correlated with household size

(Nelson 1981). This is partly due to higher status households conducting feasts

sometime in the past, causing them to have an excess number of large vessels within

their household assemblage (Wilson 1994:55). Nelson and colleagues (Nelson 1981;

Nelson et al. 1994) suggest that researchers look at different villages within a society

and study a community where each household produces its own pottery.

Longacre's (1991) and Tani's (1994) studies indicate that the number of

household pots among households that produce their own pottery does not correlate

with household size. Furthermore, Tani (1994) found among the Kalinga that larger

household populations use larger cooking vessels. The reason these populated

households have more broken pots is because large pots break more often due to the

amount of thermal stress placed upon large cooking vessels (Tani 1994).

I investigated the associations between Gamo populations and the frequency

and sum and mean volume of different functional vessels among the three villages and

different caste and economic ranked households. I expected that the population of a

Gamo village would correlate with frequency and sum and mean volume of the village

household's ceramic vessels. This would seem to be especially true for cooking

vessels, because cooking pots are a direct tool for providing the members of the

household their daily food. Serving vessels are expected to have a strong association

with the number of people eating from a given household, because the Gamo serve

food communally. In addition, storage and transport vessels are tools that reflect the

needs of a given household population, and I expected that these functional vessels

would provide a strong association to the population of households. However, if non-

pottery-producing villages are found to stockpile their pots, then this may indicate a

strong negative association between a village population and their vessels.

Furthermore, I expected that high caste or wealthy households will have a weaker

association between their household population and their pots because they may have

an excess amount of vessels than the population requires.


The final analysis is vessel use-life and the influence that production

techniques and materials, vessel cost, size, and function have on the longevity of pots

within different villages and castes and economic rank households. The study of

ceramic use-life from villages around the world remains an important methodological

tool for interpreting the frequencies of types in the archaeological record. The

variation of use-life among different types allows archaeologists to suggest the

duration of occupation and population of a site (Foster 1960; Longacre 1985; Rice

1987:300). Researchers have gathered use-life information from 18 different ethnic

groups that vary in terms of the longevity of functional classes of pots. Many factors

can affect the use-life of a pot including household size (Tani 1994), vessel size

(Birmingham 1975:384; David and Hennig 1972; DeBoer 1985; de la Torre and

Mudar 1982; Longacre 1985:340; Shott 1996), production methods (see Chapter 4)

(Arnold 1991:72; Bankes 1985:275-276; Deal 1983:155; Foster 1960; Okpoko

1987:452), and use (Bankes 1985:72; Foster 1960; Reid 1989; Tani 1994). This

previous research concluded that cooking vessels and small pots moved from location

to location have a shorter use-life than storage vessels and large pots that remain in

one locality (Longacre 1985).


The frequency of use is a factor that influences a vessel's longevity, especially

for cooking and serving vessels that tend to be used with more frequency than other

functional types (P. J. Arnold 1991:72; Deal 1983:155-156, 1998:92-93; Foster

1960:608; Rice 1987:298). Although the role of socioeconomic status is mentioned as

a factor that influences ceramic use-life (e.g., Rice 1987:300; Shott 1996:480), I am

not aware of any studies that directly address the relationship between socioeconomic

status and ceramic use-life.

With the Gamo, I expected that production techniques and vessel cost, size,

and function will affect vessel longevity. Specifically, potters who use better materials

and techniques, based upon consumer opinions, should have vessels that have a longer

use-life. In addition, potters who sold expensive pots should produce pots with a

longer use-life. A household's social and economic status may also contribute to the

types of vessels that a Gamo household could afford. Cheaper and poorly

manufactured pots purchased or exchanged by low caste and poor households may

have a shorter longevity. Previous research (David 1972; DeBoer 1985; Longacre

1981:64; Shott 1989; Tani 1994:62) shows that larger vessels are used less and have a

longer use-life. Therefore, I also expected that larger vessels should have a longer use-

life than smaller vessels. In addition, the function of the vessel should influence vessel

longevity, in that cooking, serving, and transporting vessels would have a shorter use-

life than storage vessels. The frequency of pots used among households may also

influence their use-life. If the poorer and low caste households have fewer pots at any

given time, then they are expected to use them with more frequency causing them to

have a shorter life expectancy. Furthermore, the factors that affect a vessel's use-life

are influenced by the distribution of pots throughout the Gamo landscape; therefore,

intervillage comparisons should demonstrate the link between vessel distribution and


From the preceding discussions, it should be clear that ethnoarchaeological

research has the potential to make a substantial contribution to ceramic studies,

especially where the researcher observes the life-history of specific ceramic vessels in

different social-economic households located in distinct villages. The study of Gamo

ceramics importantly demonstrates to archaeologists the possibility of deriving social

and economic information from pottery. As will be shown, an ethnoarchaeological

study of Gamo ceramics can provide archaeologists with a more concise framework in

the processes contributing to the behavior behind the variation and distribution of

archaeological household ceramics.

Organization of the Following Chapters

The parable at the beginning of this chapter tells us the social and economic

story of a Gamo potter and points to the life-history of pots. From the time the potter

produces and distributes her pots and the consumers use and discard their pots, each

pot moves through a range of social and economic contexts that help to define Gamo

society. As the parable presents a society that is rich in intervillage and socioeconomic

variation, it is my goal to present a model to archaeologists demonstrating that this

variation can be interpreted in the archaeological record.

To understand the relationship between Gamo pottery and its role in

contributing to archaeological interpretations of social and economic variation it is

necessary to discuss Gamo society. Chapter 2 discusses the Gamo people, relating

how their political organization, castes, economic wealth, markets, agriculture, and

diet influence their household ceramic assemblages.

Chapter 3 details the methods I used to gather my information among the

Gamo and their pottery. The importance of using the life-cycle approach is explained,

and it is argued that the life-cycle provides a more complete analytical tool in

explaining how to interpret socioeconomic variation in the archaeological record. The

three units of analysis, village, caste, and economic rank, are described concerning

how and why specific villages and households were included as part of the research.

In Chapter 4, I begin with a discussion of the variation concerning Gamo

pottery procurement and production, as well as the technological, social and economic

factors influencing ceramic distribution at the village, caste, and economic wealth

contexts. This chapter investigates the consumers' opinions concerning different Gamo

potters ability to produce pots and tests if their opinions are reflected within their

household assemblages. Furthermore, I compare the cost and types of pots household's

purchase based on their social status and economic wealth.

In Chapter 5, I look at factors influencing how Gamo villages, castes, and

economic ranks use, reuse, and discard their ceramic pots. The ecological location

among the three villages is an important component concerning the types of vessels

potters produce and consumers use. Furthermore, this chapter investigates whether the

household assemblage is representative of the level of caste and economic rank.

Specifically, I compare the different caste and economic rank households in the three

villages concerning the frequency of vessels and vessel types, sum volume, and the

percentage of vessels used for the processing of high cost foods.

Chapter 6 discusses ceramics in terms of spatial and use-alteration analyses

during the primary-use, reuse, and discard stages. This chapter focuses on how people

change their storage of ceramic pots within villages, castes, and economically ranked

households. In addition, I explore how use-alteration attributes such as carbon

deposition and surface attrition indicate how the Gamo people use their different

vessel types.

Chapter 7 details the correlations between the frequency and volume of pots

with household population, and the various factors that affect the longevity of pots. I

demonstrate that within the contexts of village, caste, and economic wealth there are

differences in how pots reflect household population, especially as pots move from

primary-use to their discard stage. Furthermore, I explore how vessel use-life at the

village, caste, and economic wealth contexts are affected by factors such as vessel

volume, function, and cost, as well as their frequency of use and the potter's

production methods.

Finally, Chapter 8 summarizes the results of the analysis discussed in the

dissertation. Based on the success of the research, I present avenues for future

ethnoarchaeological and archaeological research in southwestern Ethiopia.


This chapter places the Gamo people in perspective by outlining their culture

and explains why they are an excellent model for understanding the relationship

between household ceramics and social-economic variation. The Gamo provided

motivation for this study because among them: (1) pottery is an extremely important

material for everyday living and its production and use has not been curtailed by the

substitution of metal and plastic vessels; (2) there are two types of Gamo villages

including pottery-producing and non-pottery-producing villages; (3) the different

castes in Gamo all use ceramics; and (4) ceramic users are found throughout the

region encompassing different agricultural subsystems, thus the relationship between

the use of ceramic containers and different agricultural foods can be investigated.

The Research Area

The Gamo people of southern Ethiopia, some 600,000 people strong, inhabit

the mountains east of the Rift Valley lakes of Abaya and Chamo (Hasen 1996). The

Gamo highlands rise from the rift valley lakes at an elevation of 1,160 meters to a

height of 3,540 meters at Mount Tola. The dramatic rise of the Gamo highlands from

the Rift valley lakes of Abaya and Chamo provides a diversity of ecological conditions

that affect regional climates and agricultural potential. The average rural population

density is high, with some places exceeding 200 persons per square kilometer. The

Gamo territory and peoples are subdivided into: deres or districts, with each dere

divided into mota or subdistricts, and guta or villages that are led by elected and

hereditary elders (Ab6ls 1979, 1981; Cartledge 1995; Olmstead 1975; Sperber 1975).

I conducted the majority of my fieldwork in three villages: Zuza, Guyla, and

Etello (Figure 2-1). The village of Zuza is located within Zuza mota and in Ochollo

dere on a single ridge overlooking Lake Abaya at an elevation of 2,100 m. The

number of households found in Zuza at the time of my census numbered 57, with five

households of potters, and the remaining households consisting of farmers and

weavers (Figure 2-2). The number of people living in Zuza at the time of my census

was 198 people or 3.5 people per household. There were no smiths or hideworkers

living in Zuza. Because the village is located on top of the Ochollo ridge, the

households are densely concentrated.

The village of Etello is located within Doko Kalay mota and in Doko dere at

an elevation of 2,600 meters. The number of household compounds at the time of my

census numbered 68, with three household compounds of hideworkers and the

remaining households consisting of farmers (Figure 2-3). The population of Etello at

the time of my census was 315 people or 4.6 people per household. There were no

potters or smiths living in Etello.

The village of Guyla is located within Leesha mota and in Dita dere. Guyla is

situated at an elevation of 2,700 meters. The number of households (Figure 2-4) in

Guyla at the time of my census numbered 91, with 10 households of potters, three

Figure 2-1: Map of the village locations of Zuza, Etello, and Guyla within the Gamo


---- ---- -
-------------- Il e

*/ house
foot path
guest house N 0'
o meeting place 0A "
0 40
o mala compound- farmers
mana compound potters

Figure 2-2: Map of households located within the Gamo village of Zuza.

@ .... .. .-" -

'- .........- ",
\ i8



(': G

*/* house
foot path
o mala compound farmers
degala compound hideworkers

0 40 80

Figure 2-3: Map of households located within the Gamo village of Etello.

~'O `,.
:$a .'O


o':- ~pO.


-~~! 0'1

( a

to Zada


0 ,5

" ......" ~ (~0
*o a **,

0 40 80

*/* house
- stream
---- foot path
O meeting place
mourning area
00 orthodox church
.' mana compound potters
O mala compound farmers
S degala compound hideworkers

2 E

o ~


'/ to Ezo

Figure 2-4: Map of households located within the Gamo village of Guyla.

households of hideworkers, eight abandoned households, and the remaining

households consisting of farmers. The population of Guyla at the time of my census

was 342 people or 4.1 people per household (i.e., not including the abandoned

households). There were no smiths living in Guyla.

Political Organization

The Gamo are not an isolated agricultural community, but rather they are

incorporated into the larger Ethiopian society, as they were controlled by the Omotic

King of Kaffa (Beckingham and Huntingford 1954:LXVI). Then in circa 1897,

Menelik II invaded the Gamo, as well as the other neighboring groups, which began

the full integration of Gamo society into the Ethiopian Empire (Bureau 1980; Halperin

and Olmstead 1976). It is the thought that this influence from the Amhara caused the

Gamo to adopt political and social titles such as Halaka and Dana, which are similar

to the Amharic Aleqa and Dana titles (Bureau 1979). How these outside influences

have changed the production and use of pottery in Gamo society is unknown. Gamo

potters continually stated that they make the same pottery types as their ancestors.

Therefore, only archaeological research can address changes concerning pottery

production and use.

Several researchers have studied the contemporary political organization of the

Gamo people (Ab616s 1979, 1981; Bureau 1978, 1981; Halperin and Olmstead 1976;

Olmstead 1975; Sperber 1975). The political leaders in Gamo (i.e., Kao, Dana, Maka,

Uduga, and Halaka) must be baira, who is the senior male in his family and

sometimes a member of a senior clan, as certain positions come from one clan


(Sperber 1975:212). A Kao and other political leaders cannot become a political leader

if his father is still alive. Within each of the intraethnic divisions or deres, there is a

hereditary ritual sacrifice or Kao. The Kao is a full-time baira, who represents his

dere in interdere discussions, in addition to making "numerous propitiatory sacrifices,

obey particular taboos, and command special respect" (Sperber 1975:213-214).

The Dana is below the Kao in the ritual-political hierarchy. The Dana must

first be a Halaka, then an Uduga before he is chosen as a Dana. A man must have

considerable wealth to become Dana. The Maka is also a hereditary position who

sacrifices and prays for the people of his dere. Each Uduga is chosen yearly and his

duties are to collect taxes and govern the people.

The Halaka has received the most focus from previous researchers (Ab616s

1978, 1979, 1981; Freeman 1997; Halperin and Olmstead 1976; Sperber 1975). The

majority of Gamo Halakas are from the caste, mala. However, some of the regions

inhabited by mana and degala castes have their own Halakas that represent only the

mana or degala people (see Caste section below). A Halaka has been described as a

man appointed by district assemblies and must be circumcised, married, wealthy, and

morally respected (Sperber 1975:215). However, Freeman (1997) states that "a Halaka

is an initiate, and that he is being initiated into the community as a full member" (351).

Halakas usually wish the appointment did not occur because becoming a Halaka

requires a substantial amount of resources, however it is taboo to refuse (Sperber

1975:215). The reason becoming a Halaka is an expensive exercise is because he must

give a series of feasts, one at his house and the other in the area of community

gatherings or dubusha (Freeman 1997:352). The last feast occurs when the Halaka

becomes an ade or Halaka-as-man, where he provides a feast or senior's feast (baira

musa) for four days that consists of beer and ceremonial Gamo foods (Freeman 1997).

Pottery is an integral material for conducting Halaka feasts, as it is the use of ceramic

vessels that helps ferment the beer and cook the food given to the feast's participants.

In addition, ceramic vessels generally are used to serve the food at the feasts,

especially since people eat communally from large serving bowls.

After 1974 when the Marxist government came into power, many of the

traditional Gamo political institutions were forced to relinquish power. In Zuza and

other villages, the presence of ritual-political leaders and their associated wealth

affects the types and the number of pots present within their households. According to

oral history, the Argama clan first inhabited Zuza, which was the first village inhabited

in all of Ochollo dere. There is only one Kao living in Zuza, whose responsibility it is

to speak first at meetings held at Bakero (i.e., the Zuza debusha or gathering place),

where all of Ochollo meets. This is the only responsibility for Kao Bulche, because the

responsibility of the Kao in Ochollo has diminished. After Kao Bulche's father died in

1960, Kao Bulche became Ochollo's Kao and had a feast for all of Ochollo. However,

after the Marxist Government took over in 1974, Kao Bulche was forced to relinquish

his role as Kao in Ochollo dere. There are three former Halakas living in Zuza, but at

the time of my research, no one in Zuza was being initiated into becoming a Halaka.

In addition, there are no Danas, Makas, or Udugas living in Zuza. I interviewed and

studied pottery of one Kao and three Halaka households in Zuza.

In Etello, there are no Kaos, Danas, or Udugas, whereas there are six former

Halakas and one Maka living in Etello. In Doko dere, where the village of Etello is

located, the recent Dana gave the people 10,000 birr, which is the equivalent of 99 ox.

The length of the Dana's term is dependent upon whether there is another person who

is qualified and has the wealth to donate either the ox or the money to the people. The

previous Doko Dana was Dana for 28 years until his death. The first people to inhabit

the village of Etello were from the Maka clan and this is the reason the Maka comes

from this clan. In Etello, the Maka explained that he has been a Maka for seven years

and when he became Maka by the people's wishes, he was given an ox from the seven

Halakas of the dere. In addition, every year for seven years the seven Halakas give the

Maka an ox, which they take to Tsudo Mountain in the forest. In the forest they slay

the ox and pray to God that the seven motas in Doko will be productive and the people

will have peace and health. In addition, they eat gordo (see Gamo diet below for

description) that is given by the dere's Uduga. Currently in Doko, the Uduga no

longer collects the people's taxes. I interviewed and studied the pottery of one Maka

and two Halaka households in Etello.

In the village of Guyla, which is located in Dita dere, the only leaders present

are six former Halakas. The people of Guyla repeatedly stated that they do not have

enough wealth for someone to become Halaka in Guyla. However, there was one

recent initiated Halaka living in a village adjacent to Guyla. In Leesha mota, the first

people inhabiting the area were from the Gawmala clan and this is the reason the Kao

of Leesha is always from the Gawmala clan. However, it is not known which clan first

inhabited the village of Guyla. There are presently no Danas, but in the past, the Dana

came only from Leesha and his duties were to collect taxes. Presently in Leesha, there

is a Maka and his duties are to lead the people to the debusha Lalume that the people

consider an honored place. Lalume is an open field and when people are walking

through Lalume to the market, people sit for a short time in respect to this honored

land. The Uduga in Leesha is from the clan Galomala and his duties are to pray for the

people and during Meskal, he sprinkles honey in the Leesha market. I interviewed and

studied the pottery in two Halaka households in Guyla.


There is a debate concerning whether castes exist in Africa, as some

researchers argue that castes can only be applied to southern Asia where it is

associated with the Hindu religion (Dumont 1957; Leach 1962). However, others have

clearly demonstrated that castes are not confined to southern Asia, but are present in

many regions of the world including Africa (Haberland 1984; Hocart 1950; Hutton

1963; Levine 1974; Lewis 1970; Maquet 1970; Shack 1964, 1966; Sterner and David

1991; Vaughan 1970). Specifically, a debate concentrates on whether the theory of

castes can be applied to Ethiopian societies, in terms of their origins and present-day

classification. Three alternative theories have been proposed to explain the origin of

caste groups in Ethiopia: (1) the remnants theory (Cerulli 1956; Clark 1954;

Haberland 1984; Honea 1958; Jensen 1959; Shack 1966:9); (2) the mutualistic

specialization theory (Levine 1974); and (3) the internal social differentiation theory

(Todd 1978). Proponents of the remnants theory state that pre-Cushitic groups of

hunters and artisans were remnant groups of foragers. According to the proponents of

this theory, these hunter and artisan groups exhibit a different phenotype than their

host group (Fleming 1973, 1976; Orent 1969; Shack 1966:9). Levine's (1974)

mutualistic specialization theory contends that groups of specialized artisans were

incorporated into the larger society because there was a continuous demand for these

crafts. Todd's (1978) internal social differentiation theory is based on his research

among the Dime of southwestern Ethiopia. He believes that among the Dime, surplus

food was present, causing groups of people to develop specific artisan skills, who

worked for the Dime chiefs.

There is no single defining theory of castes, as each society, whether it is in

India or Ethiopia, has its own specific structure for integrating castes into its larger

socioeconomic order. Therefore, to state that caste can be applied only to the borders

of Pakistan and India not only denies cultural complexity, but also molds each society

into the same caste system. The difficulty in presenting a clear definition of a theory of

caste is that caste is dependent upon spatial and temporal context, thereby making it

difficult to proceed with a generalized notion of how to define castes. Although

characteristics of castes can be refuted based on different contextual information,

certain attributes are more clearly applicable than others. The strict rule of ascribed

birth is an important attribute of caste, because it provides the foundation of kinship

and marriage relations throughout India. Related to the concept of endogamy is the

importance of pure and impure relationships that occur among all members of society.

Purity and impurity are established in everyday affairs of eating and socializing, which

influence important ceremonies such as marriage and death. Occupation is associated

with castes but as mentioned above it must be used cautiously, since not all members

of a caste may be closely tied to a specific occupation. A caste is an endogamous

group that is part of a larger society that ranks members on a hierarchical scale. It is

also associated with purity and impurity and each caste has its own perceptions and

traditions associated with the caste system.

The northern and central regions of Gamo have a social organization that

entails a rigid caste system consisting of three castes, in order of rank: (1) mala; (2)

mana; and (3) degala. In the southern Gamo region, there are only two castes, mala

and mana. The mala caste is the highest status caste group. The mala caste controls

the Gamo political, economic, and religious systems. They are associated with farming

but also are merchants. The majority of weavers belong to the mala caste but it is

possible for both mana and degala caste members to learn to weave. The mana and

degala castes have no political control in Gamo society except some mana and degala

members will choose their own Halaka (village sacrificer, but this Halaka does not

have the political influence that the mala Halaka has. The degala caste is the lowest

status caste group and are associated with iron-working, hide-working, and ground-

stone manufacturing occupations (Table 2-1).

Each caste is endogamous and there are strict taboos against engaging in

sexual intercourse, living, eating, or marring someone from another caste. If a taboo is

broken, then the parties are ostracized from society. In addition, it is thought that if a

person from the mala caste has sexual intercourse with either a mana or degala

member, death will occur for both individuals. Presently, this taboo is strictly enforced

as I witnessed when a Halaka verbally assaulted the husband of a mana woman

because his wife became drunk and began to flirt with members of the mala caste. As

the mana husband stood and held the Halakas staff, the Halaka took grass from the

potter's compound and threw into the air indicating that he has blessed this land and

stated that his family had given this land to the mana. The Halaka, as well as other

past Halakas, ordered her temporarily to leave the village as part of her punishment.

Table 2-1: Social hierarchy and their economic associations in Gamo society.

Caste with Possible Social Leaders Possible Occupations within

Kao Farmer
Dana Merchant
Maka Govt. Official
Uduga Weaver
Halaka Cotton Spinner
Market Carrier

Halaka Potter
Cotton Spinner
Market Carrier

Halaka Hide-worker
Ground-stone producer
Cotton spinner
Market Carrier

One's caste membership in Gamo is ascribed at birth and there is nothing that

one can do to change her/his status. The mala caste members are farmers, weavers,

merchants, elected officials, and sacrificers. The mana caste members are

predominantly potters. Potters are full-time craft specialists who live in specific

villages throughout the Gamo region. Thus, some villages and regions have no potters

and these differences between villages affect the distribution and use of a village's

ceramic assemblage. The location of degala members is dependent upon their social

relations with farmers in order to be granted permission to live in a village. The

groundstone producers also must live in an area that is geologically suitable for them

to mine particular types of stones.

Some mana households own land that they either obtained from the mala caste

or received from the Marxist government that took over political control Ethiopia in

1974. However, some mana families do not own farmland and must rely solely on the

manufacture of ceramic vessels for their livelihood. In the past, the degala were not

able to own farmland. However, since 1974 with the takeover by the Marxist

government, some degala families have gained access to farmland. In 1991, when the

new Ethiopian government took control, the Gamo began to reinstate their traditional

ideals resulting in some degala families losing their farmland.

In Zuza, there are only mala and mana castes. Five households of the mana

caste live within one area with a population of 23 or 4.6 people per household, and the

rest of the village households (n=52) belongs to the mala caste with a population of

175 or 3.4 people per household (Figure 2-1). In Etello, where the mala and degala

castes are represented, there are three degala households living in one area with a

population of 11 people or 3.7 people per household. The rest of the Etello population

(n=65) belongs to the mala caste consisting of 304 people or 4.7 people per household

(Figure 2-2). In Guyla all three castes are represented: there are three degala

consisting of 13 people or 4.3 people per household and ten mana compounds

scattered throughout the village, which represent 47 people or 4.7 people per

household. The remaining households of Guyla (n=70) are inhabited by the mala

caste, which has a population of 282 or 4.0 people per household (Figure 2-4).

Economic Wealth

Wealth in Gamo society is dependent upon the household's developmental

cycle, as well as one's social placement. As discussed in Chapter 1, social status and

wealth are not isomorphic, as a household's economic wealth may be higher than

another household that may belong to a higher caste. For example, some potter

households do not have farmland, but because there are a number of people generating

income, they are economically wealthier than households inhabited by mala widows.

Thus, the developmental cycle in terms of who is living within the household and their

associated occupation(s) directly affects its economic status.

Among the Gamo, the wealthiest households generally belong to the political

elite such as the Kao, Dana, Maka, Uduga, and Halaka. However, some of these titles

indicate social and political roles rather than economic wealth. The Kao, Uduga, and

Maka sacrifice animals for the well being of the people that live in their mota.

Whereas the Dana and Halaka must pray for their people, they also must give feasts

that require substantial wealth.

The Gamo people assess the wealth of a household in terms of: (1) the number

and quality of house construction; (2) the amount of land farmed; (3) the type and

number of livestock owned; (4) the number of wives that a man has; and (5) the type

and number of occupations people are engaged in. These emic factors are the basic

tenets of whether a household is wealthy or not. All three villages have households

that represent the various economic ranks, with Guyla having the wealthiest

households among the three villages.


Gamo markets are an extremely important part of Gamo life, not only in terms

of dispersing goods throughout the landscape, but also in providing a setting for Gamo

people to engage socially. Although it is not known how long Gamo markets have

been a formal part of everyday life, Jackson (1970) believes that the specialized

markets that make up the largest markets came into being during Menilik's occupation

of the region and therefore are a relatively new aspect of their society.

Presently there are two types of markets in Gamo. The local market is visited

by people living within a mota/subdistrict. Here, potters from the region sell to their

patrons, either new patrons or patrons that have been purchasing or exchanging food

with specific potter families for generations, such as the case with the market in

Leesha. The larger markets of Zada, Ezo, Tuka (Chencha), Bodo (Dorze), Ochollo,

and Lante (Figure 2-5) are open on different days and staggered, so that they do not

interfere with each other. However, the Ezo and Bodo markets fall on Monday and

Thursday, but they both specialize in different materials. Bodo is known for its cotton,

as many of the weavers live in and around Bodo. Ezo, however, is known for its

pottery, because Birbir potters sell there, as well as potters from Zada, Leesha, and

Borada. In addition, Ezo is known for selling high quality milk, which Jackson (1970)

Figure 2-5: Map of markets located within the Gamo region, which are associated with
the villages of Zuza, Etello, and Guyla.

also documented thirty years ago. Tuka's (Chencha) market has a variety of materials

present, but it specializes in selling foods from the lowlands (e.g., bananas, maize,

sweet potatoes, teff, etc.) and highland crops (e.g., enset, barley, wheat, potatoes,

cabbage, etc.). In addition, potters from both the lowland and highland areas sell at


Ochollo's market is adjacent to Zuza and specializes in maize and cotton, as

does the Lante market. In addition, the Ochollo potters sell at both the Ochollo and

Lante markets, and sometimes at the Bodo markets. The people of Zuza usually visit

the Bodo, Ochollo, and Lante markets, which specialize in the selling of raw and spun

cotton. Many of the Zuza women spin cotton as a source of income so they are either

purchasing raw cotton and/or selling their spun cotton to weavers living throughout

the region.

Etello is centrally located near many of the important Gamo markets. They

visit the Tuka, Bodo, Pango (Doko Mesho), and Ezo markets. However, the Tuka and

Pango markets are the most common markets visited because of their size and

proximity. Here they sell and buy agricultural items and purchase ceramic vessels.

The Guyla people visit the Ezo, Zada, Pango, Tuka, and the small Leesha

markets. The potters sell their wares at the Leesha, Pango, and Zada markets, but

sometimes sell at the Tuka and Ezo markets, as well. The markets are the link between

pottery producers and consumers and determine how pottery is dispersed over the

landscape, since it is the markets where potters and consumers sell and purchase their



Agriculture is the primary occupation for the majority of Gamo people. The

Gamo region is extremely mountainous and the production of agricultural crops

corresponds to distinct ecological zones governed largely by altitude. The Gamo

highlands have three major altitudinal agroecozones traditionally identified in

Amharic (the national language of Ethiopia) as: (1) woyna dega, 1,500 to 2,300 m; (2)

dega, 2,300 to 3,000 m; and (3) wurch, above 3,000 m (Cartledge 1995). However, the

Gamo classify two distinct ecological zones, the dega, considered the highland region

located between 2,300 and 3,000 meters, and the baso the lowlands situated between

1,500 and 2,300 meters. These agroecozones vary in their annual amount of rainfall

that are dispersed over two biannual rainfall periods. The small rains occur from

March to May and the big rains occur from June to September, but it is also possible

for the small rains to merge into the big rains, causing continuous precipitation from

March to September (Westphal 1975:22). It is during the big rains that pottery

production is slowed because potters are not able to extract their clays, dry and fire

their vessels.

Within these altitudinal zones, different types of crops are grown. In the Baso

zone, the principal crops are wheat (Triticum savitum), an indigenous Ethiopian grain

called teff (Eragrostis teff), maize (Zea mays), and coffee (Coffee arabica). Secondary

crops include enset (Ensete ventricosum) and barley (Hordeum vulgare). Enset is an

indigenous Ethiopian crop that is a large fibrous-leaf plant with the edible portions

consisting of the roots, pseudo-stems, and leaf-stems (Brandt 1984; Brandt et al. 1997;

Olmstead 1974). Enset (Ensete ventricosum) is an endemic plant of Ethiopia that is

farmed throughout southern Ethiopia. Enset is grown in every ecological zone from

1,200 to 3,100 meters (Brandt et al. 1997:5). Many researchers believe that

southwestern Ethiopia was possibly the region where people began domesticating

enset (Brandt 1984, 1997; Brandt and Fattovich 1990; Harlan 1969; 1992; Sauer 1952;

Shack 1963; Simoons 1960; Vavilov 1926). However, no archaeological research to

date has been conducted in the region to understand the development of enset and

other types of food production.

In the Dega zone, where the majority of people live, enset, barley, and

Ethiopian cabbage (Brassica integrifolia var. carinata) are the primary crops.

Secondary crops include Oromo potato (Coleus edulis L.) and castor bean (Ricinus

communis L.).

Zuza is located at an elevation of 2,100 meters. The only agriculture that

occurs in Zuza is garden plots that have a mixture of enset, corn, cabbage, and

peppers. There is not enough land in the village to have large-scale agriculture, so the

majority of land used for agriculture by the Zuza people is located away from the

village. Weaving and spinning cotton are two common types of work conducted by the

people. Likewise, the owning of livestock was minimal compared to the other two

villages that I studied.

Etello is situated at 2,600 meters within a large valley where the Itsamighty

River provides enough well watered land to conduct large-scale agriculture. The

majority of households are situated adjacent to the Itsamighty River, where the village

drinking water is gathered. Except for the hide-workers, farming is the main

occupation of the village, with weaving and spinning cotton providing secondary

occupations. The crops grown in Etello are barley, wheat, enset, potatoes, cabbage,

peas, and beans. In addition, the majority of people in Etello own some livestock.

Guyla is situated at 2,700 meters on the upper slope of a large valley providing

enough land to conduct large-scale agriculture. Guyla is located on a well-drained

mountainside where several small streams provide ample drinking water. The majority

of household compounds are situated in a grid pattern with footpaths running

throughout. Except for the artisans, farming is the main occupation of the village, with

weaving and cotton spinning providing secondary occupations. Guyla is similar to

Etello in the types of crops grown and amount of livestock owned. The types of

agricultural products greatly affect the types of pottery used throughout the household.

This association between agricultural crops and pottery types also influences which

vessel types potters specialize in because of the demand by consumers.


There is a strong association between the use of pottery and food in Gamo

society. Different ceramic vessel forms are used to process a variety of Gamo foods

for everyday consumption. Before discussing Gamo ceramics and their role in

demonstrating regional, social, and economic conditions, an understanding of the basic

types of foods eaten in Gamo society is necessary.

The Gamo diet consists of a range of foods, but depends, in part, on the

seasonal availability of specific crops. As mentioned above, if people have the

economic means, they can purchase foods that are not grown near their village from

one of the many weekly markets dispersed throughout the Gamo hinterlands. The

majority of meals eaten throughout the Gamo region are made with enset, which is

available throughout the year. Different parts of the enset plant are processed and

prepared for making specific meals, which can be fermented, boiled, and/or roasted.

One of the most common foods is the corm of a young enset plant. They prepare the

enset corm by cutting it into a number of pieces and boiling it (chaday) usually with

either cabbage or potatoes; also garlic and/or onions may be mixed into the cooking

pot. Another common type of meal is prepared by fermenting enset by burying it for

seven days then trampling it with the feet and then burying it again for another seven

days. After two weeks, the enset has fermented and is made into bread that is cooked

or mixed with a combination of grains (e.g., barley, wheat, maize, or sorghum) to

make ooetsa. All breads are cooked on the ceramic baking plate (bache) (see Chapter

4). In addition, enchila (highland name) or kashca (lowland name) is made with

fermented enset (zaluma) by mixing with barley, wheat, maize or sorghum flour. The

enchila/kashca are formed into oval shapes, and to prevent them from sticking to the

vessel wall the cooking pot is lined with enset leaves. Another form of food prepared

with enset is patella that is made from the scraped enset and cooked with salt and

cabbage or potatoes that is boiled using Gamo cooking pots. Etema is another type of

food made from the enset plant and is a white paste that is produced by squeezing the

liquid out of the enset pulp. The etema is considered the most prized part of the enset

plant. It is eaten at special occasions, including births, feasts, and circumcisions

(Cartledge 1995:187). Etema is an important component of the pottery production

activities after the vessels are fired (see Chapter 4).

As mentioned above, grains such as barley, wheat, maize, teff, flax, and

sorghum are grown and eaten by the Gamo. In the highland areas, most meals are

made with barley and wheat, whereas in the lowland areas, maize and sorghum are

more common. Barley is considered the baira of cereals because of its importance in

traditional rituals, but wheat is a close second because of its use in Christian rituals

(Sperber 1975:212). An important grain food prepared and eaten during the religious

holidays of Meskal and Easter is gordo, which is similar to porridge. In addition,

gordo is prepared for Halaka feasts. Barley is used only in the preparation of gordo

for which preparation is intensive. First, the barley must be pounded with a pestle in a

wooden mortar to remove the husk. Then the barley is ground three or four times on a

grinding stone to produce coarse flour. Every time the barley is ground on the grinding

stone, it is sieved through a small woven basket (zazarey). After the barley is made

into flour, water is boiled in a cooking pot and milk and a small amount of the flour

are added and stirred with a bamboo stick. Eventually all of the flour is added and it is

cooked for approximately one hour. Then the gordo is taken out of the cooking pot,

placed in a large serving bowl, and mixed with butter. One of the most common forms

of preparing and eating grains is by roasting them (shasha) and serving them in a

ceramic bowl with coffee.

Meat is not a common food for the rural Gamo people, but is an important food

during religious holidays. Different animals are eaten during different holidays. A bull

is purchased communally by several families and killed by the oldest baira. The meat

is usually prepared as a spicy stew (ayshow wat) or eaten raw with butter and spices.

Chicken is eaten at Christmas and Easter in the form of a spicy stew (cutoe wat). Meat

is an expensive item of the rural people of Gamo, and even during religious holidays,

the artisans usually can not afford to purchase meat. It is customary for the farmers

(mala) to give the hideworkers (degala) the cow's head during Meskal. If the artisans

do not receive meat from the farmers, then they usually will purchase with other

artisans a bag of barley or maize, which they will prepare and eat together.

Butter in Gamo society represents a direct measure of status and wealth and is

directly tied to Gamo symbolic life. Households that own cows are the main producers

of butter in Gamo villages. Milk is transformed into butter by using a large pottery jar

Ottoo). The milk is separated after one week, with the thick curd placed in the jar and

then the jar orifice is securely covered with enset leaves. The jar is rocked back and

forth in the compound for approximately 8 hours. Potters make a small dimple in the

upper portion of the jar's neck so that the consumer can punch this dimple out and use

it to see when the milk has changed to butter. Butter in Gamo society is used during

both life and death ceremonies (Freeman 1997; Olmstead 1997:41, 49, 144-145;

Sperber 1974:60-61). When the Kao of Dita died in the 1920s, butter was placed on

the Kao's head and people from Dita brought milk and butter to the Kao's relatives

(Olmstead 1997:41). Butter is place on the head of Halakas during marriage and

Halaka initiation ceremonies. When Halakas have authority over the dere, they wear

butter on their heads.

Other types of foods that are cooked individually or in combination with other

foods are cabbage and potatoes. Whereas cabbage and potatoes represent lower-

income foods, the production and consumption of butter (oysa), beer (farso), and

coffee (tukay) represent foods that are associated with wealth, high status households.

Beer is produced using a number of different grains such as barley, wheat, or maize.

The grain is ground on a combination of grinding stones, with the flour placed in a

large serving bowl (shele). First, water is boiled in a large cooking jar and the boiled

water is poured over the flour and stirred in the large serving bowl and left to cool.

Then it is poured into the largest storage jar (batsa) to ferment for five days. It is then

ready to be consumed.

Coffee is made by roasting the beans on a ceramic baking plate (bache) and

then grinding them in a mortar or on a grinding stone. Water is boiled in the coffee pot

(jebana) and the ground coffee beans placed into the coffee pot that sits over the

hearth. It is traditional in Gamo society to add salt to the coffee, instead of sugar. In

addition, it is customary for a person to be served three cups of coffee in one sitting.

Food such as enset, potatoes, bread, shona, and chaday are spiced with a

liquid spicy sauce (datsa), which is a combination of garlic, ginger, onion, red chili

peppers, and salt. These foods are ground intensively on a special small grinding stone

and put in a small ceramic jar with water or milk. This jar is then sealed with an enset

leaf. Datsa is used when eating the foods mentioned above. Peas and beans are also

common forms of food in the Gamo diet. A light boiling of peas and beans served with

coffee in a small serving bowl is especially common. Another form of preparing beans

and peas is called eretza, which is made by roasting them separately on a ceramic

baking plate. After they are roasted they are mixed together and ground four times into

a porridge. Then they are boiled with water and milk, added to the above ingredients,

and cooked for 10 minutes.

The foods prepared in Zuza households reflect Zuza's ecological zone. Meals

in Zuza consist of enset, sweet potatoes, cabbage, maize, and sorghum. In Etello and

Guyla, located in the highland region of Gamo, meals include enset, potatoes, barley,

wheat, beans, and peas. However, households can vary their diet by visiting markets

and purchasing foods not grown locally. In addition, the types of foods prepared in

each household are a reflection of the household's social and economic status.


The Gamo are a society with complex political, social, economic, and

ecological structures that influences every aspect of daily life. Much of what we know

about Gamo society occurred only within the last 100 years. Therefore, research must

begin to focus on the historical conditions that have influenced changes among the

Gamo. In addition, research should include a long-term study among the Gamo

documenting the external and internal influences that affected their cultural practices.

Within Gamo society, cultural variation occurs between regions, affecting how the

society produces, distributes, uses, and discards its household ceramics. Gamo society

provides an excellent setting in which to develop an understanding of how variations

reflect social, economic, and political diversity in pottery.


J. W. Fewkes first used the term "ethno-archaeology" in 1900, consciously

recognizing that the present is used to help us understand the past (Fewkes 1900). The

subfield of ethnoarchaeology as a method has paralleled the theoretical and

methodological changes occurring in the larger discipline of archaeology. The study of

pottery through ethnoarchaeology has dramatically expanded within the last fifty

years. Pots are produced, distributed, used, broken, reused or discarded, and

ethnoarchaeologists have witnessed that each aspect of a pot's life-history is dependent

upon the other. Recently, ethnoarchaeologists have incorporated this life-cycle

approach to provide a more contextual interpretation of how people interact with their

pottery (Deal 1998; Schiffer and Skibo 1997; Skibo 1999). Archaeologists and

ethnoarchaeologists should address pottery as a complex technology and not

oversimplify the variability that occurs between people and their pots (Rice 1996:191).

Whether focusing on present or past societies and their pots, researchers should

address the regional, social, and economic context of ceramics. It is a life-history

approach that I use in this ethnoarchaeological study to understand how the lives of

the Gamo people are reflected in their ceramics.

Methodological Approach

Linton (1944), Matson (1965), and Shepard (1956) were the first researchers to

discuss pottery in terms of its functional and technological complexity, rather than

only addressing culture-historical frameworks from their pottery collections.

Subsequently, a number of ceramic ethnoarchaeologists have focused on the life-cycle

analysis (David and Hennig 1972; Deal 1998; DeBoer and Lathrap 1979).

Although David and Hennig (1972), Deal (1998), and DeBoer and Lathrap (1979) do

not use the term life-history, they discuss production, distribution, use, and discard in

systemic and archaeological contexts. Schiffer and Skibo (1997:27-50) use the

utilitarian cooking pot and its different life-history components as an example for their

theoretical position concerning behavioral variation. Although their discussion is

specific to the interaction between artisan and artifact, further interactions can be

addressed that relate to the interaction between pottery and the user (whether an

artisan or not) as well as between the potter and the consumer.

Researchers focusing on ceramic analyses have contributed to an

understanding of the interaction among the ceramic life-cycles and socioeconomic

identity (e.g., Bey and Pool 1992; Howard and Morris 1981). Following Lemonnier's

(1992) discussion of technology as a means for disseminating social identity,

Gosselain's (1998:85) research among potters in southern Cameroon stresses the

variability of procurement to distribution through what he terms the chaine

operatoire" (i.e., the different stages of the production sequence) to understand social

boundaries. These examples illustrate that focusing on the life-history of pots allows

for a more detailed and contextualized interpretation of the people producing,

distributing, using, and discarding their material things.

The stages of a pot's life-cycle are intertwined. Each stage of the life-cycle

reflects decisions made by specific individuals in society (producers and consumers)

and the socioeconomic context of those individuals in a society. For example, the

procurement of clays and temper affects the production and in turn affects the strength

of the pot and thus its use-life, which eventually affects the discard rate. The consumer

opinions concerning which potters produce the best pots can affect the distribution, as

consumers may travel to farther markets to obtain specifically made pots.

Furthermore, consumers who believe certain potters produce high quality pots may

pay more for these pots. Thereby households of different economic wealth and social

status may have different ceramic assemblages. These few examples indicate the

complexity of pottery, demonstrating the need to study the different components of the

life-cycle to interpret a society's social, economic, and regional variability.

Fieldwork among the Gamo

Pottery production and use remain important aspects of many Ethiopian

societies, yet there has been little research conducted to date. Previous research among

Ethiopian potters includes a brief description of post-firing treatment using milk by

Amhara potters (Messing 1957) and a symbolic study of the use of placing pots on the

roofs of Konso houses (Shinohara 1993). In addition, Hecht (1969) gives a

photographic overview of some of the pottery types that the Museum of the Institute

of Ethiopian Studies has in its collection. Lastly, there is a study from Hakemulder

(1980), who as part of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa studied

two villages in the Shoa province to improve the technical and organization of pottery


Village Selection

The majority of ceramic research has focused on a single village (Arnold 1993;

Graves 1985, 1991; Hendry 1992; Kobayashi 1994; Miller 1985; Nelson 1981;

Nickolson and Patterson 1992; Skibo 1992, 1994; Stark 1994; Tani 1994; Trostel

1994). These intravillage studies point to important issues such as the ceramic life-

cycle, use-alteration patterns, spatial analysis, household demographics, and use-life

that need to be expanded and examined at the intervillage level. Researchers have

concentrated on different villages from a single society to better cope with the factors

that influence intervillage variation, especially when focusing on the associations

between ceramics and population (Nelson 1981; Nelson et al. 1994). Studies involving

village comparisons have led to an improved perspective concerning different stages

of the ceramic life-cycle and use-life (P. J. Arnold 1991; Aronson et al. 1994; Deal

1998; DeBoer and Lathrap 1979; Gosselain 1998; Hayden and Cannon 1983;

Longacre 1985, 1991; Nelson 1991; Reina and Hill 1978). The significance of my

ethnoarchaeological research is that it explores not only the life-cycle of ceramics, but

how important research issues such as the influx of industrial wares, spatial analysis,

use-alteration, household demographics, and use-life relate to the life-history of

household vessels. This will provide a model for archaeologists, who seek to

understand the social and economic context of a village from household pottery.

The village analysis of household ceramics contributes to an understanding of

regional similarities and differences within a single society. Ceramics can help us to

decipher inter- and intravillage social and economic organization. Ethnoarchaeological

research within a contemporary stratified society not only helps to elucidate

intervillage variability, but also clearly adds to the interpretation of household social


Zuza and Guyla villages are located in the Dega (2300-3000 meters) and Baso

(1500-2300 meters) ecological zones, respectively, as well as having pottery-

producing and pottery-consuming households (Figure 2-1). These two villages enabled

me to gather information regarding differences in diet and ceramic use between two

villages in different ecological zones and between households with different

socioeconomic ranking.

The third village of Etello was chosen because it is a non-pottery-producing

village located in the Dega (2300-3000 meters) ecological zone (only hideworkers and

farmers live in Etello) (Figure 2-1). Thus, my research questions in Etello focused on

how a non-pottery-producing village obtains, uses, and discards their household

ceramics. The Etello people can purchase ceramics from a number of different potters

from other areas at the weekly markets. In addition, my research in Etello may

indicate if villages without potters use pottery differently than villages with potters.

The Census and Mapping of Three Gamo Villages

In the first stage of my research, I conducted a census in each of the three

Gamo villages, Zuza, Guyla, and Etello. The census was undertaken to understand the

demographic, status, and wealth differences among households in each of the three

villages. This consisted of drawing a map locating each household compound and

major footpaths, and then a short interview with either the head male or female of each

household. One of the most important aspects during this part of my research was that

the members of each of the three villages and myself became acquainted with each

other. As I learned about their village, they became aware of the purpose and goals of

my research, which helped me build a rapport with each of the village households.

After introducing my research to each household, I solicited information about

each household, including name, clan, and primary occupation of the head male and

female of the household compound, as well as other occupations conducted by

household individuals. I also tried to determine how many landholdings each owned

and where they are located; the number of houses they owned; the type of crops they

grew; where they obtained the majority of their food (i.e., the market or their farm);

which markets they went t; and what type and how many livestock they owned. The

last part of the census questions pertained to the consumers' opinions concerning

Gamo pottery. I asked which pottery they purchased (i.e., village or region) and what

they thought was the best village or region for pottery production and why (i.e.,

answers usually referred to the work, clays, or firing process).

Pottery Census

After the census was completed, I chose 20 household compounds from each

village. In each village, I stratified the sample to include the different socioeconomic

groups (i.e., elder, farmer, potter, hide worker). At each of the 60 household

compounds, I spent one day recording the complete life-cycle for each ceramic vessel.

I interviewed the head female since she was usually the person who purchased and

used the vessel. After each vessel was brought out into the compound (if the vessel

was too large I would measure and photograph the vessel in situ), I would ask the

informant: how old is the vessel; where did you purchase the vessel and which village

or region produced the vessel; how much did the vessel cost; is the vessel broken; if

the vessel is broken when and how did the vessel break; and how was the vessel used

before and after it broke.

Informants were asked specifically where each vessel was stored. The purpose

for documenting the storage location of each vessel was to document spatial changes

in the location of vessels relative to their life-cycle (use, reuse, and discard) stages.

The storage location of each vessel was documented whether the vessel was stored

inside a specific building or outside. If the vessel was stored inside a building, then

information was gathered as to the function of the building (e.g., kitchen, storage,

weaving, or general living) and where in the building each vessel was kept (e.g.,

rafters, storage room). The storage location for vessels stored outside was gathered as

to its specific placement (e.g., adjacent to kitchen or house, enset garden).

I consider primary-use vessels as those ceramic pots that are not broken. Reuse

vessels are broken pots that are reused for some function. Provisionally discarded pots

are broken and at the time of analysis were not being used for any function nor did the

informant have a function in mind for the future. This information provided use-life

information for each vessel beginning with its production and ending when the vessel

broke or was still being used when the interview was conducted. After the vessel

information was conducted my assistant and I measured and photographed each

vessel. Furthermore, the morphology of each vessel allowed for the calculation of the

vessel's volume, which was correlated with the household population.

Measurements of the vessels were conducted to understand the formal

variability of vessels with their associated functions. Archaeologists use form to infer

whether a vessel was used for serving, cooking, or storage (Arthur 1994, n.d., Braun

1980, 1983; Nelson and LeBlanc 1986; Plog 1980; Sassaman 1993; Steponaitis 1983).

Each whole and broken vessel also was measured within the household compound for

rim diameter (both interior and exterior), rim thickness and height, neck diameter and

height, vessel height (both interior and exterior), height from rim to maximum

diameter, height from maximum diameter to base, vessel circumference and diameter

at the maximum diameter of each vessel, and base diameter at its maximum point. In

addition, I documented for each vessel the type of rim (i.e., direct, concave, or

convex), the presence or absence of a base ring, handless, and interior and exterior

decoration. The analysis of vessel form provides information concerning the

variability and strength of vessel forms and how they are linked to different uses. The

ceramic form measurements provide information about how different settlements and

social classes that consist of both non-pottery-producing and pottery-producing

households may vary in their use of ceramic vessels. Specifically, based on the

measurements from each vessel, vessel volume was gathered, and this was compared

to the number of individuals in each household. The formula used for calculating

volumes of spherical vessels is V = 4/3;tr3 (Rice 1987:221). The formula used for

calculating volumes of ellipsoid vessels (i.e., bache or baking plate) is V=4/3rtVertical

axis x Larger horizontal axis x Smaller horizontal axis (Rice 1987:221). This type of

analysis determines if the sum and mean vessel volume correlated with household

population, as some researchers have suggested (Nelson 1981; Tani 1994; Turner and

Lofgren 1966).

Observing Ceramic Use-alterations

I conducted the use-alteration analysis during the ceramic vessel census for

each of the 60 households in the three villages. The use-alteration analysis allows us to

link specific foods eaten by the Gamo to use-alteration attributes. Therefore, the use-

alteration analysis provides archaeologists with comparable information in

understanding behavior and subsistence in the archaeological record. Before each

vessel was measured, I took notes concerning the interior and exterior portions of the

vessels. The use-alteration attributes were described for the interior and exterior base,

lower body, maximum diameter, upper body, neck, and rim. Photographs were taken

of each vessel for which the use-alteration attributes could be documented.

The presence of specific use-alteration attributes is recorded on the different

parts of the vessel, as each attribute related to specific behaviors associated with vessel

use. Pedestalled temper was identified by the presence of eroding or raised temper

from the ceramic wall. It is caused by an abrader (i.e., stick, spoon, spatula, etc.) that

has a diameter less than the distance between the temper (Skibo 1992). Identification

of other abrasion attributes including scratches, pits, polishing (consisting of fine

linear scratches), thermal spelling, etc. and was identified on each vessel through a

10x hand lens or by the naked eye. Thermal spelling appears on the vessel wall in the

form of small roughly circular divots ranging from 1 to 3 millimeters in diameter

(Skibo 1992:134). Thermal spelling is the result of water evaporating from a vessel

placed in the fire for a long duration. I also recorded the patterns of the glossy and dull

carbon deposits and oxidized patches. Skibo (1992:157-173) conducted experimental

research to determine the distance a vessel is placed from the fire, as well as assessing

how hard and soft woods affect exterior carbon patterns and how moisture affects

permanent exterior carbon deposition. The experiments demonstrated that cooking

with water produces a glossy soot on the exterior of the vessel. In addition, Skibo

(1992:157-173) showed that all types of wood used to fuel the fire created similar

carbon patterns. Third, his experiments suggest that cooking without water produce an

oxidized patch on the base of the vessel.

The ceramic use-alteration patterns were cross-referenced with observations of

use and with informant's knowledge of cooking, storage, and other activities. I

interviewed informants concerning how they manipulate their vessels (i.e., cooking,

washing) and then recorded how different behaviors cause the distinct use-alteration

traces. A vessel's life-cycle usually involves a number of functions that have not been

systematically documented in previous use-alteration research. Single function vessels

will have specific signatures such as abrasions, thermal spelling, oxidation, etc.,

whereas multiple function vessels will have many signatures, but one may be

predominant, allowing for identification.

Gamo Potter Interviews

During the period when I collected data on the vessels from each of the 60

households, I also spent time with the potters, interviewing them on the social and

technological issues concerning ceramic production and distribution. I conducted

research on Gamo potters to understand the variation concerning pottery manufacture

occurring in different Gamo regions. I wanted to understand the technological and

nontechnological factors that influence pottery procurement, production, and

distribution. Furthermore, research focusing on Gamo potters allowed me to

understand how the manufacturing and distribution of pots influences their use, reuse,

and discard patterns. The interviews with the potters were open-ended and so each

interview was structured differently. However, questions usually included: what

village did the potter come from (Gamo society is virilocal); what type of clays and

fuels do you use to produce and fire the vessels; what are the names of each clay and

how far (i.e., the time it takes to walk round trip to the clay source and back) is each

clay source; what does each clay do in terms of its usefulness; what type of tools do

you use; is it difficult to obtain fuelwood; do you produce the vessels individually or

with other people; and at which markets do you sell your vessels.

In addition to documenting the production process, I investigated the potters'

perceptions concerning the nontechnological and technological factors that influence

the production process. In Zuza, a village with seven potters, interviews were

conducted with six potters. In Guyla, all nine potters were interviewed. Interviews

with potters included questions concerning: 1) the clay sources and their use, owner,

cost, and location; and 2) the preferred clay sources, and reasons why the potters

prefer a given source (Aronson et al. 1994). Additional information was collected on

the entire production process including fuelwoods used to fire the vessel and questions

relating to potters' social ranking in Gamo society.

To understand the ecological areas that potters collect their fuelwood from, I

conducted a survey to find as many species of trees and grasses that were used for

fuelwood by the Gamo potters. Several days were spent with a number of local people

looking for specific trees and then a small branch was collected for genus and species

identification. I could not find some of the fuelwoods. Adane Dinku from the Ministry

of Agriculture, Department of Soil and Water Conservation, Chencha and Dr. Sebsebe

Demissew from the Addis Ababa University Herbarium identified the taxonomy of

each sample. However, some species have yet to be identified by researchers.

For future analysis, I collected from Gamo potters 27 samples of unfired clay

and temper samples in order to conduct laboratory analyses. These samples will aid in

our understanding of the technology of distinct potters in the Gamo region and on the

relationship between consumer opinions of pottery quality and how archaeologists

measure pottery quality by laboratory analysis. The analyses on the clay and temper

samples will provide both emic and etic information that will aid archaeologists in

understanding pottery distribution. The clay samples were brought back to the United

States after I had received permission from the Ministry of Culture and Information

and the Ministry of Mines.

Interpreting Social Status and Economic Wealth in the Household

One of the most important and more difficult analyses in household

archaeology involves interpreting the socioeconomic position of each household. The

analysis of socioeconomic levels within households is promising because many of the

production and consumption activities take place within the household area and

households differ based on the specific cultural circumstances (caste, class, or

occupation, to name only a few). In addition to indicating the specific socioeconomic

position, the analysis at the household level allows for a larger view of the social,

political, and economic conditions and changes that occur within agrarian societies

(Smith 1987:298).

Mortuary remains and architectural studies are the most common types of

analyses concerning the interpretation of wealth at the household level (Bartel 1983;

Chapman et al. 1981; Lewis 1951:178; Mack 1951; McGuire 1983; Wilk 1983; Yang

1945:37-41). However, there has been little systematic work concerning how other

types of material culture can contribute to understanding household wealth in an

archaeological context (Smith 1987:298). Ethnoarchaeological research has provided a

foundation to build an understanding of household wealth and material culture

correlates (Deal 1998; Hayden and Cannon 1984; Kramer 1979, 1982). Smith

(1987:298) believes that household artifacts can contribute to an understanding of

household wealth in the archaeological record as long as suitable methods are utilized.

Household ceramics are closely linked with the status of the household, because

ceramics directly reflect the daily food preparations of all members of the household.

Therefore, this ethnoarchaeological study of the Gamo, who have a strict social

hierarchy, provides a valuable model for interpreting household social status in the

archaeological record.

Household wealth is more difficult to interpret than social status, since wealth

is constantly changing based on the household's developmental cycle. Status in a caste

system is ascribed and usually does not change unless society allows a caste to acquire

additional status. Ceramic vessels are an excellent material for identifying household

wealth, because household ceramics directly reflect a society's economic structure in

terms of frequency, cost, and use-alteration attributes (McBride and McBride 1987;

Miller and Stone 1970:98; Otto 1977, 1980; Smith 1987). Since household wealth can

change through time, it is critical to analyze the different life-cycle stages of the

ceramic assemblage. Furthermore, variation in household wealth may be measured

using different types of analyses such as the spatial storage of vessels, vessel volume

and frequency, and the longevity of vessels (Nelson 1981; Rice 1987:300; Shott 1996;

Smith 1987).

Ceramic vessels are an important medium for interpreting household wealth

because of their close association with subsistence and their durability against post-

depositional factors. The different life-cycle stages of production, distribution, use,

reuse, and discard of Gamo household ceramics may reflect different household

patterns based on economic wealth. The Gamo's variability of household wealth

provides an excellent means for looking at Gamo variability in household wealth.

Measuring social status in Gamo society

The Gamo have a strict social hierarchy consisting of a caste system. The caste

hierarchy is, in order of ranking; (1) mala; (2) mana; and (3) degala. The Gamo caste

system is an ascribed system and no action may change the status of an individual.

Differences occur in the marriage rules among the Gamo. In the northern and central

Gamo regions, caste members can only intermarry with members belonging to their

same caste. The artisans belong to two caste groups, mana (potters) and degala (hide-

workers, smiths, and groundstone makers), and they cannot marry one another.

However, in the southern Gamo region, all artisans belong to the same caste group,

mana, and intermarry. They are considered equal in social status. Throughout the

Gamo region, an individual may not marry another person belonging to the same clan.

The mala caste obtains a majority of their economic needs from farming,

weaving, and trading. The mana caste acquires its economic means around the

production of ceramic vessels. Although not all mana individuals have knowledge

concerning how to produce ceramic vessels, individuals that belong to the mana caste

always live in potter compounds. In addition, mana caste members may also farm or

weave so that occupation is not synonymous with a specific caste. Members of the

degala caste engage in hide-working, iron-working, or the production of grinding

stones. Before the Derg regime came into political power in 1974, the mana and

degala castes were not able to farm because of the control of land by the mala caste.

However, after the Derg toppled Haile Selassie's government, the Derg government

gave farmland to both the mana and degala households. Presently, some mana and

degala still do not have land to farm and with the new government, some degala have

reported that farmland has been taken away, as the Gamo are reinstating traditional

social customs that were forbidden during the Derg regime.

Measuring economic wealth in Gamo society

The Gamo people base economic wealth on a number of conditions that are

both associated and not associated with the caste system. Because the agrarian

economy is fundamental to Gamo society, land is one of the most important wealth

items. Thus, the mana and degala households that do not have land to farm are

economically disadvantaged because they must rely on the selling of products that

they produce to provide income. If the household has more than one type of

occupation, then the amount of economic wealth increases as more types of

occupations gives the household economic diversity during the growing season. The

type and number of houses are an indicator of wealth, as the construction of a

traditional Gamo house is a considerable economic burden. In addition, building a

nontraditional house constructed with wood, mud, straw, and corrugated tin sheets is

an economic indicator of a wealthy household among the Gamo peoples. Another

important indicator of economic wealth is the type and frequency of livestock that a

household may own. Livestock is an important indicator of wealth for a household

because livestock can provide a more varied diet such as eggs, butter, and milk that are

expensive food items. Livestock makes the farmland more productive by providing

manure for fertilizer and draft power for plowing. A household that consists of a

husband and wife or wives, because the Gamo practice polygyny, provides the

household with more economic opportunities.

In order to measure the emic perception of Gamo economic wealth; I

developed a point system where I gave for each occupation within a household. If the

household owned only one house then they received no points. If a household owned

two houses then they received one point and so forth for each additional house. If the

household did not own farmland or livestock then they received no points for either

category, but if the household owned farmland or livestock (excluding chickens) they

received one point for each category. If a widow or widower occupied the household,

they received no points for the marriage category. Households with one wife received

one point and if they had more than one wife, they received two points. I tabulated and

averaged all five categories for each household from the three villages. Based on the

ranges and the mean rank score from the three villages I determined three ranks. The

poorest rank ranges from one to three points, the second rank ranges from four to six

points, and the wealthiest rank ranges from seven to ten points.

Caste and economic rank do not always coincide, so that the lowest caste

group does not always belong to the lowest economic rank. Surprisingly, there are

degala households that are members of the wealthiest economic group, as well as

some mana and degala households situated within the second economic group. This

indicates that there is no one to one relationship between social status and economic

wealth (Table 2-1 and Figure 2-1).

Table 2-1: Mean values of wealth attributes among each of the three Gamo castes.

Caste Mean # of Mean # of Mean # of Mean # of Mean # of
Houses Farmlands Livestock Wives Occupations
mala (n = 48) 2.3 3.4 2.7 0.9 1.5

mana (n =6) 1.5 1.5 0.7 1.2 1.5

degala (n = 6) 1.7 1.5 0.3 0.8 1.8

Percentage of
Households in
Each Rank

------------------^ --

31.2 133.3
n=15 -2

Rank 1


S 33.3
ii v s2


Rank 2
Economic Rank

Figure 2-1: Relative frequencies of caste households found in each of the three
economic ranks.


The life-history approach to pottery among the Gamo of southwestern Ethiopia

allows for a detailed contextual analysis between people's behavior and their pots. A

vessel's life-history from procurement to discard also provides an analysis of the

effects of regional, social, and economic conditions on pottery variation. Because

Gamo pottery vessels are associated with the different regional, social, and economic

contexts of Gamo life, they provide a means to understanding how to interpret cultural

variation at historic and prehistoric sites. Therefore, the focus here is to aid in

interpreting intervillage, social, and economic variation by looking at many different

n mana
a degala



Rank 3


contexts concerning the pot's life-history and the Gamo's complex regional, social, and

economic framework.


Ceramic procurement and production studies have not been systematically

integrated with distribution research to explain effectively the complexities of how

ceramics are made and dispersed over the landscape (Bey and Pool 1992). The types

of Gamo pots manufactured during the year are affected by consumers' demand. In

addition, the materials (i.e., clays, tempers, and fuelwood) that potters have access to

influence the types of pots they usually produce. The markets at which potters and

consumers sell and purchase their pots determine where vessels are used and

eventually deposited. The social makeup of a village strongly determines how pots are

distributed, as a non-pottery-producing village may have a wider array of pots

produced throughout the Gamo region than a village with resident potters. Gamo

society provides an excellent opportunity to study how ceramic production and

distribution are interrelated. The majority of my research centered on interviews in the

villages of Zuza, Guyla, and Etello. Regional information is also incorporated into the

discussion concerning the relationships between the procurement, production, and


Gamo Ceramic Procurement and Production

Gamo potters share similar ceramic technology, but differences do occur

among potters in their manipulation of the production and distribution processes. The

Gamo potters are fulltime specialists, who either do not own land or own a limited

amount of farmland. They produce fewer ceramics during the second rainy season, as

it is often difficult to obtain the clays due to flooding and the unfired vessels dry too

slowly. In addition, the rainy season can also postpone or even put out firings half way

through the firing process. Potters store their materials, produce vessels, dry, prefire,

and fire their vessels within their family compound. Wealthier potters have small

workshops adjacent to their house, where they conduct their work. The poorest potters

will work either in their compound or in the house vestibule.

The Learning Process

Women make pottery in Gamo society. Only one man was observed forming

small toy jars to sell to children because his wife had died and he did not have any

family or farmland. Women work on all aspects of the production and marketing of

their wares including: digging the clay; carrying the clay and wood; forming and firing

the vessels; and carrying the pots to the market. Depending on the household, men do

help with some production tasks such as digging and cleaning the clay, collecting the

wood, firing the pots, and carrying the vessels to the market.

The potter's placement in Gamo social hierarchy is ascribed and determined by

birth, and no action may change the hierarchical positioning of individual potters or

other craft specialists. Potters believe that they must teach their daughters how to

produce pottery, because the limited amount of farmland prevents the mana caste from

owning enough farmland to meet household subsistence needs. Because the

postmarital residence in Gamo society is virilocal, mana women move to their

husband's household, where they may encounter a range of economic conditions.

Women potters may find themselves in a family that has farmland or they may find

that their new family owns only the land in which the house is situated. Even if the

husband has farmland, it usually does not produce enough food for the family.

Therefore, learning how to produce pottery provides the mana women with a skill and

the household with an important economic livelihood.

Gamo potters learn how to produce pottery usually from their mothers, when

they are six to thirteen years old. Some potters do learn from their mothers-in-law,

after they have been married and move to their husband's household. Apprenticeships

usually last for three years or until the daughter is married. Girls begin learning the

production process by helping their mothers mine and carry the clay from the clay

sources to the household compound. They also will transport water from the well or

stream using a water jar (hadza otto) to mix the clays. In addition, they help in

cleaning the clay of stones, grinding the clay, and selecting grog temper from broken

vessels, which cracked either during the drying or firing process. As they become

more experienced with all of the production activities, they will practice producing

small vessels.

The majority of Gamo potters, with the help of their daughters (in-law),

produce pots by themselves. Sometimes two wives of the same husband will work

together, as one family does in Guyla. Some potters who are friends will travel to the

clay sources together to procure the clays. In addition, sometimes a mother or daughter

will travel to each other's village and stay for a week or so and help the host potter

manufacture pots. There are competitive feelings between different potter families,

even if they are friends, and so the majority of potters work alone with their own

family members.

The potters state that they produce their vessels similar to the person who

taught them (e.g., mother or mother-in-law). However, the new locality, family,

friends, and different consumers often influence changes in pottery production.

Although the majority of the learning process is conducted at the mother's household,

once the potter moves to her husband's household she learns how to produce and

distribute her vessels from both her husband's relatives and other village potters. The

new potter has to learn where the clay and temper sources are located. She has to learn

what proportion of the different clays work well together, as some clays do not work

well in the shaping of specific vessel forms. She needs to know if the drying process is

the same as in her childhood village, as the temperature and precipitation patterns may

be different if her new village is in a different ecological zone. In addition, she has to

learn what types of fuelwood are accessible and how her new village potters prefire

their vessels. She then needs to learn which weekly markets are best to sell her wares

and if the prices for different forms are different from her former childhood village.

Thus, there are two subsystems in the learning process among Gamo potters, her

childhood village and her husband's village.

The learning process not only influences the potter's production methods but

also has direct implications towards how the potter forms and decorates the vessel, and

this affects the vessel's style. The majority of potters believe their rim shape is the

most important attribute in discriminating their vessels from their teacher's vessels.

Other attributes that potters felt were different from their mothers is the type of formal

decoration (e.g., applique, impressed designs, and incising) and the shape of the

vessel. Although no sorting test was conducted to test if daughters could differentiate

their own vessels from their mothers, future research will include testing mothers and

daughters living in the same compound and village and mothers and daughters living

apart from each other.

Clay and Temper Acquisition

Each village has its own set of clay sources, which is either mined individually

or with other potters in the village. One reason that potters mine at particular sources

is the relationship between the clay source's landowner and the potter. Archaeologists

are able to measure the physical attributes of clays such as elasticity, hardness, particle

size, etc., but we are usually unable to measure the social conditions that influence a

potter's choice in clay procurement (Aronson et al. 1994). Thus, understanding both

the social and physical conditions in the mining of clay can aid us in understanding the

potter's decision-making process.

Proximity to the clay source is an important factor for Gamo potters, since

potters carry the clay in baskets (tise) on their backs. Guyla potters mine their clay

from sources that are less than six kilometers from their village. Guyla potters collect

three of the five clays and one temper nonplasticc material) between one to six

kilometers and the remaining two sources are within one kilometer of their village.

Guyla potters who collect the ano temper and poze and ooka clays walk 6 hours

(round trip) to transport all three materials. However, one potter family in Guyla

obtains their zoo clay directly from their household property and the caretsa clay is

located adjacent to the eldest potter's household land.

All three clays used by the Zuza potters are between one and six kilometers of

their village. The time it takes for Zuza potters to transport their clays both ways is

five hours each for the walle and kura clays, and three hours both ways for the

mochollo clay. Potters living in the villages of Denkarar and Keya (less than one

kilometer from Zuza) use different clay sources than Zuza, indicating that each village

within a region decided independently where the potters should mine their clay. When

potter women marry and move to Denkarar, Keya, or Zuza villages, they are taught by

the older potters in their new village where to extract clay. Zuza potters stated that

they pay a tax to the Ethiopian government for the use of the clay.

Other factors that influence where potters may obtain clay and temper are their

relations with the landowners of the clay sources and elders' decisions on where

potters may mine clay. The majority of Guyla potters belong to two families. One

potter family extracts all of its clays from its own land. The other potter family

collects only one clay from its land and the poze clay is collected from a farmer's land.

However, both families do mine from the same temper source (ano) located outside of

Guyla approximately four kilometers to the northwest. The two families do not share

their clay sources with each other to protect their clay sources) from becoming

depleted. Two landowners who are farmers will not allow the Guyla potters to mine

their clay. Several of the Guyla potters complained that they are not treated well by the


farmers because of the potter's low status within Gamo culture. One Guyla family that

uses a clay source named pullticalo (after the landowner's name) has had problems

with the water table flooding the hole. This is especially a problem during the rainy

seasons, which limits the frequency of production among this family of Guyla potters.

The pullticalo clay is extracted approximately 4 to 5 meters from the surface with the

majority of the clay lying just above and below the water table. An adjacent source

was abandoned after a potter was killed in 1996 when the wall of the clay pit

collapsed. This potter family is uncertain about their future because the pullticalo clay

source is becoming too dangerous and it is difficult to find a landowner within the

proximity of Guyla willing to let the potters mine clay.

Efforts by the national government to have people move from the highlands to

the lowlands adjacent to Lake Abaya took place during the Derg government between

1974 and 1991. The Derg government established lowland villages and more than ten

potter families have moved from the highland region to the village of Fura Mandita.

The incentive for potter and other families to move to the lowlands is to obtain

farmland. The Derg government's socialist ideology advocated that all people have

access to farmland. Although the potter families have farmland in the lowlands, there

are no clay sources in the lowland region, causing potters to travel back to the

highland sources for clays. Potters from Fura Mandita walk six hours round trip

(approximately 14 kilometers round trip) up to the Donay region to obtain their clays.

The husband of the family I interviewed collects the three clays. Among the Gamo

potters, relations with landowners, geological constraints, and proximity are the

primary reasons given by the potters for deciding where to mine their clay.

Technical Factors in Clay and Temper Selection

Whereas social conditions tend to influence where potters extract their clay,

once the clay has been mined technical factors predominate concerning how the

potters manipulate their clays and tempers (Table 4-1). The Gamo potters are

concerned more with how the clays and temper perform when being processed during

production than with how the clays react when used by consumers. The potters have

specific reasons for using their selection of different clays and temper (Arthur 1997).

Table 4-1: The functional attributes ascribed to clays and temper by Zuza and Guyla

Types of Clay
and Temper Zuza
Kura (clay) Provides elasticity to the vessels and is the most important clay.
Mochollo (clay) When Mochollo is mixed with the Kura clay, the two protect the
vessels during the firing process. Mochollo is the second most
important clay.
Walle (clay) Provides color to the vessel and is the third most important clay.
Ano (temper) Provides elasticity and strength. Provides strength during firing.
Zoo (clay) If only use Zoo the vessel will not have strength. Provides form to
the vessel especially during the dry season.
Caretsa (clay) The best clay because of its elasticity and keeps the vessel from
falling when wet.
Pose (clay) Stone like quality. Stops cracking during drying period.
Ooka (clay) Will break easily without mixing Ano and Pose clays. Provides
elasticity. Stops cracking during drying period.

The majority of statements by potters concerning the correct combination and

proportion of the clays when mixed indicate the importance of using all of the clays

and tempers to achieve the proper result. In Guyla, potters state that if they just use the

zoo clay the vessel will not be strong, and they have to mix the ooka clay with temper

and pose clay or the pot will break. In Zuza, the mochollo and kura clays have to be

mixed so that the pots will not break during the firing process. In addition, collecting

clays that provide elasticity when forming the vessel, curtailing cracks during the

drying period, and protection against the firing process are all important during


Every Guyla potter uses the ano temper indicating that the temper provides an

important technological component to the production of the pottery. This is supported

based on the fact that the ano temper source is located farther than any other material,

and all the Guyla potters use it for the manufacturing of pottery. The ano temper is an

important resource in protecting the vessels during firing. One Guyla potter stated that

before placing the pots in the fire she covers them with the pumice ano temper which

keeps them from breaking during firing. The walle clay is the only material that has a

nontechnological role by providing color to Zuza pots. The potters' clay and temper

descriptions provide an emic perspective concerning what clay and temper attributes

are necessary for production.

Forming the Vessels

The number of pots manufactured by potters varies with each potter, with a

range of 5 to 70 vessels per week. Gamo potters usually specialize in the production of

one or two vessel types even though they can usually produce all types. Sometimes the

clays used in a village are not suitable for the production of certain vessel types. For

example, Guyla potters do not usually produce baking plates (bache) because they

state that the clay is not adequate for this type of production. The Gamo potters


produce specific types of vessels to process various crops. For example, they produce:

two types of cooking jars Ottoo and tsaro); a cooking pot (diste); a beer storage jar

(batsa); a coffee pitcher (jebana); a drinking jar (tsua) and a baking plate (bache).

They also make water transport and storage jars (hadza otto), two types of serving

bowls (shele and peele), and water pipes (guya) for smoking tabacco. Protestant

potters will not produce water pipes, because it is not allowed by their religion. The

less commonly produced types include a bowl for washing feet (gumgay), a drinking

jar (kolay), and a small cooking jar (tayche). In the past, they produced a coffee cup

senee), which has been generally replaced by imported Chinese porcelain cups. Only

one traditional sene was found during my vessel inventory of sixty households in three

villages. Figures 4-1, 4-2, and 4-3 indicate the types of vessel forms manufactured by

Gamo potters.

Gamo potters mix three to four types of clay together to produce all of the

vessel forms. Naturally mined temper nonplasticc inclusions) and/or grog (small pieces

of broken ceramic) are also added to the clays. Guyla and Zuza potters use ground

fragments of fired clay or grog, but Zuza potters do not use additional temper because

enough temper occurs naturally in the Zuza clays. The potters remove the pebbles and

other impurities from the clay to prevent production problems. After the clays are

cleaned, the clays are pounded with a large stick (bookadoka) and sifted through a

woven basket (zizarey). The zizarey or woven basket also serves to aid in measuring

the proportion of each clay in the final clay mixture. All vessels are made with the

same proportion of clays. Once the clays, tempers, and water have been mixed

together in their proper proportions, the potters can begin to form the vessels.

0 5 15 25cm
Sm I I I I

Figure 4-1: Profile drawings of (A) tsua, (B) otto, (C) batsa, and (D) tsaro, which the
Gamo potters produce.


0 5 15 25cm
* I I m I I

Figure 4-2: Profile drawings of (A) guya, (B) jebana, (C) sene, (D) peele, (E, F) shele,
which the Gamo potters produce.





C "a' D

0 5 15 25cm
i n n I i I I

Figure 4-3: Profile drawings of (A) tayche, (B) kolay, (C) gumgay, (D) diste, and (E)
bache, which the Gamo potters produce.


Vessels are formed using a combination of hand building, coil-and-scrape, and paddle-

and-anvil techniques. The type of vessel construction is dependent upon the vessel

form. While the vessels are still wet, a piece of leather (gelba) or cloth is used to help

form the clay rim and neck. The exterior of the vessel is thinned using a bamboo stick

(mylee). The interior of the vessel is thinned and smoothed with the outer covering of

half a seedpod (kayshe tree) (I was not able to obtain the taxonomic name) that is

obtained from the lowland area adjacent to Lake Abaya.

The jars (e.g., tsua, tsaro, otto, and batsa) are formed by drawing the clay up to

produce the upper part of the body and then the neck and rim are formed using the

coil-and-scrape method. Once the top half of the vessel is formed, it is turned upside

down on its rim and placed on a piece of enset leaf to keep the vessel from touching

the ground. Then the rounded base is formed using the coil-and-scrape method until

the base is eventually closed up. Distes (cooking pot) are formed as the jars are, except

that the base of the diste is flat instead of round. The production process is more

elaborate on the large storage jars (batsa). After the upper half is formed, the vessel's

exterior is scraped to thin the walls. Then the potter uses two hand stones, one in the

interior and one on the exterior, to pound and compact the walls of the batsa.

Small-to medium-sized bowls (shele) and serving dishes (peele) are formed by

pounding a fist into a lump of clay. Then the potter moves around the bowl and dish

shaping it until it is formed into a shele or peele. Although large bowls (shele) are

produced similar to the jars by forming the upper half first and then the base, some

shele and peele vessels have base stands attached to the body which are formed after

the body is shaped into its final form.


The baking plate (bache) is formed from a lump of clay that is pounded with

the fist until it begins to take the shape of a bache. Then the potter moves around the

vessel slowly working on the shape of the rim with a wet piece of leather or cloth.

After the bache dries in its first stage (i.e., 15 days), the exterior of the bache is

scraped with a bamboo stick and then laid upon a grinding stone and pounded with a

hand stone to compact the vessel wall. The interior of the bache (baking plate) is

burnished whereas the exterior is left rough and plain in appearance.

The coffee pitcher (jebana) is produced by forming the base and body similar

to the small-to medium-sized bowls. Then the neck is produced using the coil-and-

scrape method. The spout is formed by attaching a small coil on the upper part of the

body. A small stick is used to hollow out the spout, which is then shaped into its final


Drying the Vessels

The vessels are dried from three days to two months depending on the potter's

preference, which is based on the type of clays, type of vessel, and season (Table 4-2

and 4-3). The majority of vessels are first dried on the ground and then placed on an

elevated rafter situated over a hearth, where they will sit until they are ready for firing.

During the two rainy seasons (i.e., March to April and June to September), vessels are

dried for a longer period of time, which reduces the number of vessels produced.

Although some potters use the same types of clays, there is variation in the amount of

time to dry specific vessel types. Zuza potters will hang their baking plates beaches )

with enset rope from the interior wall of their house until they are leather hard. It is not

Table 4-2: The drying location and time for specific vessel types produced in Zuza.

Vessel Type Interior House Length of Drying
Drying Location Time
Bache (baking plate) Hang on House Wall 15 Days
Bache (baking plate) Rafter 1 Week
Diste (cooking pot) Rafter 11 Days
Shele (serving bowl) Rafter 11 Days
Otto (cooking, transporting, storage jar) Rafter 11 Days
Batsa (storage jar) Rafter 28 Days

Table 4-3: The drying location and time for specific vessel types produced in Guyla.

Vessel Type Interior House Range of Drying Time
Drying Locations
Jebana (coffee pitcher) Ground 7 to 14 Days
Rafter 7 Days
Diste (cooking pot) Rafter 7 (dry season) to 14 Days (rainy
Otto (cooking, transporting, Ground 14 Days
storage jar)
Rafter 7 Days to 1 Month
Tsaro (cooking jar) Ground 10 Days (dry season)
Rafter 7 (dry season) to 14 Days (rainy
Shele (serving bowl) Rafter 7 Days to 1 Month (depends on
vessel size)
Bache (baking plate) Ground 7 Days
Rafter 3 to 7 Days
Tsua (serving jar) Ground 3 to 7 Days
Rafter 4 to 7 Days
Upper part of Batsa (storage Ground 4-5 Days
Complete Batsa (storage jar) Ground then 2 to 3 Weeks (ground) to 1 to 2
Rafter weeks (rafter)
Complete Batsa (storage jar) Rafter 1 Month
Guya (water pipe) Rafter 1 Month
Peele (serving dish) Rafter 7-14 Days
Gumgay (washing bowl) Rafter 2-3 Weeks to 1 Month (depending
on weather conditions)
Mestakalay (pot supports) Rafter 7 (dry season) to 14 Days (rainy

uncommon to see more than a dozen baking plates hanging from the house walls

within each of the Zuza potter's houses.

Decorating the Vessels

After the vessel is dried, the potters then burnish the vessel with a quartzite

polishing stone (elasucha) either on both the interior and exterior walls or only on one

side of the wall. The location of the burnishing relies on the vessel type (Tables 4-4

and 4-5). Potters stated that burnishing gives the pots "a bright color." The Guyla

potters decorate the vessels with a combination of applique, incising, and rippling,

whereas the Zuza potters decorate their pots only with appliqu6.

The type and placement of decoration is dependent upon the vessel form and

most importantly, the individual potter. Appliqu6 rings (sheto) that encompass a vessel

are common on the cooking and storage jars. Usually one sheto is placed on the

maximum circumference of the large cooking and storage jars, but the largest storage

jars may have two or three shetos placed on their maximum circumference. Three

shetos are placed also on the upper body of the large jars. A sheto is also found on the

base of serving bowls, which serve as footrings, but sometimes shetos can begin at the

maximum circumference of the serving bowl and continue either to the base or to the


Another applique type of decoration is temo which are small (numbering 3 to

9) found on the upper exterior wall of the cooking and storage jars. Sometimes potters

put a series of temos on the upper body of distes (cooking pots), which otherwise are



Incising (beesho) vessels is usually practiced in the central Gamo region, such

as Guyla, but is rarely made by Zuza potters. The incised designs are made with either

sheep teeth attached to a stick or two iron prongs attached to a wood handle (both

tools are named chechamarcho). The beesho can be applied on the interior and/or

exterior of the serving bowl and dish (i.e., shele and peele), the exterior of the drinking

jars (tsua) and on the exterior of the water pipes (guya). The individual potter and the

larger village/regional stylistic traditions dictate this type of decoration. In addition,

potters often discussed how incising is a time consuming activity. Therefore, potters

incise a vessel more if it is being sold to a specific individual, than if it is sold at a

weekly market. Serving vessels produced in the central Gamo region can have a

combination of all types of decorative styles, based on the individual potter, the village

and the regional style.

The third type of decoration is rippling (kansa), which is when the potter forms

grooves on the exterior wall. Rippling is found on the necks of jars and serving

vessels. The rim on all jars and the majority of bowls also is referred to as kansa.

Table 4-4: Zuza potters placement of burnishing on vessel forms.

Vessel Form Interior Exterior Both Interior and
Diste (cooking pot) Yes
Shele (serving bowl) Yes
Peele (serving dish) Yes
Jebana (coffee pitcher) No Yes _
Tsua (serving jar) No Yes _
Guya (water pipe) No Yes _
Bache (baking plate) Yes No_
Otto (cooking, Yes No
transporting, storage jar)
Batsa (storage jar) No No

Table 4-5: Guyla potters placement of burnishing on vessel forms.

Vessel Form Interior Exterior Both Interior and
Diste (cooking pot) Yes
Tsaro (cooking jar) Yes
Shele (serving bowl) Yes
Peele (serving dish) Yes
Jebana (coffee pitcher) No Yes
Tsua (serving jar) Yes (interior Yes
Guya (water pipe) No Yes
Bache (baking plate) Yes No
Otto (cooking, -No
transporting, storage jar)
Batsa (storage jar) No No

Gamo potters name pots with human anatomical features. Potters name the top

of the rim the mouth donaa), the neck is also called the neck (core), the body is called

the stomach (oolo), and the base is called the anus (tache in Zuza or meskatay in

Guyla). A rare type of applique is a large oval, which points upward and is placed on

the upper body of cooking jars. This decoration is called dansa, which translates as

breast. Guyas (water pipe) usually have a specific decoration that is only placed on

this vessel form that is called pigay. Pigay translates as a scar and is associated with

scars created by burning the skin believed to heal wounds and pains. In addition, the

hole, where the hollow bamboo stem (pikay) is used to suck the smoke from the guya

(water pipe), is called the drinking place (owezaso). Besides giving potters a

classification for specific parts of a pot, the naming of anatomical features by Gamo

potters suggests a symbolic importance to potters. Since the majority of potter families

rely on the manufacturing of pottery vessels for their sole livelihood, potters take the

clay and temper, and bring what the mala consider dirty work, to life in the form of a

pot. The ceramic vessel can be used to bring sustenance to the potter family by selling

or exchanging for food and processing food into an edible form.

Selection of Fuelwood

Gamo potters use of fuelwoods is determined by their village's ecological

location (Table 4-6). For example, since Zuza potters live within the baso ecological

zone and are socially tied to other lowland communities, they collect their fuel from

the lowlands. The area surrounding Zuza is dense with grass and trees and it is much

easier to obtain fuel for the Zuza potters, than it is for Guyla potters who live in the

highland or dega ecological zone. Fuelwood shortages commonly were mentioned by

Guyla potters as causing production problems. Guyla potters will use cow dung (osha)

and/or horse dung (fando) if they are not able to find enough wood or grass. Since the

Guyla village is located in the dega ecological zone, which is more densely populated

and farmed than the Zuza hinterland, the Guyla potters gather some of their fuels from

the baso ecological zone (e.g., gargecho and odora trees). Potters from both villages

have favorite types of fuels that are based primarily on technological rather than

nontechnological factors.

Zuza potters pay five birr (US $0.75) per bundle for all of their types of fuels.

They use ten types of fuels collected individually from the lowlands adjacent to Lake

Abaya but prefer seven fuel types. The fuel types they prefer are shankara, shobo,

checha, omazey, galas, and goganza trees and gata grass. They prefer the goganza and

galas trees because the fire burns longer than other types of fuel.

Full Text
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8
REPORT xmlns http:www.fcla.edudlsmddaitss xmlns:xsi http:www.w3.org2001XMLSchema-instance xsi:schemaLocation http:www.fcla.edudlsmddaitssdaitssReport.xsd
INGEST IEID E79CLWUNG_6OU6JQ INGEST_TIME 2013-10-10T00:41:13Z PACKAGE AA00017690_00001