An ethnoarchaeological study of stone scrapers among the Gamo people of southern Ethiopia


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An ethnoarchaeological study of stone scrapers among the Gamo people of southern Ethiopia
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Weedman, Kathryn Jane
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Copyright 2000


Kathryn Weedman

For my late grandfather, Chester Parmer Weedman, for believing in the eyes as wide as

"Successful reality comes from Dreams, Hard Work, and Tenacious Character."
C.P. Weedman (1913-1998)


I am deeply grateful to the Gamo hide-workers of southern Ethiopia, who opened

their lives and homes to me. Although they are submerged and silenced in their world, I

hope that this work will give them a meaningful voice in the academic world.

Special appreciation goes to members of my supervisory committee, who

provided support and hours of intellectual discussion without which this work would not

be as complete. Steve Brandt introduced me to the rich and diverse cultures of Ethiopia,

and for that I will always be in his debt. He also sets an example of dedication and

enthusiasm for his work and students to which I can only aspire. Peter Schmidt kept me

on the path less traveled, by demonstrating the power of ethnoarchaeology through

integrating people with their own history. I thank Anita Spring, an outstanding role

model for women academicians, for her encouragement and unrelenting drive to achieve.

Mike Moseley will always be remembered for advising me to go beyond my own goals

and those of my mentors. Abe Goldman affirmed the interdisciplinary importance of

seeking indigenous knowledge. Ken Sassaman has a contagious enthusiasm, which

inspired me to keep writing.

Heartfelt thanks go toward many people in Ethiopia without whose patience and

help this project would not have been possible. Carlos lori made logistical and

bureaucratic life easier, giving my husband and I a sense of security in a foreign country.

Berhano Wolde, Gezahegn Alemayehu, Getacho Girma, Paulos Dena, and Saleh were my

translators, field assistants, and supportive friends. In addition, I appreciate the

friendship of Tihun Mulushewa, Chunga Yohannes, Tesefaye Mekuria, Daniel Tadesse,

and Nega. Calche Cara and his wife, Goonashay Dara, created a home for us in Doko.

Father Denis and employees at the Chencha and Arba Minch Catholic Churches helped

us with inevitable truck repairs. Dena Freeman shared a brief time with us in Doko and

engaged me in tantalizing discussions concerning Gamo culture. Lagerhun and

Workineh Hailemichael skillfully illustrated all the ethnographic stone tools I collected.

Declan and Kate Conway and Ibrahim Labouts helped us to pass the time in Addis. I also

thank John Fleagle for the use of his generator.

I am indebted to my family and friends for nurturing and encouraging me through

out my academic education. My husband, John Arthur, has endured the trying and

sometimes lonely life of graduate school with me these last ten years. Yet, his love and

faith in my goals and abilities has never wavered. My grandmother, Jane Grissel

Branham, my mom, Janie Branham, my dad, Joe Weedman, my sister, Shellee Weedman,

and my mother-in-law, Frances Arthur have been a continual source of support and love,

and without them this path would never have emerged and matured. I thank Sergio

Iruegas, Florie Bugarin, Matt Curtis, Jim Ellison, Girma Hundie, Birgitta Kimura, George

Luer, Audax Mabulla, Agazi Negash, Fred Smith, Jonathan Waltz, Terry Weik, and

Karen Weinstein for the intellectual debates that created skepticism and

incomprehension, which only made me work harder.

No manuscript is complete without maps and illustrations, which bear the brunt of

communicating ideas succinctly. I am very thankful for Melanie Brandt, who has

produced wonderful images combining her talent and creativeness with my rough field

maps and lithic illustrations.

This field research was funded by a National Science Foundation Dissertation

Improvement Grant, Fulbright, and the Leakey Foundation. The writing of my

dissertation was supported by the University of Florida's College of Liberal Arts and

Sciences McLaughlin Dissertation Fellowship and the Ruth McQuown Scholarship. I

extend my gratitude to 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, the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (IES), and the Herbarium at Addis Ababa

University. I greatly appreciate the help of the following people for either allocating

permission to conduct research and/or assisting with ethnoarchaeological research in

Ethiopia: 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).


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

A B STR A C T ....................................................................................... x


TOOL VARIATION..................................................................... 1

Style and Function Debate................................................................... 5
Style ............................................ .............................................. 5
Function ..................................................................................... 8
Previous Research of Ethiopian Hide Workers.......................................... 14
Descriptive Accounts................................................................... 14
Systematic Studies ....................................................................... 16
1992 and 1995 Reconnissance.......................................................... 20
Research Hypotheses ....................................................................... 23
Prem ise ...................................... .................... ....................... ...... 25

ETHNOARCHAEOLOGICAL METHODS...................................... 28

Ethnoarchaeology: History, Theory, and Stone Tools.................................. 28
Speculation and Ambivalence........................................................... 29
Science..................................................................................... 33
Contextualied Studies.................................................................... 35
A Scales of Analysis: Cultures as Heterogeneous and Polythetic ..................... 39
Field Methodology .......................................................................... 41
Regional Survey .......................................................................... 41
Localized Village Studies................................................................ 48
Scraper Analyses ........................................................................ 58
Prem ise ................................................................. ...................... 65

ENVIRONMENT AND CULTURE............................................... 67

Evaluating Function: Environment, Resources, and Economy........................ 68
Evaluating Style: Social Organization................................................... 76
Interethnic Group Relationships ....................................................... 77
Intraethnic Social-Political Relationships ............................................. 82
Intraethnic Kinship Identities........................................................... 99
D iscussion................................................................................... 116


Hide-Working Technology................................................................ 118
Stone Procurement and Production ................................................... 118
H afting......................................... ........................................... 126
Hide Procurement ....................................................................... 135
Hide Scraping Process.................................................................. 136
Scraper Morphology....................................................................... 139
Unused (Oratay) and Used-up (Chima).............................................. 139
Obsidian (Salloa) and Chert (Goshay)................................................ 143
Scraping (Katacha) and Chopping (Coata)........................................... 145
H afting ......................... ..................... .................... .................. 147
Lowland (Baso) and Highland (Geza) Hides........................................ 148
D iscussion................................................................................... 155

THE GAMO.......................................................................... 162

Interethnic Relationships .................................................................. 162
Intraethnic Subregional Relationships ................................................... 167
H andles .................................................................................. 167
Scrapers and Site Formation........................................................... 171
Intraethnic Dere Relationships............................................................ 183
H andles................................................................................... 184
Scrapers .................................................................................. 189
D iscussion................................................................................... 195

6 KINSHIP AND LOCAL GAMO IDENITITES ....................................... 200

Moieties: Handles and Scrapers .......................................................... 201
Clans: Handles and Scrapers.............................................................. 205
Lineages and Villages: Handles and Scrapers........................................... 212
D iscussion...................................... ......................... .................... 221

7 DOMESTIC GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS......................................... 224

Domestic Groups........................................................................... 224
Household Spatial Arrangements...................................................... 224
Handles and Sockets.................................................................... 231
Unused Scrapers ........................................................................ 238
Used-up Scrapers ....................................................................... 247
Individualism and Ideal Types............................................................ 253
Individuals ............................................................... ................ 253
Ideal Types............................................................................... 254
Experience and Age........................................................................ 256
H andedness ................................................................................. 261
D iscussion......................................... ........ ................. ................. 263


REPRESENTATIONS IN THE LANDSCAPE................................. 267
Regional Relationships .................................................................... 268
Socio-Economic Context and Resources............................................. 269
Stone Tools .............................................................................. 273
Subregional ................................................................................. 276
Intervillage .................................................................... ............. 283
Household and Intravillage ............................................................... 285
Significant Attributes and Scales of Analysis........................................... 288
Future Directions in Lithic Ethnoarchaeology........................................... 293
Craft Specialization...................................................................... 293
G ender................................................. ............. ........ .............. 294
Archaeological Formation Processes.................................................. 295
C conclusion .................................................................................. 300
A KINSHIP CHARTS...................................................................... 301
B ETHNOGRAPHIC DATA............................................................... 311
C STATISTICS AND HANDLE AND SCRAPER DATA........................... 319
D SCRAPER GRAPHS..................................................................... 370
E GLOSSERY................................................................................ 388
REFERENCES.................................................................................... 390
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.................................................................. 417

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



Kathryn Jane Weedman

May 2000

Chairman: Steven A. Brandt
Major Department: Anthropology

A controversial and long-standing debate in archaeology is concerned with

whether similarities and differences in stone tools represent style (marking the

cultural identity of the maker) or function (indicating how stone tools were used). I

spent two years among the Gamo hide-workers of southwestern Ethiopia conducting

an ethnoarchaeological study of stone tool production and use, which addresses the

tenets of the style and function debate.

Ethnoarchaeology offers a position from which to explore the ideologies of

living populations and how they invoke meaning into materials. A contextualized

approach to ethnoarchaeology unmasks the heterogeneous nature of culture,

revealing the necessary background information to infer the meanings behind

material variation. My study of the Gamo hide-workers revealed that the local

environment and available resources for stone tool production in association with


their maker's social identities interface with geographic and cultural divisions in the

landscape. Whether a region is culturally heterogeneous or homogeneous depends

on the materials investigated and the scales at which they are examined. Hence, I

studied the Gamo stone scrapers in terms of the emically important scales of analysis

including regional/interethnic, subregional (north, central, south), political districts,

moieties, clans, lineages, domestic groups, and the individual.

My research suggests that exploring similarities and differences in terms of

scales of analysis eliminates the necessity for a function and style division and

emphasizes that both aspects exist within the material culture of a single ethnic

group. It is my hope that pursuing studies such as these will help redefine the ways

in which archaeologists make inferences about the past.


Humans and our hominid ancestors produced stone tools for over two million

years and much of the prehistoric archaeological record consists solely of stone tools.

Yet, we know very little about how stone tools are related to social identity or how

they are manufactured, used, and discarded. Archaeologists concerned with

broadening our understanding of stone tools in the ancient past have found studies of

modem populations producing and using stone tools invaluable (e.g., Binford 1986;

Gould et al. 1971; Hayden 1979; Tindale 1965; White et al. 1977). Currently,

Ethiopia is one of those rare places in the world where people continue to make and

use shaped flaked stone tools. In southern and central Ethiopia, specialized artisans

manufacture stone end-scrapers for processing cow hides for leather products. The

continued use of stone tools in present-day populations within southern Ethiopia offers

unique opportunities to test a variety of hypotheses related to stone tool technology. It

also exposes us to other voices and provides alternative inferences concerning material


The Gamo are one of the ethnic groups in southern Ethiopia who produce stone

tools for the scraping of hides. They live in the highland and lowland regions to the

immediate west of Lake Abaya (Figure 1-1). The Gamo share a social organization

characterized by patri-clans, locally elected village leaders, and hereditary ritual-



SLake Awasa

Lake Abaya



Figure 1-1: Map locating the Gamo territory within the Rift Valley, Ethiopia, and



sacrificers. Artisans such as hide-workers, potters, and smiths are members of a

submerged social-economic group separate from farmers and weavers. The hide-

workers' low social status limits them to making their livelihoods from valueless

resources such as stones and deceased animals. Stones cause land to be uncultivable

and thus render it infertile. A severe insult to a Gamo woman is, "Give birth to

stones!" The Gamo non-artisans believe that stones are worthless and bad. Yet, the

hide-workers transform these infertile stones into effective tools to produce items used

in everyday life including bedding, clothing, carrying bags, saddles, and chairs.

It is remarkable that today people are continuing to make and use stone tools in

a world where mechanized industries are expanding rapidly. The continued use of

stone tools among the Gamo and other peoples in southern Ethiopia does not indicate

a stagnant economic or social situation that we can draw on analogically to describe

the past. To imagine that either a past or present society is bounded and ahistorical is

a grave error. Rather the Gamo are a collage of social, political, and economic

relationships, as is clearly depicted in imagery borrowed from Olmstead (1997):

Imagine a wet sheet of paper to which watercolors are applied. Each spot of
color spreads and mixes with contiguous colors and the boundaries between
colors may not be very clear or consistent along the edges of a central color
spot. Localized conditions on the page-slight ripple, extra water, a raised
section-will affect just how far a color spreads and how much it mingles.
.. .It is this shifting dance of color that I use as a central image when thinking
of the thousands of years people have lived upon the surface now called
Ethiopia. (26)

The Gamo hide-workers are part of an intricate socio-economic network,

which incorporates their families, village members, as well as integration into regional

and national relationships. Yet, the Gamo and other southern Ethiopian hide-workers

provide a unique opportunity to study a people who make and use stone tools in their

everyday lives. Although the Gamo represent a stratified society, we can draw on

their knowledge to provide models for prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies.

Ethnography can provide us with some basic patterns of behavior that may be different

from those of western-trained archaeologists. It may open new areas of inquiry for

researchers to explore in the archaeological record. It is essential that we take

advantage of the activities pursued by the Gamo hide-workers to better understand the

processes behind stone tool production, use, and discard in an effort to broaden our

understanding of human behavior including but not limited to the evolution of craft

specialization (Hayden 1990), the role of gender as an organizing feature of craft

production (Casey 1998; Gero 1991; Sassaman 1992), and site formation processes

(Hayden et al. 1996; Torrence 1986; Schiffer 1982).

My research focuses on one of the most controversial and long-standing issues

in archaeology, the style and function debate. Excluding the role of postdepositional

agencies, a majority of archaeologists argue that style (marking the cultural identity of

the maker) and/or function (indicating how stone tools were used) account for most of

the variability in stone artifacts. The production and use of stone tools by the Gamo

hide-workers offers an excellent opportunity to explore this long-standing issue

concerning the meaning behind differences and similarities in stone tools and how

they express human behavior.

Style and Function Debate


Stone tools have been recognized as products of human activity since the

fifteenth century (Grayson 1983:5; Trigger 1989:52). However, it was not until the

early twentieth century that archaeologists viewed differences in material culture as

representative of difference in culture or ethnicity (Childe 1929, 1953; Kidder 1931;

Kroeber 1916:7-21; Kroeber and Kluckholm 1952:365-376). Archaeologists

hypothesized that synchronic similarities and differences in artifacts represented style.

When artifacts were similar to one another, archaeologists felt that they represented

people who shared the same culture, and artifacts different from one another indicated

cultural differences (Krieger 1944; Wissler 1923:12-20, 47-63).

French archaeologist Francois Bordes (1961, 1973, 1977) systematically

designed the European Mousterian typology and was influenced by the paleontological

paradigm, fossile directeur. Under this paradigm, when the patterns of material

culture within geological schemes could not be explained in terms of organic

evolution, researchers turned to behavioral expressions of biological differences

among human groups as an explanation for variance (Sackett 1968). Bordes' (1961)

interest in eliminating the concept that prehistoric people were "brutish half-men" led

him to attribute variation among stone tools to style or cultural differences rather than

to biological differences. Deetz (1967:44-52, 1968) clarified the latter point through

his concept of a mental template. When producing a product the craftsperson forms in

his or her mind a mental image or template that is bound by culture specific norms.

This normative/standard view of style holds that formal variation is diagnostic of

ethnicity in chronological histories (time and space) (Sackett 1982a, 1982b). Culture

was considered to be internally homogeneous and bounded (Jones 1996).

Subsequently two interpretations of the meaning of style developed. Some

researchers hypothesize that style actively represents an internal ethnic signaling or

iconicism (Hodder 1977, 1982:204-211, and 1990; Larick 1985; Wiessner 1983, 1984

1985; Wobst 1977). The craftsperson intentionally adds stylistic elements separately

from the utilitarian elements of the artifact to identify actively the owner of the object.

Wobst (1977) argues, in the era of processualist studies, that

Learned behavior and symboling ability greatly increase the capacity of
human operators to interact with their environment through the medium of
artifacts. This capacity in turn allows human populations to respond more
readily to environmental stress; it improves their ability to harness and process
energy and matter; and it diversifies their options of information exchange.

The iconological approach maintains that artifact style represents a conscious

intentional action on the part of the maker to produce an object that conforms with and

represents his/her ethnic identity. Wiessner (1983) identified two types of active style,

emblemic and assertive:

emblemic formal variation in material culture has a distinct referent and
transmits a clear message to a defined target population about conscious
affiliation and identity... assertive style is formal variation in material culture
which is personally based and which carries information supporting individual
identity. (257)

Hodder (1982:48-59) noted that identity might be expressed in mundane utilitarian

items, such as stools, hearths, and spears, as well as in decorative items. He also

importantly pointed out that there is no clear relationship between the degree of

interaction and the material cultural patterning, but rather it "depends on the strategies

and intentions of the interaction groups and how they.. negotiate material symbols"

(Hodder 1982:185). Iconic studies of styles in archaeology are based primarily on

ethnoarchaeological studies of iron spear points and other types of nonlithic material

culture. These ethnoarchaeological studies indicate that style reflects different levels

of social group membership and practices including: ethnicity (Hodder 1977, 1982:37-

56), internal age-grade status (Hodder 1982:77-82; Larick 1985), linguistic/dialect

differences (Wiessner 1983, 1985), kinship descent systems (Hill 1970:69-72;

Longacre 1964, 1970; Plog 1978, 1983), gender (Casey 1998; Gero 1991; Sassaman

1992; Wadley 1989), and the individual (Wiessner 1983). Hence, the encoded

symbolic message of style may not only represent ethnicity but other forms of group

membership. Iconological style is something that the craftsperson adds separately

from the function of an artifact, and once isolated style has emic significance and

represents culture specific behavior.

Others hypothesize that style is isochrestic or inherent in any material form

because artisans unconsciously make specific and consistent choices based on options

dictated by their culture (Close 1977:7-8, 1989; Sackett 1973, 1982a, 1985, 1986,

1990). Style is learned and transmitted from one generation to the next within a

restricted spatial and temporal context. The attributes of style are unconscious/passive

but may still serve to identify ethnic groups and boundaries. The ethnic message of an

artifact expressed in terms of variability may be actively interpreted, even if it was

passively or unconsciously manufactured. This interpretation of variability is based, in

part, on archaeological studies of stone tools by Close (1977, 1989) from the North

African Epipaleolithic and by Sackett (1989) from Upper Paleolithic assemblages in

France. Close (1977:35-57) recognizes style through eliminating functional and

technological vectors. For instance, she considers the nonfunctional attributes of style

to include retouch variants, the types of retouch for backing, and the location of the

working edge. Sackett's (1985) model of style argues that both style and function are

simultaneously present in all artifact forms. The socially bound options dictate the

creation of a form and wed function and style in every material manifestation. An

example from Sackett (1990) clarifies this point: "a parrot-beaked flint burin is at once

a chisel (function) and an object that is exclusively diagnostic of French Magdalenian

VI industries (style)" (34). Sackett's (1985, 1989) approach to style advocates that it

is a sum of the different components of the overall morphology of an object rather than

individual attributes that identify style. Lemonnier (1992) criticizes this approach for

lacking "references to the social representations of technology" (91). Sackett's

isochrestic style does not explain why one material rather than another is chosen for

representation nor how particular objects are related to others in the cultural system.

Lemonnier's (1992:98) perspective suggests that it is not possible to segregate style

and function because they are both parts of a culture's system of technology.


Lewis Binford (1965, 1973, 1986, 1989, and with S. Binford 1966), using the

concept of functional variability, challenged Bordes' and later Sackett's stylistic

argument. Functionalists perceive synchronic similarities and differences in stone

tools as representing the function of the tool (Ammerman and Feldman 1974; Binford

1986 and 1989; Dunnell 1978; Mellars 1970). This method, however, was not deeply

ingrained into archaeological interpretation until the onset of processual archaeology.

Early processualists strove to create a set of laws that accounted for cultural change,

and they viewed human activities as repeating themselves in the same way over vast

stretches of space and time.

When archaeologists emphasize function and exclude style, they stress that tool

morphology is the result of human activity and adaptive reactions to different

environments. The function of an artifact is the role the object played as an instrument

of activity. For instance, the variation in the Mousterian stone tool assemblage was

interpreted in terms of toolkit clusters with variations representing differences in the

activity being performed or differences in the way people were using a site (Binford

1973). People manufactured artifacts and in turn used them in a succession of

activities, which resulted in functional variation.

Differences in raw material availability and access, as well as procurement

strategies are cited as a source for lithic variability in the archaeological record

(Luedtke 1976; McAnnay 1988; Odell 1981; Rule 1983; Shott 1989; Tankersley

1990). Researchers traditionally contrast the direct access of resources by mobile

people resulting in the curation of stone tools and the production of more formal tools,

with an indirect procurement by sedentary peoples resulting in informal tools (Henry

1989; Parry and Kelley 1987). Other archaeologists propose that technology is

affected by not only the availability of raw materials and mobility, but also the

availability of raw materials in conjunction with the: 1) quality of the material

(Andresky 1994) and 2) the nature of the social relations (Hayden 1990; McAnnay

1988). Andresky (1994) advocates that with direct access to high quality material

such as chert there is a tendency towards more formal tools which are resharpened and

even given secondary uses, while poorer quality material tends to be used for less

formal tools. Hayden (1990) suggests that environment in conjunction with social

complexity is important for assessing scraper variability. Hayden argues that simple

hunting/gathering societies in temperate or tropical climates have little social need for

skin clothes and subsequently produce less formal scrapers made on locally available

raw materials, and display poor or moderately developed usewear. In complex

societies, garments become status-display items, resulting in economically based

competition and the production of high-quality garments and other leather products.

In these societies, one would predict the use of morphologically specialized hide-

working tools made on carefully selected raw materials. The specialist would

resharpen the tools many times, producing very pronounced evidence of use wear.

Hide-workers would be selected specifically for the quality of their work, leading

eventually to craft specialization and standardization in form. Yet, in other parts of

the world, where complex societies produce specialized stone tools, researchers offer a

slightly different scenario. They propose that a more standardized range of stone tools

are found only for tools made for exchange, while stone tools produced for situational

local use are less standardized (Arnold 1985; Cross 1990; Hughes 1990; Micheals

1989; Shafer and Hester 1983).

Reduction stages (i.e., use) are a common explanation for the source of

functional variation in scraper morphology (Clark and Kurashina 1981; Dibble 1984,

1987; Kuhn 1992). People discarded scrapers during different stages of their use,

which is responsible for the variation in their length, thickness, and extent of retouch.

Rule and Evans (1985:213-214) suggest Paleo-Indian people only manufactured

scrapers on specialized "keeled" flakes to produce a steep and durable working edge.

While Kuhn (1992) offers that raw material access and core reduction methods

determine the shape of tool blanks and subsequently scraper form. The source and

function of spurs or projections on the distal end of the scrapers is currently debated.

Many believe that spurs protect the hand above the haft or that they are the result of

transverse snaps of the tool that was then converted into a hafted graver (Rogers 1986;

Rule and Evans 1986; Wilmsen 1968). Others argue that spurs are a fortuitous result

of resharpening (Clark and Kurashina 1981; Nissen and Dittemore 1974).

In addition, archaeologists look to hafting to explain variations in the

morphology of stone tools (Gould 1978; Keeley 1982). They associate lateral

notching, crushing, thinning, and rounding of the proximal edge with the hafting of

scrapers (Deacon and Deacon 1980:214; Hayden 1979:26-27; Keeley 1982; McNiven

1994; Rule and Evans 1985). Researchers also propose that polish and crushing of

dorsal ridges, as well as organized striature indicate socketed hafting (Beyries 1988;

Shott 1995). Researchers propose that hafted tools are more likely to be smaller,

thinner, narrower, and with more retouch than expedient hand held tools (Deacon and

Deacon 1980; Keeley 1980:50). In addition, Odell (1994) argues that increasing

sedentism allowed for increased demand on resources inducing technological responses

such as hafting, which in turn led people to economize with curation and

standardization in stone tool form.

Experimental researchers determined to explain scraper variation through

differences in associated activities have focused on type of raw material and

resharpening frequency (Brink 1978:97; Broadbent and Knutsson 1975), edge angle

(Broadbent and Knutsson 1975; Wilmsen 1968), and edge wear and type of material

scraped (Bamforth 1986; Hayden 1987; Hurcombe 1992; Keeley 1980; Shea 1987;

Siegel 1984; Vaughan 1985). Central to the growing concentration of microwear

studies is the debate over the chosen variables of analysis including abrasions,

striations, scar definition, scar size, scar distribution, rounding, polishing, linear trends,

crushing, shattering, frequency of microfracturing, and size of use fractures for

delineating specific behavioral events. The uselife history of a tool may involve not

only employment of the tool but also lateral recycling, curation, resharpening, and

secondary recycling/reuse (Schiffer 1972, 1982). Distinguishing attributes that

delineate the number of times a particular tool has been used, when it was used, and

modifications to the tool during use provides potential insights into the importance and

frequency of specific behavioral tasks (Shott 1995). For instances, stone tools may

have greater use at some seasons of the year than others, they may be curated or

manufactured in anticipation of use and transported between manufacture and use, or

they may be recycled to undertake a different technological role.

Ethnoarchaeological studies of stone tools have contributed largely to the

functionalist perspective including studies in North America (Albright 1984; Pokotylo

and Hanks 1989), Mexico (Clark 1991), Australia (Binford 1986; Gould 1968, 1980;

Gould et al.1971; Hayden 1977, 1979; Tindale 1965), South Africa (Webley 1990),

and Ethiopia (Clark and Kurashina 1981; Gallagher 1974, 1977a, 1977b; Haaland

1987: 66-69, 138-141). Several of these studies provided descriptive accounts relating

procurement, production, use, and discard patterns (Albright 1984; Allchin 1957;

Webley 1990). Others focused on particular issues such as the relationship between

curation and resource availability (Pokotylo and Hanks 1989) and patterns of disposal

and extent of sedentism (Clark 1991). Studies in Australia concentrated on the

correlation between form, edge wear, and use (Binford 1986; Gould 1968; Gould et al.

1971; Hayden 1977, 1979; White, et al. 1977; White and Thomas 1972). For example,

Binford (1986) studied the Alyawara of Australia process of making stone knives, in

which each worker would carry the manufacturing process several steps and pass it on.

Binford (1986) argued that the process by which the knives are made eliminates the

ascription of stylistic significance:

if members of a single social group produce formal variable assemblages of
archaeological remains deposited at different locations, how can we use
described differences among assemblages as unambiguous measures of
differences in ethnic identity. (557-558)

However, Binford did not compare knife forms between ethnic groups and so has no

basis for determining ethnic representation in tool form. One of Hayden's (1979) goals

was to study differences between technologies in Australia's Western Desert,

comparing groups further south to those already studied in the north. Unfortunately,

resettlement made original homeland association difficult to assess, and furthermore

many of the individuals had not worked stone for 25-30 years. White and Thomas

(1972) and White et al. (1977) briefly studied the concept of mental templates and

stone tools among the Duna of Papua New Guinea. They compared the typologies of

men from different parishes (political units) and determined that they used similar

materials for similar functions, which created stone tool similarities. However, they

also noted differences in tool form based on individual personality characteristics (e.g.,

larger men made larger tools). Hence, previous ethnoarchaeological studies of stone

tools clearly have contributed to a better understanding of stone tool distribution

patterns, use, and production sequence, but provided little toward our understanding of


The dichotomy between stylists and functionalists is a current and important

ongoing debate in archaeology (Binford 1986, 1989; Chase 1991; Sackett 1989, 1990;

Wiessner 1989, 1990). Ethnoarchaeologists concerned with the meaning behind stone

tool variability primarily enter their research with the intent of studying function. My

ethnoarchaeological study of the stone scrapers of the Gamo hide-workers serves as an

avenue for testing hypotheses about prehistoric social patterns and for the

understanding of symbolic and utilitarian technologies.

Previous Research of Ethiopian Hide-Workers

The tremendous variation of stone scraper forms, despite their seemingly

similar function, in southern Ethiopia provides a unique situation for exploring the

relationship between stone tool style and function through ethnoarchaeology.

Descriptive Accounts

The historical record recounts the presence of hide-working as early as the

mid-eighteenth to nineteenth centuries in northern and central Ethiopia (Figure 1-2), in

the regions of Shoa (Bartlett 1934:92; Insenberg and Krapf 1843:255-256; Merab 1929

Johnston 1972 [1844]), Tigray (Bruce 1790; Combes and Tamisier 1838:77-79;

Lefebvre 1846:240-243), Gondar (Wylde 1888:289-291), and Harar (Burton

1894:170; Paulitschke 1888:311; Rey 1877:225). However, it was not until Johnston

0 miles 200

Figure 1-2: Map locating the historically documented regions practicing hide-working
in northern Ethiopia.

(1972 [1844]:370-374) stayed in Shoa between 1841-1844 that we are provided with

the first written account of stone tools associated with hide-working. Johnston stated

that the hair and fat on a hide was removed by a rough stone. Giglioli (1889)

published the first detailed description of the use of stone tools for hide-working in

Ethiopia. He stated that the presence of stone tool use in Africa was rare, but that the

Oromo and Gurage peoples of Ethiopia made and used obsidian scrapers for hide-

working (Figure 1-3). The obsidian scrapers were inserted into either side of a

wooden handle and fastened with resin (Giglioli 1889). This early article provides the

first illustration of the handle and stone tools and demonstrates the historical depth of

stone tool use for hide-scraping in Ethiopia.

The presence of hide-working with stone tools in southern Ethiopia (Figure 1-

3) later was reported and more specifically illustrated by German ethnographers

studying the Dizi, Sidama, Gugi, and Gamo (Haberland 1981, 1993:94; Straube

1963:22 plate.13) (Figure 1-3). Haberland (1981, 1993) reported that among the Dizi,

the hide-workers use an obsidian blade that is fixed into the hollow of a wood-piece

with dark-bees wax. The descriptions of the hide-working process in these texts are

minimal but the illustrations demonstrate that there are a variety of handle forms

produced by different ethnic groups.

Systematic Studies

Gallagher (1974, 1977a, 1977b) conducted the first systematic study on stone

tool production and use among the Ethiopian hide-workers. The focus of the study

was to determine if the modern hide processing workshops resembled two Later Stone

Figure 1-3: Map of current ethnic groups with stone-tool using hide-workers in
southern Ethiopia.

Age sites in the Gurage area of central Ethiopia. He concluded that there were no

similarities between the types and distribution of stone tools and debitage in the

ethnographic and archaeological record. His initial observation of stone scraper

production and use was with two Gurage hide-workers of Dalacha, who use iron

scrapers but in the past had used stone (Gallagher 1974). He (1977a, 1977b:214-31 1)

later spent two months studying seven Gurage (in Dange-Lasho and Mafaed), three

Wolayta/"Sidamo" (in Debo), and two Oromo hide-workers (in Dincho and Sire)

(Figure 1-3). Gallagher (1977b) compared scrapers he collected from Gurage, Oromo,

and Wolayta dumping pits and emphatically concluded:

There is a very low degree of variability from individual to individual in terms
of the manufacture and style of the stone tools and the process of their use.
This is remarkable in that the artifacts are from three separate ethnic groups.

Gallagher concluded that there were no statistically significant differences in the

frequency distribution of the debitage types and scrapers or in the metric dimensions

of the scrapers and debitage between different ethnic groups.

Clark and Kurashina (1981) subsequently studied an Oromo hide-worker from

the Bale area of southeastern Ethiopia (Figure 1-3). They compared 30 used scrapers

to 14 unused scrapers to determine traces of the behavioral patterns of use.

Microscopic analysis enabled them to identify striations on the ventral side of used

and discarded scrapers in a crisscross pattern, which reflect the rotating of the working

edge during scraping. Most notably, they quantified a significant difference between

the average working edge angle between unused (44 degrees) and used (57 degrees)

hide scrapers. Furthermore, they demonstrated a size difference in the length of

unused and used scrapers. Lastly, they plotted the distribution of obsidian within and

around a household, determining that there were virtually no lithics found in the living

activity areas (workshop and household). Importantly, they demonstrated that

archaeologists could easily misidentify midden deposits as activity areas, instead of

locations of secondary discard.

Haaland (1987:66-69, 138-141) studied a Wolayta (Figure 1-3) hide-worker in

Soddo of southern Ethiopia. She compared the microwear edge damage and discard

distribution of ethnographic obsidian to Neolithic rhyolite and basalt scrapers from

Sudan. She noted the presence of crushing and microscarring on the working edge on

both the ethnographic and archaeological scrapers. From this study, she ascribed hide-

working activities to the Neolithic assemblages.

In all these studies of the Gurage, Oromo, and Wolayta hide-workers

(Gallagher 1974, 1977a, 1977b:214-311; Clark and Kurashina 1981; Haaland 1987:66-

69), the researchers reported the same basic pattern of tool manufacture, use, discard,

style, and function, summarized as follows. The exclusively male hide-worker

acquires obsidian (reportedly the only stone raw material used, although glass was also

used) from either a middleman in the form of "roughed out blanks" or directly from

one or more quarries. The manufacture of the scrapers occurs either within the

artisan's house or directly adjacent to it. The hide-worker uses direct percussion, with

an iron bar or ax as a hammer, to strike flakes from a core. The manufacture of the

tools occurs over a leather skin laid on the ground, a basket, or a wooden bowl. The

hide-worker or his wife collects the debitage and throws it into a pit or specific trash

area located behind the house or outside the compound. The flakes are made into a

single tool type: unifacial convex end scrapers. One scraper is selected and inserted

into a carved-out socket on the right side of a two-sided wooden handle. Another

scraper is inserted on the left side. The scrapers are secured in the haft with resin. The

hide to be scraped is stretched out on a vertical wooden frame situated outside the

house but inside the compound. Holding the handle with both hands and with one

scraper-socketed side against the softened hide, the hide-worker scrapes off long

shavings of the skin from the fatty, inner side of the hide. Periodically the hide-worker

resharpens the end of the scraper with an iron hammerstone, and/or turns the handle to

the other scraper-mounted side and continues scraping. Clark and Kurashina

(1981:306) estimate that the hide-scraping process takes 8-10 hours, by which time

both mounted scrapers are worn out. Gallagher (1977a:411) and Haaland (1987:69)

indicate that the process takes six hours in which time four scrapers are exhausted.

These studies of the hide-workers report little if any variability in the hide-

working processes, especially in the shape or size of the handle nor the general shape

of the scrapers. The researchers clearly took a functionalist perspective, contributing

to our knowledge of procurement, production, use, discard, and edge-wear. However,

there was little emphasis on reconstructing the social organization or history of the

hide-workers and only one attempt (with a very small sample size) to determine

aspects of style by considering variation among and between different ethnic groups.

1992 and 1995 Reconnaissance

In January and February of 1992, during a reconnaissance of southern Ethiopia

in search of evidence for the origin and evolution of enset (Ensete ventricosum) food

production, Steven Brandt briefly visited the Gamo, Wolayta, and Konso peoples

(Figure 1-3). Brandt observed the continued use of stone tools among these people for

scraping hides.

During May and June of 1995,1 accompanied Dr. Brandt to Ethiopia to

conduct an intensive survey of hide-workers in southern Ethiopia. A Wenner-Gren

grant supported this study to gain a better understanding of the geographical and ethnic

distributions of hide-working in preparation for future in-depth studies. This project

confirmed the continued use of stone tools for hide-working among the Gamo,

Gurage, Hadiya, Konso, Sidama, and Wolayta peoples (Brandt 1996; Brandt et al.

1996; Brandt and Weedman 1997) (Figure 1-3). It also revealed a great diversity in

hide-working practices concerning handle and scraper form, gender, and technology.

Previous studies of the hide-workers indicated the use of one handle type with

two scrapers secured with mastic into sockets on either side of the handle. We

discerned the use of three different handle types (see illustrations on Figure 1-3) in

southern Ethiopia: 1) double-hafted mastic handles among the Cushitic Sidama,

Cushitic Hadiya, Ethio-Semitic Gurage, Omotic Wolayta, and the Omotic Gamo; 2)

single-hafted mastic handles used among the Cushitic Konso; and 3) single-hafted

nonmastic handles used by the Omotic Gamo (Brandt 1996; Brandt et al. 1996). We

also discovered that the hide-workers used other types of stone materials besides

obsidian. The Gamo use chert scrapers and the Konso use quartz scrapers. Unlike

earlier studies in which men exclusively worked as hide-workers, it was clear that

among the Konso and Wolayta, women independently manufactured and used stone

tools for hide-working. In addition, the Konso hide-workers used completely different

techniques for tool manufacture. Using a large round stone as her hammer, the hide-

worker uses the bipolar technique (rather than direct percussion) to break locally

available quartz pebbles against a flat stone. She selects small flakes and through

direct percussion shapes them into small narrow-nosed end scrapers. Finally, we also

recorded differences in the deposition of debitage. The Gamo allowed debitage waste

and retouch to remain on the ground where it fell during use, while the Konso

collected these materials and dumped them outside the village.

An examination of the handle, socket, and scraper morphological

measurements reflected the geographical relationship between the six ethnic groups,

especially when viewing the relationship between the unused scrapers (Brandt et al.

1996). The length of the scrapers compared between ethnic groups also indicates the

importance of material type, such that shorter scrapers were made of chert and longer

ones of obsidian (Brandt and Weedman 2000). Hence, hide-working material culture

suggests that although each ethnic group uses material culture to maintain their own

social identity, available material resources also may influence scraper morphology.

Shared historical processes, in terms of conquest by northern twelfth to sixteenth

century feudalistic societies of southern Ethiopia, may account for similarities and

differences expressed by the material culture associated with southern Ethiopian hide-

working practices and material culture. However, more detailed ethnographic, oral

history, and archaeological studies of crafts people from individual ethnic groups

needs to be conducted before we can more definitely describe their origins and explain

the process of their social position within Ethiopian societies.

Research Hypotheses

This study is the first since the 1996 survey to concentrate on southern Ethiopia

hide-working with stone tools. I selected the Gamo hide-workers as the focus of my

research concerning the role of group membership (style) and environment (function)

in material culture because of the great variability I witnessed in their hide processing

practices and material culture. As discovered in the 1995 survey, the Gamo are unique

in southern Ethiopia for their use of two different handle types, the zucano (double-

hafted mastic handle) and the tutuma (single-hafted nonmastic handle) (see Figure 1-

3), which seemingly are used for the exact same function, i.e., to scrape cattle hides for

bedding. The use of two handle types within a single ethnic group indicates that there

are a variety of methods used for achieving the same ends. This study of the Gamo

hide-workers offers tremendous potential for exploring intracultural rules that govern

technological strategies and provides an excellent opportunity to test multiple

hypotheses concerning the nature of similarities and differences in stone tools.

I test the hypothesis that the function of a stone tool rather than style accounts

for most of the synchronic variability. In this scenario, the formal variation in Gamo

scrapers should have no significant variation among hide-workers who engage in the

same hide-working process. The variation in the scrapers will only differ when there

are differences in activity such as the use of different types of raw material for

scraping (chert and obsidian), differences in distance to resources, scraping a different

type of hide (highland and lowland cattle hides), the scraping of a hide for different

products (bedding verses saddle), the length of a scraper's uselife (1 or more hides),

and the use of scrapers for different types of scraping activities (shaving verses


I also test whether style accounts for the variability witnessed in the synchronic

appearance of stone tools that are functionally similar. There are a variety of ways to

produce an object that will serve the same function. The selection of an object and its

form is a matter of choice, determined ultimately by learning in a social context. If

this is true, there should be a statistically significant correlation between Gamo group

membership (lineage, clan, political district, and ethnicity) and geographical location

and the similarities and differences in stone tools and their handle/haft type.

In addition, I will determine if Gamo stone tools represent iconic or isochrestic

style. Iconic style represents a conscious active effort on the part of the maker to

represent his/her social identity (iconological or emblemic style). In contrast, with

isochrestic style the identity message of a stone tool may be actively interpreted even

if it is unconsciously manufactured. If style is iconic in Gamo scrapers, then the hide-

workers should be able to sort an assemblage of modem Gamo scrapers and identify

their own scrapers, those belonging to other members of their social groupings, and

identify those that are different. Gamo hide-workers should also have a conscious

mental template of what their scrapers will look like with the intention of making them

different from hide-workers in other social groups, in order to present self or group

identity. However, if style is isochrestic, the Gamo hide-workers should not have a

conscious mental template of what their scrapers will look like nor will they

intentionally make them different from hide-workers in other social groups. They may

attribute the morphology of the scraper to tradition, to the way their ancestors made


them, or to fitting into a specific haft. Each Gamo hide-worker should only be able to

discern scrapers that are different and belong to individuals who belong to other social


Finally, I test if the attributes of style are distinct and separate from attributes

of function. In assigning their emic typologies to the scrapers, hide-workers should be

able to assign independent attributes to the tools, which indicate either social identity

or function. An attribute analysis of the tools also should demonstrate a statistically

significant correlation between specific attributes of the tool that vary independently

with either social or functional context.


This research project is a necessary step in understanding ubiquitous materials

in the archaeological record, stone tools. The Gamo hide-workers are one of the few

peoples to continue to make and use stone tools. They live in a diverse geographical

(highland and lowland) and social environment (both intra and interethnic

relationships), which is potentially reflected in their practices relating to stone tools.

Hence, they provide a rich context for interpreting how group membership (style) and

function are related to similarities and differences in the morphology of stone tools.

Exploring the functional and stylistic elements of the meanings of stone artifacts

among people who produce and use them today has the potential to reveal the

harmony and tension in past societies and a better understanding of past social


My two-year ethnoarchaeological study of the Gamo hide-workers revealed

that the local environment and available resources for stone tool production in

association with their makers' social identities interfaced with geographic and cultural

divisions in the landscape. The following chapters will demonstrate that by exploring

similarities and differences in terms of scales of analysis eliminates the necessity for a

function and style division and emphasizes that because culture is heterogeneous both

aspects exist within the material culture of a single ethnic group. Chapter 2 outlines

my theoretical and methodological approaches to determining the origin of variation in

the Gamo stone scrapers. Chapter 3 provides a description of Gamo culture and the

social, economic, and political position of hide-workers. Chapter 4 describes the

Gamo hide-working practices and access to resources at the regional/ethnic group

scale within the western highland-lowland region of Lake Abaya and Chamo. It

examines the Gamo hide-working process and the subsequent functional scraper

variation that might arise as the result of differences in activities related to access to

resources. The subsequent chapters explore scraper variation in terms of style and its

association with Gamo political and social relationships. Chapter 5 compares the

Gamo hide-working practices and materials with other southern Ethiopian ethnic

groups, especially Omotic groups. It also analyzes Gamo hide-working materials and

practices on an intracultural macroscale in terms of subregions (north, central, and

south) and districts (deres). Chapter 6 demonstrates the reflection of moiety, clan,

and lineage membership in scraper morphology and the distribution between village

(guta) contexts. Chapter 7 illustrates the expression of domestic groups, age,

experience, handedness, and individuality in scraper morphology and scraper


intravillage and household distributions. Lastly, Chapter 8 summarizes the results and

provides an outline for future directions in the ethnoarchaeological studies of stone



In the last chapter, I discussed Olmstead's (1997) description of southern

Ethiopian cultures as watercolors, where the cultural colors fade into one another and

even make new colors. It is has taken a long time for archaeologists to discover the

heterogeneous nature of culture--to avoid white washing a culture's great variety of

colors into one homogeneously defined unit through material similarities. One

method that can extradite archaeologists from the concept of a monothetic culture is

ethnoarchaeology. Ethnoarchaeology has the potential to expose us to other voices

and provide a starting point for trying to understand alternative inferences concerning

material culture. Hence, this ethnoarchaeological study of the Gamo hide-workers

concentrates on an emic understanding of social, economic, and political relationships

and how they are reflected in the morphology and distribution of stone scrapers

across the landscape.

Ethnoarchaeology: History, Theory, and Stone Tools

Most archaeologists interpret variation in stone tool assemblages through

either inference or experiment (Crabtree 1975; Frison 1989; Ingersoll, Yellen and

MacDonald 1977; Young and Bonnichsen 1985). However, the use of these

methodologies brings into question the validity of our own ethnocentric


interpretations of the past. Ethnoarchaeology offers us the opportunity to shed

preconceived notions and ideological constraints that lock us in ethnocentric

interpretations of the past. The danger in using ethnoarchaeology is for the

archaeologist to apply blindly the present on the past and in the process deny both the

ethnographic study group and the prehistoric people their individual histories. The

interpretation of the past has always been based on our understanding of present

societies. The use of inference as the mainstay of archaeological reasoning is

examined in its historical context as it transforms from under the guise of speculation

to science. Subsequently, I discuss how our inferential methodology has affected

those whose prehistory and history we study, and the interpretations we make about


Speculation and Ambivalence

During the colonial era, westerners began recording the presence of stone tool

production and use in the Americas, Australia, and Africa (Aiston 1929, 1930; Dale

1870; Dunn 1879-80; Hahn 1870; Hambly 1936:49; Giglioli 1889; Mossop 1935:179;

Mountford 1941; Murdoch 1988 (1892):294-301; E. Nelson 1899:112-118; N. Nelson

1916; Roth 1899:145-152; Spencer and Gillen 1927:536-550). Since the day when

objects were recognized as products of past human activities, we have been engaged

in a process of analogy. The choice of using the pronoun "we" is crucial for it puts

into context the cradling and nurturing of the discipline of archaeology within the

western world (Orme 1981:2-16; Robertshaw 1990; Trigger 1989). The earliest

framework for understanding ancient objects is often referred to as the Speculative

Period because it involved the interpretation of archaeological material culture

through speculation. Initially the western world believed that stone tools were the

result of supernatural origins such as thunderbolts and elves (Heizer 1962:63).

However, subsequent colonial expansion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

exposed Europe to knowledge of cultures outside its own domain. Ancient objects

were recognized as evidence of past cultures based on their similarities with the

material culture of other cultures, who were thought to have lost their "technology

and civilized ways" because they did not follow Christianity (Trigger 1989:52). In

the sixteenth century, Pietro Martire d'Anghiera first raised the possibility that in the

past European people had used stone tools and did not know how to use metal

(Hodgen 1964:371).

Despite the growing realization concerning the prehistory and changes in

European society, speculations about the past in Africa, Asia, and the Americas

rendered them stagnant societies. During the height of western European exploration

and colonization, there was a reluctance to attribute native peoples with

archaeological sites. Antiquarians believed that European, Near Eastern people, and

lost tribes such as the Moundbuilders stimulated the development of the earliest

civilizations in the colonies (Atwater 1920; Bent 1893; Frobenius 1913; Hall 1905;

Morgan 1876; Priest 1833; Stow 1905). Antiquarians used European stone tool

terminology to describe African stone tools, and they claimed a movement of tool

form and function from the north (Europe) to the south (Africa) (Dale 1870; Gooch

1881). By concentrating on stone tool studies across the continent, antiquarians

promoted the European ideology of a backward and "primitive" Africa that


represented a living example of Europe's past (Trigger 1989:52). The Americas were

simply denied any evidence of a Paleolithic culture and the stone tools present in

early deposits were associated with either foreigners or were considered misstratified

and belonging to early Native Americans (Holmes 1914; Thomas 1898). This

ensured not only a stagnant past for the Americas but also portrayed Native

Americans in an unfavorable light as primitive and biologically inferior.

Unlike in Africa and Asia, where colonies were still dominated by indigenous

people, by the late nineteenth century the Native American populations had dwindled

to the extent that colonialists no longer felt threatened. This probably led to earlier

recognition concerning their relationships to archaeological finds of complex

societies. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American

archaeologists began to associate Native Americans with significant and complex

archaeological finds. Jesse Walter Fewkes (1900:579) was the first to use the term

"ethno-archaeologist" in his study of Hopi Pueblos. Fewkes stated (1900),

The main types of pueblo ruins have been described, and what is now
necessary is a study of the manners and customs of the people who once
inhabited them. This work implies an intimate knowledge of the ethnology of
the survivors, and a determination of the survivor's identity may be had from
migration legends of clans now living in the pueblos. ... There remains much
material on the migrations of Hopi clans yet to be gathered, and the
identification by archeologic methods of many sites of ancient habitations is
yet to be made. This work, however, can best be done under guidance of the
Indians by an ethno-archaeologist, who can bring as a preparation for his work
an intimate knowledge of the present life of the Hopi villagers. (578-589)

Although he and other archeologists such as Cushing (1886) allowed for a connection

between prehistoric and modem populations of Native Americans, they also

maintained the idea that change had been minimal and hence, ethnoarchaeology was

deemed an appropriate source of inference.

By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many studies of present

day societies, who still used stone tools, were correlated directly with archaeological

remains (Allchin 1957; Elkin 1948; Murdoch 1892:294-301; Nelson 1899:112-118;

Stow 1905:62). Archaeological interpretation reached a crux in which analogy was

indispensable and yet methodologically unsound because of its speculative nature.

Kluckholm (1939) chastised archaeologists for their failure to examine the

assumptions that underlie their methodologies.

Our techniques of observing and recording are admittedly still susceptible of
improvement, but they seem much further advanced than our development of
symbols (verbal and otherwise) by which we could communicate to each other
(without loss or inflation of content) the signs and symptoms we observe.

Thompson (1956) felt that archaeological inferences were inherently subjective on

two accounts: 1) in formulating the hypothesis and 2) in the selection of ethnographic

analogs. I would add that typological inference of this period seldom considered

formation processes, failed to explain how two different archaeologists could produce

different typologies for the same material, and failed to regard the complicating

features of culture which make them unique and discernible from one another.

Ascher (1961) suggested that to rectify the problems archaeologists should use

ethnographic comparison only where actual historical ties existed. The danger with

the direct historical approach is that it is like uniformitarianism, as the researcher

forgets the differences and neglects to account for the similarities. J. G. D. Clark

(1953) added that we must tie historical connections with ecological-economic

similarities because history may contain great changes that profoundly alter the

economy of the descendant's culture. Hawkes (1954) suggested that there is a ladder

of inference indicating that the natural science basis for the reconstruction of

technology is a more reliable inference than those related to the economic,

subsistence, political, and social spheres. Wylie (1985) deemed this era "Chronic

Ambivalence" because archaeologists drew a line forcing themselves to choose

between faulty methodology (analogy) or no methodology at all.


Beginning in the 1960s, ethnoarchaeological studies correlated differences and

similarities in stone tools with the tasks they perform and/or their stage of use in the

life cycle (Albright 1984:50-59; Binford 1986; Clark and Kurashina 1981; Gallagher

1974, 1977a, 1977b: 224-299; Gould 1968, 1977; Gould et al. 1971; Hayden 1977;

Nissen and Dittemore 1974; Tindale 1965). Processual archaeologists of the time

were dedicated to positivism and enacting proper scientific research programs, which

was assumed to eliminate any speculation concerning reconstructions of the past. In

the search to create cross-cultural laws, that would span time and space, the focus was

on how humans adapt to their environment. At this same time, however, Binford

(1962) insisted on an archaeology that was based in anthropology because both were

"striving to explicate and explain the total range of physical and cultural similarities

and differences characteristic of the entire spatial-temporal span of man's existence"

(217). He rejected Hawkes (1954) concept of an inferential ladder, but believed that

all aspects of the past are equally accessible. In his search for the dynamic, he turned

to ethnographic and actualistic studies of modem material culture (Binford 1967,

1978, 1981, 1989). He argued that archaeologists should use analogical considerations

to formulate a hypothesis, but not to consider them in the evaluative interpretive

conclusions, when tested and placed in the archaeological context (Binford 1967).

This is dangerous, because Binford did not consider the contextual (spatial and

temporal) differences and similarities between his ethnoarchaeology and

archaeological data, which may raise new insights for changes across time and space.

For Binford, culture is a complex system that consists of the interaction

between people and the environment that cannot be relegated only to ideas. Only

functional variability straddles between people and their environment and only a

functionalist perspective can use a scientific approach and adequately deal with the

explanation of cultural process (Binford 1965). Gould (1980:32-33, 1990:26-29)

objected to Binford's generalized laws of culture, because he believed they lacked

explanation of how or why there are correlations through time. This is why he stated

that humans are constrained by the natural environment (which provides the answers

of how and why for correlations) and in turn have certain determinate adaptive

options open to them in given environments (Gould 1980:48-53). Gould stated that

anomalies are the tools used for discovering behavioral relationships and are due to

culture or ideational aspects that are inaccessible through general laws. However,

Watson (Gould and Watson 1982) pointed out that Gould has more in common with

Binford than he would like to admit simply because both use analogy to generate

hypothesis about uniformities that may hold over time and across culture. Watson

(Gould and Watson 1982) argued that uniformitarianism denies the presence of site

formation and the restrictions of archaeological sampling in its reconstruction of the

past. Despite the rhetoric of an anthropological archaeology, processual

archaeologists such as Binford and Gould ignored social and historical context.

The concept that science is the means through which archaeologists infer

information about the past is now deeply embedded in the discipline. New

archaeology ironically neglected context and it neglected history while at the same

time trying to recover it. The science of archaeology has been criticized within the

discipline by post-processual archaeologists for its inability to take on a worldview

and to recognize its limitations for understanding human culture, which is not natural

and thus not applicable to the natural science approach and as such ignores the inner

factors of human behavior (Gardin 1992). Science is embedded in an ideology that is

alienating because it advocates the presence of objectivity and one truth, when in fact

truth is ideologically informed (Hodder 1989, 1991; Schmidt and Patterson 1995;

Tilley 1993; Wylie 1993).

Contextualized Studies

An alternative to the processualist's view of ethnoarchaeology can be found in

a contextual approach to ethnoarchaeology. The basis for the contextual

interpretations of materials originated in the work of Taylor (1948). His

insightfulness labeled the work of his contemporaries as comparative or taxonomic

because it tended to describe archaeological data in simple reference to ethnographic

data. Taylor (1948) emphasized the importance of context:

therefore, what is necessary is that we compare not individual items either
separately or in groups, but rather cultural contexts and/or broad cultural
complexes as wholes. But when items are taken in conjunction with, and in
relation to their cultural matrix, they may be expected and indeed are found, to

show differences that are locally and comparatively significant. A
determination of the meaning of these differences is not always possible,
immediately or ultimately, but this is no reason for their neglect. (169)

In essence, he believed archaeologists of his era tended to compare two cultural

entities to each other whose relationships lay outside one another and thus was devoid

of context. Taylor (1948:171) advocated that archaeologists should look at

ethnographic information as a model from which to draw ideas about the types of

questions we ask of the material remains, and in the construction of an ethnography

of the past. Although more recent theory points to the importance of contexts,

unfortunately Taylor's work was largely shunned at the time because it so heavily

criticized several leading archaeologists.

Archaeologists who have attempted to take a conjunctive approach examining

history and context and incorporating human ideas are accused of pure speculation

(Binford 1962; Dunnell 1978; Leach 1973). Ironically, it is this context that

functionalists ignore, which allows ethnoarchaeology to be scientific rather than

speculative (Taylor 1948; Wylie 1982). The context of the material remains provides

the background knowledge for informed plausible explanations. Scientific

knowledge is not limited to observable data and furthermore the theoretical context

color the facts (Wylie 1982, 1985). Contextual models are not speculative because

they are constrained by the material record left by the past and because we base

plausible explanations on informed analysis of how they could have been generated.

Giddens (1979:242-245) similarly stated that all laws operate within a boundary and

that we can only rationalize action in its context, as history dictates. Archaeologists

test the relationships they posit through a variety of mediums/contexts including the

ethnographic present, historic documents, oral history, and archaeological material

culture (Schmidt 1983, 1997:27-28). If we examine the differences as well as the

similarities in different contexts (social, environmental, space, object, and text), it will

have the effect of expanding rather than reducing culture and people to a set of

unchanging rules (Hodder 1982:217-220).

By focusing on a contextual study of the past and present, we avoid the

inherent contradiction of creating ladders to reach closer to the perfect analogy. As

Wylie (1982) states, "an analogy is by its nature a similarity between things that are

unalike in other respects, a perfect analogy is a contradiction in terms" (395). If there

were no dissimilarities, then we would have identity rather than analogy. Since

change is a constant factor in society, the differences are as important as the

similarities when we are comparing aspects of culture through time and across space

(Schmidt 1985; Wylie 1985). The use of universal laws displaces the variability in

material phenomena (Murray and Walker 1988). The differences or the anomalies

are just as important because they identify the process of culture change.

Furthermore, by ignoring context, Schmidt (1985, 1997:28-30) points out that

archaeologists are actually engaged in metonymy because they mix past and present

domains. Metonymy differs from analogy, such that in analogy two separate domains

share some (not all) similar attributes, but in metonymy there is the actual mixing of

domains so that one object is referred to as another. Archaeologists use artifacts

(parts) to understand past culture (whole), we ascribe names to the artifacts that imply

an unspoken meaning such as scraper or point, and we describe the past as we see it

in the present (mixing two separate domains). This transformation has occurred not

only with respect to how we understand the past, but how we represent ourselves

within our discipline and towards others.

The terms and phrases we ascribe to material culture are contextualized within

a current understanding of materials and technologies of societies in the present

world. Schmidt (1985) offers that not only have we transformed the past through our

own choices of inference, but that we have misnamed it analogy to mask its real

power. Orme (1981:11-13) argues that by the 18th century, Europeans equated

prehistoric with modem "primitive" societies. When coupled with evolutionary

paradigms, archaeological interpretations relegate the social positions of people

outside the western world as inferior. Similar explanations are recurrent in today's

discussions of nonwestem peoples, such as Lee's (1979:1-2) description of Inuit,

Australian, and Kalahari hunting and gathering peoples, which strips them of history

by focusing only on their environmental adaptations and functional aspects of their

material culture. The trajectory of archaeological reasoning must not only be viewed

in terms of how we transform the past from present knowledge and past material

culture, but how we also affect the present with our interpretations. Wilmsen (1989)

proclaimed that "ethnographic practice thus provides empirical support for the

theoretical justification of ideologies that tolerate, while claiming not to advocate

segregation of that 'other' world" (xiii). Archaeologists do no less when they speak

about the past. The words and symbols we choose reflect symboling and the ritual

justification of power over the other (Schmidt 1985). How we construct history and

prehistory goes beyond misnaming metonymy as analogy, it demonstrates an ability

in ourselves to cover up the issue of how we construct and transform speculation into


science and the bipolarity found within the latter (Schmidt 1985). A view of the past

through the eyes of others is something that is just beginning to foster an interest in

our discipline.

A contextual approach to ethnoarchaeology allows us to explore the

ideologies of living populations and how they invoke meaning into materials. It helps

us to focus on both the similarities and differences in time and space, which

ultimately explain the variations we see in archaeological materials. Ultimately it

will lead us to better understanding of the environmental and cultural factors that

affect material culture.

A Scales of Analysis: Cultures as Heterogeneous and Polythetic

In the past most archaeologists tended to view culture as homogenous and

bounded (Brew 1946; Kreiger 1944; Rouse 1954). In addition, even later processual

functionalists bounded cultural activities based on their environmental determinism

(Binford 1968; Jochim 1976; Steward 1955). Jones (1997:1-6) attributes this

blindness to the heterogeneous nature of culture to the politics embedded in

archaeology. As discussed earlier, the birth of archaeology rests in a European

context. Artifact types were used first to identify cultures and distinguish ethnic

groups to support ideas of the superiority of Aryan Germanic super-race (Jones

1997:1-6). Archaeology has its roots in western European ideology which covets

otherness in attempts to not only segregate nonEuropeans from Europeans, but to

bolster and maintain national identities within Europe. This meant that culture and


ethnicity had to be bound and separated from external influences, i.e., the overlapping

and internal differences were whitewashed.

With the changing political atmosphere in the 1960s, anthropologists began to

more widely challenge the ideas of cultural boundaries and recognize the idea that

within a culture there exists a variety of identities (Barth 1969; Fortes 1969; Leach,

1964; Wilson and Wilson 1954). In the American Southwest, a debate began which

surrounded the meaning behind archaeological typology, particularly ceramics (Ford

and Steward 1954). Several of these researchers recognized that variations in ceramic

assemblages traditionally associated with a culture might represent intracultural social

groups. Gifford (1960) and Deetz (1967) in particular, concluded that attributes

represent individual or site specific characteristics, varieties represent small social

groups or subbranch area variation, types represent regional varieties or the patterns

and value orientation held by the majority of a culture, and complexes represent broad

cultural areas. In Europe, the work of Clarke (1968, 1972) also recognized the

polythetic nature of culture and artifacts. He (Clarke 1968:366) applied a different

scale of analysis recognizing site assemblage (family), subculture (group of families),

culture (tribe), culture group (cluster of tribes), and technocomplex (as tribal

confederation/nation). However, despite these early contributions, archaeology has

been slow to recognize cultural heterogeneity (Hodder 1982; Jones 1996; Shennan

1989). Recently, Jones (1996) stated:

at one extreme there may be a high degree of homology between the
structuring principles of the habitus and the signification of ethnicity and other
identities in both material and non-material culture... however, there may also
be a dislocation of such homologous relationships to the extent that the
generation and expression of a common identity incorporates a bricolage of

different cultural traditions characterized by heterogeneous structuring
principles in many social domains. (71-72)

Material culture is produced, used, and discarded within social practices and social

structures (Bourdieu 1977:76; Jones 1996:117). Anthropologists long ago recognized

that the range of interdependence between members depends on the intensity of

communication, which varies geographically and historically (Wilson and Wilson

1954:25-30). Moreover, the similarities and differences in material form are

generated, maintained, and transmitted depending on the degree of

intercommunication between members of a population (Clarke 1968:364). In most

societies, the highest degree of genetic and cultural communication occurs at the

domestic group level. With the domestic group as the basic unit, Clarke views

intercommunication in an increasingly wider framework to include groups of

families, tribes, tribal groups, and confederations/nations. However, others have

pointed out that trade, gift exchange, warfare, and other forms of intercultural

communication can alter distribution patterns of the material world (Hodder and

Orton 1976:55-73; Hodder 1977). Analyzing material remains in terms of significant

social scales of analysis can provide us with a rich understanding of past social and

economic structures (Clarke 1968; Hodder 1982; Jones 1996).

Field Methodology

Regional Survey

To access an understanding of variation in Gamo stone tools, I enlisted a

contextualized scale of analysis study. Hence, I studied the stone scrapers in terms of

their position in the environmental and cultural landscape. My ethnoarchaeological

study of the Gamo hide-workers consisted of three stages of research: 1) documentary

and archival research in Addis Ababa (6 weeks); 2) an ethnographic survey of the

Gamo villages to locate hide-workers (6 months); and 3) in-depth interviews with

hide-workers within four villages. I spent the first six weeks reviewing historic and

ethnographic texts related to the Gamo and hide-working at the library of the Institute

of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University. This research allowed me to collect

information on the Gamo and their neighboring ethnic groups, which is otherwise


During my first six months among the Gamo, I studied the similarities and

differences in their handles, sockets, and stone tools in terms of their location within

the Gamo territory. I conducted an ethnographic survey of the Gamo hide-workers in

order to: 1) survey the Gamo region to locate hide-workers, 2) record their social and

geographical relationships, and 3) discover the types of handles and stone tools they

were using.

I interviewed at least one hide-worker from each of the villages (i.e., that has

hide-workers) in 6 of the 10 Gamo districts (deres) including Doko, Kogo, Dorze,

Ochollo, Zada, and Borada. The total number of hide-workers living in six of the 10

districts is 550, which is an average of 92 hide-workers per district. Based on the

latter calculation, there are probably at least 1000 Gamo hide-workers. The average

number of individual hide-workers living in a village was three, with a range of 1 to

15. I interviewed the elder hide-worker of each lineage. Although most hide-workers

did not know their age, I could estimate age by inquiring about political changes

which had occurred during their lifetime. The average age of the hide-workers I

interviewed was 40-49, with a range from approximately 20 to 70 years. I chose the

elders because hide-working is a dying occupation, as youths turn to other

occupations. Elders also are more likely to continue to use stone, and they generally

have a better knowledge of kinship relations and provide a good source for oral

history. I also visited the districts (deres) of Ganta, Bonke, Kamba, and Dita, where I

did less intensive surveys that involved visiting hide-workers who lived near the road

and interviewing them in markets. During the survey, I interviewed 180 hide-workers

living in 115 villages

I obtained preliminary information concerning the type of handle and scraper

raw material used (iron, glass, chert, and obsidian). I had the hide-workers relate to

me the history of their material culture, such as how and from whom they learned

hide-working and stone tool production, explanations for changes in material culture,

and why they used specific forms or types of raw material. Where they scraped their

hides, produced their scrapers, and discarded their scrapers (and why) were also

important aspects to start gathering information on household spatial patterns. I

collected unused and used stone scrapers from each stone-using hide-worker. I did

not collect glass or iron scrapers. My goal was to collect at least 30 unused and 30

used-up stone scrapers from each district from as many individuals as possible and

from several of the more common clans (e.g., Gezemala, Zutuma, Damota, etc.).

This resulted in a survey collection of 130 unused and 182 used-up scrapers. I

measured every hide-worker's handle in terms of its length, width, and thickness, and

I measured the sockets of each handle with a pair of calipers. The handle

measurements and scraper collection allowed me to compare the geographical

distance and social differences of hide-workers against the similarities and differences

manifest in their material culture.

I recorded the location of the hide-workers' villages on 1:50,000 topographic

maps and recorded as closely as possible the locations of their stone quarries. I also

tried to record the location of the hide-worker's households within each village. This

allowed me to determine the elevation of each village and the local availability and

distance to resources related to hide-working (i.e., chert, wood, and mastic for


I used a questionnaire (which was added to throughout the survey) to

determine the hide-workers' present and past economic, social, and political positions.

I asked informants which markets they attended to evaluate their access to possible

resources including materials from outside the Gamo region. I learned about the

source and types of hides scraped and the products they made out of them. The

number of hides scraped per week and the price or exchange goods received for the

labor of scraping the hides was also assessed. I asked if they scraped hides for

demand or for the market, and if they scraped on demand if they worked for particular

families. I examined whether they owned land and why or why not, when they

received the land and from whom, where the land was located and its suitability for

agriculture, and the types of crops they planted. I asked whether there was any time

of the year when hide-working labor increased and why. To further my knowledge

about household economics and the possible origin of resources, I recorded the

economic responsibilities of their wives and children.

The brief interviews during this stage also focused on gathering preliminary

information concerning kinship and other types of social relationships (e.g.,

intraethnic, district (dere), subdistrict (mota), village (guta), and clan (omo)) the

endogamous hide-workers have with others in their community. Furthermore, I asked

how long the hide-worker and his lineage had lived in the current village. The

construction of diagrams concerning hide-worker kinship relations provided the basis

to link scraper form to social organization in terms of moiety, clan, and lineage

relationships. It also allowed me to determine how hide-workers related to hide-

workers in other villages and districts through marriage, and how and if this affected

their resource acquisition and material culture. I entered the names and location of

hide-workers and their kin in a database while in the field. I printed this list out and

took it with me for the interviews. This allowed me to crosscheck kinship

relationships and verify long-distance kinship and marriage patterns.

I collected histories concerning hide-workers ritual-political leaders (degala

Halakas) and how they were elected to determine their social relationships within

their own caste group. I questioned them concerning their roles in rituals surrounding

birth, puberty, and marriage rites of passage, and death within the larger Gamo

society in which they interacted as members of a guta (village), mota (subdistrict),

and dere (district). The latter enabled me to assess the social position and

relationships of hide-workers to other members of Gamo society.

The survey information led me to understand more clearly the environmental

and social relationships important to the Gamo hide-workers and how they can be tied

to household, intrasite, and intersite analysis of material culture (Figure 2-1). People

not only produce their materials but they organize themselves and their materials in

meaningful spatial patterns within their subcultures. Other studies also have pointed

out that the focus of archaeology has tended to be on the broader regional cultural

scale, because of the idea that culture is homogenous (Crumley 1979; Marquardt and

Crumley 1987). Accepting cultural heterogeneity and examining spatial relationships

of materials within a culture offers the potential to explore more thoroughly the

meanings behind variation whether it be functional or stylistic, or a combination. The

Gamo emically defined socio-economic relationships symbolically tie them to

specific locations in the landscape.

Individual hide-workers collect their own resources for hide-working and

produce and use their own scrapers (Figure 2-1). The most important learning unit in

hide-working is the father-and-son relationship. Sons learn knapping and scraping

from their fathers and furthermore they tend to live within the same village in close

proximity. Hence, intrasite assemblage comparison of scrapers should reveal father-

son clustering in terms of scraper morphology and distribution within a site.

Furthermore, within a village, the individual is the member of a lineage, which

includes grandfathers, uncles, and cousins who also share information that should

reflect similarities in their scraper assemblages on an intrasite/village level.

Each village may consist of lineages belonging to the same clan or to multiple

clans. The Gamo clans are divided into two groups, moieties, which exchange

spouses. Since residence is virilocal and stone tool production is a male-dominated

trade in Gamo society, moiety membership may also be expressed in scraper

morphology and related to residence. Lastly, the survey determined that the hide-

workers identify themselves closely with membership within districts, which also

may be reflected in their stone tools. After my survey of the Gamo hide-workers, I

worked with a limited number of hide-workers to understand three aspects of scraper

morphology. First, the production, use, and discard of scrapers within the household

and village contexts. Second, the social and economic relationships and how they

afforded access and decisions concerning acquisition of resources. Lastly, I sought to

explore the relationships between socio-economic membership, scraper morphology,

and the context of scrapers.


household assemblage

Domestic group


Moieties and Clans


Subregions (north, central, south) 4


I cluster of related households
intravillage assemblage

I village assemblage

I intervillage kin related
I intervillage ritual-political
related assemblages

^ lowland verses highland and
geographical divisions based
on rivers and mountains,
subregional studies

4 Western highland-lowland
region of Lake Abaya and
Chamo, regional analysis

Figure 2-1: Diagram illustrating cultural and spatial relationships of material culture.

Localized Village Studies

I studied four villages in-depth to focus on scraper production, use, and

discard and the hide-workers' social, economic, and political position within society.

I selected four villages in which the hide-workers: 1) only use stone; 2) use different

handle types; 3) represent different clans; and 4) represent several generations from

one lineage within a village. I decided to become the student of 30 individual hide-

workers, who are members of four different clans (Gezemala, Zutuma, Bolosa, and

Maagata). These individuals live in four different villages located in two districts

(Borada and Zada).

My survey indicated that only four Gamo districts (deres) have villages that

use stone to the exclusion of glass and iron: Borada, Zada, Ochollo, and Bonke.

Because I was studying kinship and learning practices, I wanted to study villages in

which there were several generations of hide-workers and possibly many individuals

related as cousins, fathers, and sons. In Ochollo and Bonke, each village had only

one or two hide-workers and so I chose not to conduct in-depth studies in these

districts. This left me with selecting villages in Borada and Zada.

In order to discern if variation is the result of social groups or function, I

wanted to study members of the same clan using the two Gamo handle types, tutuma

(single-hafted nonmastic) and zucano (double-hafted mastic), even if in the past both

types were used. My reasoning here was that individuals of the same clan should

make a similar scraper form regardless of handle type because they are descendants

from a common ancestor and stone tool production is a learned skill through the

patrilineal line. Unfortunately, there were no two villages with hide-workers

belonging to the same clan and using different handles, which represented several

generations of individuals from the same lineage. This in itself suggests that clans are

closely tied to residence and specific handle types. I decided to study four different

villages that represented four clans--two villages using tutuma (single-hafted

nonmastic) handles (Zutuma and Bolosa clans) and two villages using zucano

(double-hafted mastic) handles (Gezemala and Maagata clans). This would at least

allow me to determine whether regularities associated with handle type would cross

village membership. I selected the villages of Mogesa Shongalay, Eeyahoo

Shongalay, Amure Dembe Chileshe, and Patela Tsela (Figure 2-2).


Between July and September 1997, I worked with the ten hide-workers living

in Shongalay. Shongalay mota (subdistrict) is part of Borada dere (district) and

consists of four villages (guta): Mogesa, Eeyahoo, Garay, and Agaya. In 1996,

Shongalay had a population of approximately 1229 (529 males and 637 females)

within 230 households (Hasen 1996a:314). Two of the villages, Mogesa and

Eeyahoo, have hide-workers belonging to the Gezemala and Bolosa clans and I

worked in both villages. Traveling to Shongalay was not easy. Shongalay is located

a one and half- hour drive (16-km) north of Chencha (Figure 2-2). The villages of

Eeyahoo and Mogesa are located to the east about 10-km or a two-hour walk from the

main road.

In Mogesa, the hide-workers all use a zucano (double-hafted mastic) handle

with chert and obsidian. They belong to the same patrilineage of the Gezemala clan

represented by three elders and their descendants. They each own a small plot of

Figure 2-2: Map locating the four villages (Amure, Mogesa, Eeyahoo, and Patela) I
studied in-depth within the Gamo territory.

farmland located two hours from their village. They very reluctantly complained

about the condition of the land (which is not located near a good source of water and

has many stones), for fear that the land would be taken away. The younger hide-

workers practice Islam, but the elders did not practice an organized world religion.

I also worked with the three hide-workers living in Eeyahoo Shongalay. They

all use a tutuma (single-hafted nonmastic) handle with chert. The Eeyahoo hide-

workers have all recently moved to Shongalay. I chose this village to work in

because I wanted to study a group of hide-workers who had moved from one village

to another. Would their hide-working materials and activities reflect their fathers' or

would they more closely resemble local hide-workers in Mogesa Shongalay? Perhaps

changes in the availability in resources and contact with nonkin hide-workers would

affect their assemblage. Hence, I also collected hide-working materials and

ethnographic information from the fathers of the Eeyahoo hide-workers. The first

hide-worker to move to Eeyahoo said he moved to Eeyahoo because he was able to

acquire land there (in the late 1970s when the socialist government redistributed

land). He also stated that he was able to move to Shongalay because he was

Gezemala like the other Shongalay hide-workers and so he had the right to live there.

He is in his late 70s or 80s and no longer scrapes hides. The next two hide-workers,

who moved to Eeyahoo, are brothers of the Bolosa clan from Ezo Kogo. Their

mother left their father and came to Eeyahoo to work for a farmer. The farmer gave

her and her sons land in exchange for their labor. The fourth hide-worker moved to

Shongalay from Birbir Kogo and his clan is Gezemala. He moved to the village when

he was a child to help his sister, who married an Eeyahoo smith. Although the four

hide-workers live near each other, within a kilometer, they do not live in a tight

cluster, as do the Mogesa hide-workers. They each own a small plot of farmland

located adjacent to their household on heavily eroding steep slopes. The three

younger hide-workers claim membership in the Protestant church, although they do

not actually ever go to church.

Dembe Chileshe

Between December 1997 and January 1998,1 worked with nine hide-workers

living in Dembe Chileshe. Dembe Chileshe has a population of approximately 3113

(1581 males and 1532 females) within 577 households (Hasen 1996a:314). Dembe

Chileshe mota (subdistrict) is part of Borada dere (district) and consists of 15 guta

(villages): Amure, Abaya, Esera, Yayago, Holay, Zagay, Tocala, Gandala, Wuday,

Hylasos, Tumacaro, Garero, Gargetchay, Seratay, and Kueso. Only one village,

Amure, has hide-workers. Amure is easily accessible, as it lays adjacent to the main

north-south road running through the Gamo highlands (Figure 2-2). It is

approximately 20-km north of Chencha. Despite the fact that Amure hide-workers

live near a large market center (Chileshe), where glass is easily obtainable, they

continue to use chert because they prefer it.

The Amure hide-workers who use a zucano (double-hafted mastic) handle

with chert. They belong to the same patrilineage of the Maagata clan represented by

two elders and their sons, nephews, and cousins. The Amure hide-workers live in a

cluster of households on the northern edge lower edge of the village. They each own

a small plot of farmland located one hour from their village. They also very

reluctantly complained about the condition of the land for fear that the land would be

taken away. Like the Eeyahoo hide-workers, the Amure hide-workers claim to be

Protestants even though they do not go to church services. In both villages, the

farmers are predominately Protestant. I believe that in both instances there is social

pressure for the hide-workers to enlist themselves into Protestant practices such as not

smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol to get along with others in their community.


Between January 1998 and March 1998, I worked with eleven hide-workers

living in Tsela. In 1996, Tsela had a population of approximately 3128 (1542 males

and 1586 females) within 596 households (Hasen 1996a:315). Tsela mota

(subdistrict) is part of Zada dere (district) and consists of seven gutas (villages)

including Atza, Hurooma, Terdo, Chaba/Patela, Zato/Henaso, Bageda, and Ochollo.

Four of these villages, Bageda (8), Henaso (1), Ochollo (10), and Patela (11), have

hide-workers. The branch road into Zada, which is located approximately 4-km north

of Chencha, is only seasonal passable by automobile (Figure 2-2). Without the road,

it would be a 4-hour walk from the main road to Patela. I worked in Patela Tsela

during the dry season. After a 1-1/2 hour drive (8-km) on the very rough branch road,

I walked another hour (4-km) to Patela. The other Tsela villages are located farther

west than Patela.

The Patela hide-workers use a tutuma (single-hafted nonmastic) handle and

chert. They belong to the same patrilineage of the Zutuma clan represented by two

elders and their sons, nephews, and cousins. Most of the hide-workers live in a

cluster of households on the southwestern edge of the village, however two

individuals live about 2-km to the east because the original land was getting too

crowded. They each own a small plot of farmland located one hour from their

village. The Patela hide-workers gave me a variety of answers concerning their

religious affiliations including Orthodox and Protestant. Often I would receive

different answers from the same individual, which suggests to me that they do not

practice an organized world religion.

The study of these four villages allowed me to examine in detail the

significant social scales of analysis in Gamo society and how they relate to stone

scrapers. The interviews were less structured than those guided by my questionnaire

in the survey phase. I tried to build on the survey information and questions that were

elicited by my observations while living within the different villages. I witnessed

each of the thirty hide-workers produce and use scrapers, which is essential to assess

factors such as division of labor, spatial distributions, site formation, and the final tool

morphology. In the end, I studied the hide-working practices of twenty-nine adults

and one teenager. There was great variability in the amount of time it took to scrape a

hide (two hours to three days) and in the number of scrapers used (one to eight).

Subsequently, I was only able to watch each hide-worker scrape one hide.

After I had watched each person scrape a hide, I would give him several zip-

lock bags. I requested that in my absence whenever they scraped a hide to place the

used-up scrapers in a bag. One collection bag of scrapers equaled one hide-scraping

event. In three of my villages, this worked out well even if they did not return a

collection of thirty scrapers per individual (as I never specified the number I was

trying to achieve); in the end, I felt that each collection bag represented a single

event. In the third village (Patela), two of the hide-workers had obviously just

collected scrapers from their fields (as they were covered with soil) and thrown them

in the bag. They decided that they would keep the other bags for themselves

(although I would have given them some). The latter samples were not included

when I determined the number of scrapers per hide-working event or the morphology

of scrapers based on types of hides (see Chapter 4). I also observed each person

making thirty new scrapers either at the quarry or at their household, depending on

their habit.

I provided a stone tool-sorting test for the Gamo hide-workers living in the

villages of Amure, Patela, Mogesa, and Eeyahoo. Although I knew the context of all

the scrapers in the test, the hide-workers did not. The stone tool assemblage consisted

of scrapers in a variety of raw material colors both unused and used-up scrapers from

all four villages. Although I asked individual hide-workers to pile sort the scrapers,

the hide-workers conducted the sorting in a group effort rather than as individuals.

The purpose of the sorting test was to determine if the hide-workers represent their

identity with intent on any level in the production of their stone tools, and if they

could later identify their own scrapers in terms of specific attributes. In essence, I

wanted to know if they consciously or unconsciously represented their social groups

through their stone tools. I began by asking them to sort the pile of stones into any

groups they thought were significant. They did not seem to understand and so I asked

more direct questions: 1) which scrapers would you use and why or why not, 2)

which scrapers were made for a tutuma (single-hafted nonmastic) and which for a

zucano (double-hafted mastic) and how do you distinguish them, 3) which scrapers

were made in your village and how do you know, and 4) which scrapers did you

make and how do you know?

I watched, videotaped, and photographed the hide-workers search quarries for

raw materials, produce stone scrapers, haft the scrapers, use the scrapers, and discard

the scrapers. I made a general map of each household lithic production, use, and

discard areas within the village. I requested a vocabulary relating to hide-working and

the stone tools.

Although stylistic preference may be reflected in the selection of raw materials,

it also may be constricted by geographical and socio-political factors. The origins of

the raw materials may be critical in assessing this aspect of variation. I questioned

the hide-workers concerning their choice in raw material selection (including the

presence of color, cortex, and patina).

The size and shape of the scraper produced may be a direct reflection of the

type of handle in which it is to be fixed. The different handles and binding materials

may produce different microscars on the portion of the scraper to which it is affixed.

Thus, I measured the handles (length, width, and thickness) and their sockets (height,

width, and sometimes depth). I also inquired about the type of mastic and how it was

acquired and made.

The working edge of the tool may be affected by the size and type of hide that

is processed, by the type of tool that is used for retouch, by the tension angle at which

the hide is bolstered, and by how many times it is used before resharpening. The

direction in which they scrape the hide may be group-specific and reflected in the

orientation of striations found on the ventral surface of the scrapers. I measured the

height, width, and angle (using a climometer) of the scraping frame and the hide

stretched on the frame. The thickness of the hide was measured, as well as its length

and width. I also counted the number of times the enset rope was woven through the

hide to lash it to the scraping frame to determine tension. During scraping, I recorded

the direction of the scrapes and the part of the hide scraped, i.e., upper center, lower

center, upper left, etc.

The size and shape of a scraper may change through use and thus it was

important to take measurements of scrapers before and during their use. I measured

and drew each individual iron billet used to shape the scrapers. I measured the

scraper's length, width, and thickness (using metric calipers), and edge angle (using a

goniometer) before it was hated. After a tool was hated I measured the length it

protruded from the socket and if possible the edge angle. Since the hide-workers do

not discard scrapers until they are exhausted, often partially used scrapers were

already hated and used for the scraping event I witnessed. In this instance, all I

could do was measure the length and angle of the scraper as it protruded from the

handle. I measured the length and edge angle of each scraper during breaks in

scraping and after they resharpened the scraper. This would determine how much

resharpening and reduction was required after particular activities.

I recorded in a notebook using a manual counter the number of times they

resharpened and then used each scraper to scrape and chop. The numbers recorded in

my notebook were checked against the videotape to insure accurate counting of the

number of scrapes, chops, and retouching activities. Hide-workers often used two or

more handles, so I tied ribbons on the handles, to make sure I knew which handle and


scraper was being used, and which side of the zucano (double-hafted mastic) handle

was being used. This made it easier to keep track of when and where each scraper

was being used on the hide.

I asked the hide-workers to resharpen the scrapers over a piece of cloth so that

I could collect all the retouch from each scraper that I observed used. One person's

retouch from one day's work was collected together (i.e., one collection bag may

represent several scrapers retouch flakes). At the end of the event, I collected all the

scrapers used-up and partially used. I also remeasured the thickness of the hide.

Scraper Analyses

My final collection of Gamo stone scrapers totaled 2139, which consisted of

312 survey scrapers collected from the survey and 1827 scrapers collected from the

four villages. The bases of my analyses are the contextual data obtained through

interviews and the unused (n= 941, 130 survey and 811 village), broken (n=42) or

partially used (n=93), and used-up (n=1054, 182 survey and 881 village) scrapers.

These stages of use and disuse were emically determined by the hide-workers.

Unused scrapers are defined as those scrapers which are ready for use but have not

yet been engaged in preparing a hide. Partially used scrapers are scrapers that have

been used on a hide and are still useable. Hide-workers were very reluctant to give-

up partially used scrapers even when I offered them money in exchange. Used-up

scrapers are those scrapers that have been used to prepare a hide but are no longer

considered useable by the hide-worker, i.e., scrapers that can be discarded. I did not

conduct excavations of prehistoric or historic archaeological sites or modem trash


In addition to the cultural context of each stone scraper that I collected, I also

recorded aspects of its morphology in an attribute analysis. I measured and assessed

all the attributes on each of the 2139 scrapers twice, and I went through the collection

a third time randomly checking measurements to avoid mistakes and ensure accuracy

or at least consistency in my measurements. Ethiopia's regulations concerning

bringing cultural materials out of the country are very strict and so I completed the

analyses while I was living in Ethiopia. Conducting the analyses in the field was

useful when questions arose concerning the context of the scraper. It allowed me to

ask specific questions concerning the presence of attributes such as spurs, ventral

thinning, etc. The equipment used for the attribute analysis included a set of metric

calipers, a goniometer, a 20x hand-lens, and an Ohaus balance (400 x 0.1 g). I did not

have access to a microscope with polarized light (no electricity) and so microwear

studies were all completed with the 20x hand-lens. I have not provided my raw

measurements in the appendix, as I will publish them in the future. However,

Appendix C does provide the formulas I used to perform t-test, chi-square, covariance

analysis, as well as means, co-variation, and the results of the statistical tests.

Unlike archaeological tools that may have attributes as the result of

postdepositional damage, all of the attributes on the Gamo tools were the result of

predepositional human activity. The attributes I examined are a combination of those

described to me as important to the Gamo and those thought to be significant by

archaeologists. Archaeologists have created by far many more attributes under study

than the Gamo would consider important. Archaeologists have difficulties in

deciding which attributes represent which type of explanation in terms of function

verses style. Stylists are quicker to admit that to designate a fixed catalogue of

attributes representing style is difficult because style is dependent on spatial and

contextual data. The isochrestic approach to style advocates that it is a sum of the

different components of the overall morphology of an object rather than individual

attributes that identify style (Sackett 1985, 1989). There is no consensus among

archaeologists as to which stone tool attributes represent variation as a result of style,

function, or a combination of the two.

The Gamo consciously recognize the type (color) of raw material as an

important aspect of the tool. Archaeologists have also determined a lithic's utilitarian

meaning and style through the raw material type (Close 1989; Gould et al. 1971;

Gould 1974; Jelinek 1976; Luedtke 1976; Sackett 1985:280). The color of the chert

is important to the hide-workers because they associate specific colors with better

conchoidal fracturing. They blow on the stone and if there is a shiny reflection, they

consider it good for flaking. They feel that patina on the chert indicates that it is old

and poor for flaking, although they occasionally use it. They remove cortex as much

as possible, as they consider it poor for flaking and achieving a sharp working edge. I

used a combination of the emic color descriptions and the Munsel Rock Color chart to

record the color of the scrapers. I recorded the amount of cortex relating to its

percentage of coverage over the entire tool and not just on the dorsal face of the tool,

because this seemed important to the hide-workers. I also recorded the presence or

absence of patina.

The hide-workers also examine thickness, length, and width to determine their

scrapers' stage of use and acceptability for hating. They assess the thickness of the

proximal end and the width to ensure that a scraper will fit within the haft.

Furthermore, a scraper must not be too long or too thin, as it will break during use.

The sharpness of the working edge is determined by examining the distal thickness

and the amount of projections on the ventral side of the edge. That is, they examine

the ventral side of the tool, which touches the hide rather than the dorsal-side which

archaeologists generally study. After they resharpen an edge, they flip the scraper

over to look at the dorsal side to again examine the thickness and angle for its

suitability in either scraping or chopping activities. Archaeologists also explore the

overall morphology of stone tools such as length, width and thickness, as well as

other features such as dorsal scar pattern (the pattern of flake removal from the dorsal

side of the tool), location and type platform (the surface area on the tool where it was

hit for its removal from the parent material), cross-section (a view of the tool with one

of the lateral edges facing upward), and edge forms (the shape of the edges of the

tool)-- to determine the type of production and stage of use of the tool and the identity

of the maker (Bordes 1961, 1973; Bordes and de Sonneville-Bordes 1970; de

Sonneville-Bordes 1954; Dibble 1984, 1987; Kuhn 1992; Sackett 1989, 1990).

Hence, I took several metric measurements of each scraper including: maximum

length, proximal width, medial width, and distal width, distal thickness, proximal

thickness, retouch length (Figure 2-3). My typology concerning platform type, dorsal

scar pattern, and cross-section was based on typologies derived for Stone Age


assemblages in East Africa by Clark and Kleindienst (1974) and Melman (1989:128-


I also questioned the hide-workers concerning other attributes, which I noted

on their tools such as the presence of spurs, distal edge hinge fractures, lateral

notching, dorsal spine flake removal, and ventral thinning (Figure 2-4). Microwear

studies of lateral notching, crushing, ventral thinning, and crushing of dorsal ridge are

all techniques thought to be associated with the hafting of scrapers (Beyeries 1988;

Deacon and Deacon 1980; Hayden 1979; Keeley 1982; McNiven 1994; Rule and

Evans 1985:214; Shott 1995). Previous researchers believe that knappers created

spurs either on purpose for use as engravers (Rogers 1986; Wilmsen 1968) or as the

result of reuse of a scraper after it has broken (Rule and Evans 1985).

The hide-workers, in the sorting tests, ascribed used-up tools as those that

were thicker, duller, and with more retouch. They also distinguished scrapers by

handle types based on retouch location and invasiveness. Experimental studies of

hide-working have recorded the presence of rounding of the used edge, striatures, and

a luster or polish especially after use on drier hides (Brink 1978:94-114; Hayden

1993; Hurcombe 1992:45-46; Keeley 1980:50-53; Kimball 1995; McDevitt 1987;

Vaughan 1985:26-27). They also relied on edge angle studies to determine the

function of the tool (Brink 1978; Wilmsen 1968). The edge angle and the location of

retouch also are considered as elements of social identity (Bordes 1961; de

Sonneville-Bordes 1954; Close 1977, 1989; Sackett 1985). In addition, weight has

been offered as a mean to distinguish the function of a tool (Cantwell 1979).

Therefore, I also took edge angle measurements of the distal, laterals, and proximal





b| ea



0 2 4cm
I I I I 1

Figure 2-3: Illustration of a Gamo scraper indicating the morphological measurement
for analysis.


0 2 4cm
I I 1 I

Figure 2-4: Illustration of Gamo scrapers with dorsal spine removal (A), undercut (B),
and spur (C).

edges (Figure 2-3). On the distal edge I took three measurements--one on the left,

right, and center--and combined these for an average edge angle. I also recorded the

arch of the retouch and location of the retouch (ventral, dorsal, lateral, distal, etc.). I

measured the depth of or invasiveness of the retouch with calipers on all edges for all

the tools. I weighed the scrapers and used a 20x hand-lens to look for channels,

striations, notches, and rounding, but only on the working edges of the scrapers, that I

directly observed used.

The Gamo stone scraper collection represents in archaeological terminology a

single cultural horizon or assemblage. The time depth of this collection is extremely

short and hence represents what archaeologists would term a single cultural period in

a restricted geographic region. It is not the purpose of this study to provide a model

of stone tool variation through time, only across space within a single time unit.


This ethnoarchaeological study of the Gamo hide-workers concentrates on a

contextualized understanding of stone scrapers. A contextualized approach to

ethnoarchaeology unmasks the heterogeneous nature of culture revealing the

necessary background information to infer the meanings behind material variation.

This method is scientific and exposes our ethnocentric interpretations of the past.

Arguably, people who continue to produce similar materials as that of past people

might be able to provide insights that are not conceivable to the archaeologist, who is

not familiar with the material on a daily basis. Hence, my two-year study of the

Gamo hide-workers focused upon emic perceptions concerning stone tool


morphology to expand our knowledge concerning the meanings behind stone tool



The Gamo environmental resources and their economic, political, and social

relations provide the context for understanding functional and stylistic variation in

the morphology and distribution of their stone tools. Too often, ethnoarchaeological

studies lack an in-depth understanding of the environment and culture associated

with the materials they are studying. However, as argued in the previous chapter,

only a contextualized approach reveals the necessary background to expose the

expressed material similarities and differences.

The Gamo are agriculturists who live in the highland-lowland region to the

east of the Rift Valley lakes of Abaya and Chamo. The biannual rains and numerous

rivers erode the rich basaltic foundation exposing chert sources for stone tool

production and use, and creating broad valleys for agriculture. Major rivers and

mountains signal the boundaries between the Gamo political districts (deres). Each

village (guta) has an open field with a centrally located tree or forest marking the

village meeting place (debusha), where elders and ritual-political leaders meet to

resolve social and political issues. The thatched houses and associated agricultural

fields of villages cluster by settled lineages. The smaller and often poorly thatched

households are located on lower or higher portions of villages, usually on extreme

slopes, where gardening is difficult. This division of the village landscape is an



indication of social stratification distinguishing the households of artisans, including

the hide-workers, whom I studied for two years.

This chapter reviews aspects of the Gamo environment for possible sources

of functional variation associated with stone scrapers, and it also examines Gamo

culture and social identities to reveal possible sources of stone tool stylistic variation.

The Gamo live in a diverse region that includes both highland and lowland

environments. This potentially could affect the resources they chose and the way in

which they use them, and offer functional explanations for stone tool variation.

Their social structure also lends itself to examining differences and similarities in

material culture, including stone tools, differentiated in terms of intraethnic divisions

such as: subregions, political districts (deres), villages, moieties, clans, lineages, and

domestic groups.

Evaluating Function: Regional Environment, Resources, and Economy

Examining the regional setting of the Gamo provides for an understanding of

the locally available resources. The hide-workers' economic position within Gamo

society dictates their ability to access resources for their craft and the activities

associated with the hide-working process. If the environment and activities in which

a stone tool are used account for most of the synchronic variability, then formal

variation in Gamo scrapers should have no significant variation among hide-workers

who engage in the same hide-working activities. Variation in the scrapers will only

differ when there are differences in resources and activities such as scraping with

different types of raw material, scraping different types of hide, and the scraping of a


hide for different products. The latter are dependent on the geography of the Gamo

territory and their economic relationships.

The hide-workers scrape cattle hides primarily for bedding. Today in

addition to scraping hides, the hide-workers engage in other craft-production

activities such as producing baskets and horn-made spoons, wood-working, and iron-

working. The wives of the hide-workers spin cotton, collect grass, decorate gourds,

produce uncha (fermented bread) from enset to sell at the market, cook, collect

water, and care for children. If a hide-worker owns land, his wife fertilizes the fields

and weeds them almost continuously throughout the year. She also harvests and

prepares all foodstuffs. The children of hide-workers rarely attend school because

they cannot afford supplies or uniforms. The sons often spend their days tending to

the domesticated stock, which belong to mala (citizens and farmers). The daughters

care for younger children and aid their mothers with their work.

Most Gamo artisans, including hide-workers, live in the highland (geza)

region of the Gamo territory. The Gamo territory covers a 2400-km2 region with

elevation ranging from 1200 to above 3000 meters (Figure 3-1). They recognize two

environmental zones: the highlands (geza) (2300-3000 meters) and the lowlands

(baso) (1500-2300 meters) (Cartledge 1995:46-50; Jackson et al. 1969:1-5; Jackson

1970). The region above 3000 meters has little settlement due to the inhospitable

nature of the land formations and environment for agriculture. The geza is a cool

moist zone with the highest population densities and agricultural production. The

lowland area was not settled until encouragement from the socialist government

(circa 1977), which opened the area through its programs of Villagization and state

Figure 3-1: Map illustrating the elevation differences in the region where the Gamo


farms (Gilkes 1994:354-355; Van Buren 1993:127-129). Artisans do not generally

live in the lowland regions because the farmers believe they will pollute the fields,

which already have poor yield because of the environmental circumstance.

Furthermore, there are no clays for potters, and hides rot quickly in the heat, making

hide-working a difficult pursuit.

The Gamo hide-workers use chert and obsidian as their medium for tool

production. The Gamo highlands represent the southernmost protrusion of late

Tertiary lava, which was uplifted and fractured by the Rift Valley. The basaltic

plateau of the highlands supports the formation of cryptocrystalline rocks such as

chert. All the Gamo chert sources are located at an elevation of circa 2000 meters,

which the Gamo consider lowland (baso) territory. To the north of the Gamo in the

Wolayta highlands, the volcanic environment created obsidian deposits. The hide-

workers exhibit a wide range of procurement strategies including direct access to

natural chert outcrops, recycling of archaeological obsidian, and bartering/trading

with a middleman for both chert and obsidian. As mentioned in Chapter 1, farmers

consider stones worthless and even a cause of infertility to farmland. Since the

farmers do not value stones, they allow the hide-workers to collect this resource

without charge. In some instances, hide-workers sell chert and obsidian to one

another (discussed in Chapter 4).

Cherts are available only seasonally during the rains, which erode the nodules

out from their basaltic sources into streambeds. The Gamo region is located in the

Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITC) and so receives two annual seasons of rainfall:

the little rains that occur between March and May, and the big rains that last from

July through early September (Gamachu 1977:6-7). During the rainy seasons, the

hide-workers visit the quarries at least once a week. This limits the amount and

timing of resources available for hide scraping. Consequently, further study of the

hide-workers has the potential to reveal the cultural and economic factors that

influence the decision to use a particular material (Torrence 1986:61-65).

The hide-workers also use wood, mastic, and hides for their craft that they

collect from both the highland (geza) and lowland (baso) environments. The

highland vegetation includes junipers, eucalyptus, and bamboo, which the hide-

workers use to produce their tutuma (single hated nonmastic) handles. In addition

to the highland woods, the hide-workers use the lowland acacia wood and mastic to

make zucano (double-hafted mastic) handles. The highland regions harbor antelope,

wild fowl, monkeys, porcupine, hyena, leopard, jackals, and fox. The lowland area

has many species of monkeys, antelope, and crocodile. In the past, lion, elephant,

rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and buffalo were also present as evident from the

presence of shields made of these animal hides, which the hide-workers made

(Cartledge 1995:276). Today, hide-workers scrape both highland and lowland cattle

hides, which they distinguish, based on the thickness and roughness of the hide. The

types of animals available are important for assessing the types of hides the Gamo

scrape, which may affect the use wear and morphology of the scrapers. The

opportunity is thus open for exploring how culture and environment intersect in

material culture (i.e., handle and scraper type).

The hide-worker obtains hides through his patron-client relationship (mayla)

with neighboring farmers (mala). Domesticated animals such as cattle (Bos indicus),

sheep (Ovis aries), or goats (Capra hircus) may be found within a hide-worker's

household. However, the hide-worker does not own them, he only cares for them

and uses their products. During the holidays, the farmers give the head, entrails,

legs, and tail to the hide-worker as an expected gift. The mala consider these parts

of the animal, especially the entrails, as potentially dangerous to eat, as diviners use

them to invoke the sources of taboo infractions. It is also during the holidays, when

they slaughter the animals for sacrifice, that the farmers give the hide-workers hides

to scrape. However, the hide does not actually belong to the hide-worker, who is

given it to scrape for a fee, as he cannot sell or give it to another person. Hide-

workers predominately scrape hides on demand; because the cost of hides is too

much for them to purchase and resell at the market. At the market, the average cost

of a raw cattle hide is 9 to 10 ETB (US $1.38 to 1.54) and to purchase a cow costs

600 ETB (US $92.31). If sold at the market, a scraped hide yields 10 to 15 ETB

(US$ 1.5 to 3.0). If a hide is scraped for demand, the hide-worker receives crops

such as barley and enset or 1 to 3 ETB (US $0.15 to 0.46) in payment.

I estimated the average Gamo hide-worker's yearly income at 104 to 208

ETB (US $16 to 32) based exclusively on scraping hides. Karsten (1972:80),

however, estimated a much higher annual income at US $270 based almost

exclusively on hide scraping. Karsten noted in the early 1970s that the Gamo hide-

workers had no cash crop farmland only small gardens associated with their homes.

An explanation for the differences in hide-workers income between my own study

and Karsten's may be offered in the following discussion of the political and

economic changes since the 1970s.

Until recently, hide-workers only owned small plots of land for their house

and a garden; they did not own farmland. In 1975, land reform, the most successful

and popular of the revolution's policies, was enacted. In September 1974, the

coordinating committee (PMAC) or "Derg," a socialist government, replaced Haile

Selassie's imperial regime (Gilkes 1994:353-354). The radical redistribution of land

resulted in the complete abolition of landlords, which had been one of the chief

causes of inequity during the previous regime. During this period, artisans who

previously had no land to farm, such as the Gamo hide-workers, acquired land. In

comparison to farmers' croplands, the hide-workers own very small parcels of land,

and they are usually located on the poorest local soils containing many rocks and

boulders with insufficient access to water and sometimes steeply graded.

Since the end of the socialist government in 1991, some hide-workers (35

percent of the survey population, n= 180 individuals) lost their land when they were

accused of witchcraft and criminal activity. Even for those hide-workers who

continue to own farmland, it can be difficult to maintain hide-working practices

while farming. The Gamo highlands have two rainy seasons, and subsequently two

planting and harvesting seasons (Jackson et al. 1969:4; Jackson 1970:5). Women are

responsible for processing and harvesting, while men prepare the soil and plant

crops. The Gamo plant their major food crops of enset, legumes, wheat, and barley

from March to April and from July to August (Cartledge 1995:161; Olmstead

1974b). In addition, the Gamo plant the smaller crops (potatoes, cabbage, and

tobacco) from June to September. This means that the planting seasons overlap with


the chert procurement periods (see the above description in this chapter for the stone

procurement period).

During the socialist government, there was also an increase in export of

hides, especially goat hides to Italy, France, West Germany, United Kingdom, and

the Netherlands (Hailu 1980). In 1959, the net worth of exported hides was US $9

million (Lakew 1969), in 1974-5 it was US $56 million, and by 1990 it had risen to

US $215 million (Hasen 1996b). The demand for goat hides in Addis Ababa raised

rural local market prices. Hides, especially goat hides, are brought through the rural

market system to Addis Ababa, where they are tanned in industrial shops for export.

Hide-workers usually are not included in the sale of hides because they do not own

them. However, occasionally, hide-workers will sell a hide for a farmer for a small

commission. In addition, there has been an increased distribution of western

clothing, agricultural sacks, rope, and string in rural Ethiopia replacing many of the

items previously made out of hides. The reduced local demand for hide products

means that hide-working skills are diminishing and in less demand today than they

were thirty years ago.

In a population of over 600,000 (Hasen 1996a:313-318), my survey revealed

that hide-workers and their families represent only 0.25 percent of the population, a

dramatic decrease from Karsten's estimation at 0.4 percent in 1972. The hide-

working population and demand for hide products is diminishing, resulting in

changes in the available resource base and the material culture associated with hide-

working (i.e., types of scraper raw materials, hafting, and types of hide scraped). In

the past, the hide-workers were dependent primarily on the exchange of their craft

goods to obtain food. They produce commodities used by almost every household

out of materials such as stone and hides, which are otherwise useless in Gamo

society. However, the acquisition of land and the introduction of new materials such

as glass must have an effect on hide-working practices. The Gamo hide-workers

acquire their chert or obsidian from either a market or a quarry, but now many also

use glass. The local environment and external influences must in many ways affect

the types of leather products in demand (saddles, bags, and bedding), the raw

material scraper resources (chert, obsidian, and glass), the handles (tutuma and

zucano), and the hides (wild and domesticated animals) that the hide-worker scrape

to produce their products. These observations of the hide-workers demonstrate the

rich array of potential environmental and economic factors that may affect the life

cycle of a stone tool (i.e., length of use life, edge angle and shape, etc.) that in turn

may alter its appearance (discussed in Chapter 4).

Evaluating Style: Social Organization

If style and the expression of social identity account for the variability

witnessed in the synchronic appearance of Gamo stone tools, then it is important to

establish the socio-political memberships that are important to the Gamo people. If

style rather than function provides an explanation for material culture variation,

scraper morphology will be similar between members of the same social group and

different between members who do not share social relationships. Social identity is

flexible and exists on several levels in Gamo society including interethnic relations,

and membership in a specific language family, caste, kinship, and ritual-political


Interethnic Relationships

The relationships that the Gamo have with other ethnic groups may affect

their access to and knowledge of different resources as well as their craft-production

technology. The Gamo are Omotic speaking peoples, and the Omotic languages are

now generally considered a branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages (Fleming 1973,

1976), but there is some debate over its relationship with other Afro-Asiatic language

families (Hayward 1998). In early travelers' accounts and ethnographies, the Omotic

peoples were often referred to as the Sidama (Cerulli 1956:85-132) or the Western

Cushitic (Straube 1963). Today, Omotic languages are linguistically separated into a

north and south division (Fleming 1973, 1976). The Gamo are southern Omotic

speakers (Figure 3-2) belonging to the Ometo group, which also includes the Ganjule

(who inhabit an island on Lake Chamo), Gatame-Kachama (island in south of Lake

Abaya), Kore-Zayse, Oyda, Basketo, Dime, Hamar and Welamo (the latter includes

the Wolayta, Male, Gamo, Gofa, Kullo/Daro, Kunta, Malo, Kucha, Laha, and


Knowledge of the prehistory of Omotic societies is nonexistent in the absence

of archaeological investigation, and relies solely on linguistic reconstructions. The

proto-Omotic speakers probably began populating the highlands of Ethiopia 7000

years ago and began cultivating enset (Ehret 1979). Today Omotic societies only

occupy southwestern Ethiopia and most cultivate enset (Donham 1985; Lange 1976;

Figure 3-2: Map of southwestern Ethiopia locating the Omotic-speaking groups
mentioned in the text (based on a map by Straube 1963:1).

Olmstead 1975; Straube 1963). Omotic peoples' contact with neighboring Cushitic

peoples and their shared terms for domesticated stock and grains indicates a

borrowing of these foods from their Cushitic neighbors (Ehret 1979).

The history of southern Ethiopia and Omotic people also is fragmentary

because of the lack of written records. The historical accounts that exist are based on

the written records of their northern neighbors, early travelers' accounts, and later

studies of oral history. It was not until between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries,

that the Ethiopian state was officially redefined (and mentioned in texts) to include

the people of southwestern Ethiopia (Fanta 1985; Lange 1982:1-13; Marcus

1994:19-29). The Wolayta came under the control of northern Ethiopia during the

reign of Amda Syon (1312-1343) (Beckingham and Huntingford 1954:LXV).

However, it was not until Zara Yaqob (1434-1468) that the Gamo became the

southernmost limit of the evangelization of the northern Christian Empire (Bureau

1976). This is evident by the presence of fifteenth-and sixteenth-century Orthodox

churches, texts, and crosses in the Gamo region (Azai's and Chambard 1931:260-

269). The Kucha ruled the Gamo, as well as the Wolayta and Kullo, until circa 1550

(Borelli 1890; Beckingham and Huntingford 1954:LXV).

A Muslim invasion instigated by Mohammed Gran (1527-1543) during the

fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, conquered most of northern Ethiopia (Marcus

1994:19-29). In addition, there were two Muslim states established in southwestern

Ethiopia, Hadiya and Bali (Beckingham and Huntingford 1954:LXIV). Bahrey

(1993 reprint of 1593, also see Cerulli 1956:86) wrote in the 16th century that Bali

extended as far south as Lake Abaya, absorbing the Darasa, Gamo, and Kucha.

However, Azais and Chambard (1931:260-269) and Bureau (1976) believed that the

Gamo escaped Moslem domination and remained a stronghold of Christianity.

Today there are few people practicing Islam among the Gamo. One Islamic

community is located in Shongalay, where I conducted research. Thirty years ago, a

man, who moved to the area from the north, brought Islam to Shongalay. The local

people converted the Orthodox Church into a mosque.

During the 16th century, the Oromo migrations forced many Omotic peoples

to move further south (Abir 1970). Our earliest description of the Gamo people

comes from Bahrey who was an ecclesiastic monk living among the Gamo circa

1593 (Bahrey 1993 reprint of 1593). He recounts that the Galla/Oromo invaded and

looted his home. Oral histories collected by Abeles (1977) suggest that the Gamo

adopted their use of phallic headdress emblems and rites of passage from the Oromo,

during this time.

By 1820, the Gamo and most of the other Omotic societies were tributaries to

the Omotic king of Kafa (Gonga on Figure 3-2, Beckingham and Huntingford

1954:LXVI). In 1893, Menelik conquered the Kullo, Konto, Gofa, Gamo, and

Wolayta (Hodson 1929). The Gamo magistrates carry titles of which the names

Halaka and Dana probably originate from the Amharic Aleqa and Dana (Bureau

1979). The Gamo, as other conquered peoples, were forced to owe labor and tribute

to the Amhara soldiers, who became local settlers and administrators (Marcus

1994:19-20). Under the feudalistic system, the Gamo Kaos (ritual-sacrificers for

districts) became local administrators (referred to as Balabat by the National


Empire), who interacted between the people and the Amhara soldiers (Bureau 1979;

Olmstead 1997:29).

In this century, the Gamo have been fully incorporated into the Ethiopia state

through periods of control from the national government including: colonialism

(1935-1941), feudalism (1941-1974), socialism (1974-1991), and currently a

provisional democratic government (Olmstead 1997:29). Italian colonization of

Ethiopia was marked mostly by military personnel rather than by civilian settlement

(Sbacchi 1985:95-109). The Italian policy was to adapt to traditions, which fractured

the Italian administration of Ethiopia across ethnic lines. While the Italians removed

national leadership, districts and villages retained local leadership. In contrast, the

later socialist government prohibited any social or political act that redeemed any

sense of ethnicity in place of nationality. During this time, the Gamo people enacted

their ceremonies in secret at night. The Gamo still say the phrase "all people are

equal," especially to foreigners, though it is clearly not practiced. Although land was

redistributed during the socialist government to include artisans, local leaders denied

artisans land and privileges through allegations of criminal activity. The traditional

Gamo ritual-social positions became obsolete in the eyes of the new Ethiopian

government and were replaced with Chairmen and Peasant Associations.

The maintenance of Gamo identity through these national and local changes

can partially be ascribed to the poor attempts of national education and the fact that

most Gamo people continue to speak their own language. The education of the rural

population was not stressed until during the time of the socialist government and

though it is also a focus of the current government, it is estimated that only 20


percent of the Gamo people are literate and attend school (Hasen 1996c:76-79). By

maintaining their own language, the Gamo are ensuring the preservation of their

ideological organization of nature, people, and the material world. It is not the intent

of this research to conduct an in-depth study of the prehistoric or historic position of

hide-workers and artisans within Gamo society. However, in Chapter 5, I do explore

avenues of oral history, history, and interethnic relationships to explain the current

distribution and types of material culture associated with Gamo hide-working.

Intraethnic Social-Political Relationships

Gamo intraethnic relationships include the associations between caste groups,

political districts, and sub-regions. The Gamo, like most Ethiopian societies,

segregate themselves into noncitizen artisan (tsoma) and citizen farmer (mala)

groups, and restrict artisans with regard to social, economic, and political mobility.

Within Gamo society, artisans and farmers are members of political districts (deres)

that serve as the basis for ritual-political power. Although subregions are a broader

category than deres, I discuss subregions last because they envelop variations present

in dere membership and caste roles.

Caste groups

Although there is some debate concerning the social status of Ethiopian

artisans (Cerulli 1956:61-62; Haberland 1984, 1993; Hamar 1987:60; Levine

1974:39; Lewis 1962, 1974; Todd 1978b), Bureau (1976) refers to the Gamo artisans

as members of a caste group. Previous studies of Omotic societies suggest that

artisans retain low social positions, generally do not own land or participate in

political and judicial life, and yet perform important mediating roles as healers,

messengers, and circumcisors (Cerulli 1956:107-108; Donham 1985:107-113;

Feyissa 1997; Jensen 1959:422-425; Lange 1982:75-77, 158-162, 261-267; Orent

1969:284-286; Straube 1963:376, 384; Todd 1977b, 1978a, 1978b; Yintso 1995:104-


The Gamo artisans are aligned with many of the characteristics listed as

associated with caste systems in Indian and Africa (Leach 1960; Sterner and David

1991; Tamari 1991; Tudov and Plotnicov 1970). First, the Gamo social system is a

rigid social structure in which the different stratums are associated with traditional

occupations. The Gamo system consists of 1) citizens (mala) or elected and

hereditary leaders, farmers, and weavers and 2) noncitizens (tsoma) which

incorporate manalchinasha and degala (Abeles 1979; Bureau 1981:85-87; Straube

1963:380-384). In Gamo society, potters are usually women and hide-workers,

groundstone-makers, and smiths are usually men. The mana/chinasha are defined by

the occupation of women as potters. Often men mana/chinasha own farmland and/or

help their wives with pottery procurement and distribution. The degala include hide-

workers (gelba katchay- literally hide scratcher), smiths (wogatchay literally the

sound of pounding) and groundstone-makers sucha wogatchay- literally stone


Second, membership in mala or tsoma is ascribed by birth and there is no

social mobility. Third, the Gamo believe that if intercourse occurs between the

different stratified groups, the result will be death and/or infertility. Hence, the mala,

degala, and mana/chinasha are each endogamous meaning that they do not marry

one another. Fourth, tsoma are not considered full members of Gamo society and

during puberty rites (discussed in this chapter below), they are not publicly presented

to society to acknowledge their full citizen status.

Fifth, artisans often have a ritual language or argot, which only the artisans

know. The Gamo degala, including the hide-workers, have their own language

(owdetso) which is mutually intelligible to all Gamo degala, but is not spoken among

other ethnic groups. The manalchinasha also have their own language (manacalay),

which is different from the degala language (owdetso). They state that they have

their own language to keep their secrets from others, i.e., the mala. They are

unwilling to teach this language to their neighboring mala or to westerners, and the

language has yet to be studied thoroughly. The few words and phrases that I

collected were shared with linguist Christopher Ehret, who suggested that most

artisan languages were not distinct, but jargon of the local language.

Lastly, the Gamo reinforce the social submersion of artisans through

restrictions on commensality and associating artisans with pollution concepts. They

do not share food with degala (hide-workers, smiths, and groundstone-makers) or

mana/chinasha (potters) and only allow them into the vestibule area of their

household (Bureau 1975). The smiths are members of both the degala and mala

caste groups, because the mala consider iron cast or reheated by degala to be

polluted and to cause illness for the mala. Mala smiths make the ritual-sacrificing

knife for animals and for circumcision, as well as the hand plow for the mala. The

degala work iron products for the degala only. The degala, especially, are not

allowed to work in the fields of farmers for fear of polluting the crops. The farmers

consider the hide-worker's scraping stones, unscraped hides, and cattle horns to be

unclean. Gamo beliefs indicate that use of these items and breaking goma (taboos)

will disrupt fertility of land and people by upsetting the ancestors.

The Gamo hide-workers and their materials are symbols of mediation

between life, fertility, and death in Gamo society. The degala use the same materials

(stone and cattle products) and skills (cutting and blowing) derived from their

economic roles to fulfill their ethnic and regional social roles as healers, messengers,

and circumcisers. The hide-workers perform guchay, a form of healing, for curing

flesh wounds such as an abscess, insect bite, etc. The artisan is paid 1 to 3 ETB for

this service or he is paid with crops. The process involves making an incision, if the

wound is not open, with a razor blade but in the past with a sharp stone flake. He/she

takes a bovine horn (kula kula) and places it on the wound and sucks through it until

the horn secures on the wound. He/she leaves the horn on the wound for a sufficient

time to drain the impurities, pus, infection, and/or blood. The Gamo believe that bad

spirits and the breaking of goma (taboo) cause illness and injury. It therefore

requires the intervention of a diviner (maro) who uses animal entrails to reveal the

origin of the illness. The appropriate rituals are in order to extinguish the effects of

the violation. The hide-worker's role in this respect is to rid violations associated

with open wounds (referred to askatcha, which is also means to scrape). The word

"to divine" in Gamocalay is the same word as for stone suchha" In the past, the

hide-workers used stone to aid in clearing the wounds. Although the degala do not

act as diviners, they are a source for removing goma. The Gamo have a saying:

"maro essi ayya, degala guta kara." Translated it means the diviners are never


fools, the degala's neighbors are strong. The understanding is that the neighbors of

the degala are the mala. The impure degala are weak and impure constantly

breaking taboos. In contrast, the mala are generally pure and strong. The mala must

be strong and resist breaking taboos, because the diviners are not foolish and can find

mala sources of breaking taboos. While the Gamo consider the degala to be impure;

they are necessary to mediate between people and illness and infertility caused by

breaking goma (taboos). Through guchay, the artisan uses his materials of stone and

horn to mediate between the pure and the impure. This practice is still common

today, although pharmacies and western medicines have begun to replace local

healing practices.

The artisan also is obliged to blow a bovine horn, often ornamented with

some leather and the tail of the animal, to announce weddings, funerals, social and

political meetings (usually held to resolve local problems), and work parties (for

creating new agricultural fields). The hide-workers prepare the bovine horns for this

ritual use. If the artisan is requested to blow the horn within his region, he is often

not paid for this work. The artisans do not mind, because "they want to get along

with the people," or because they want to keep the land that the people have given

them. However, they may receive 1 to 5 ETB (US $0.15 to 0.77), if they work

outside their community. The latter does occur, as artisans do not live in every

village and subdistrict. Again, the artisan uses products of his work, horns, to

mediate between life, death, and social disharmony.

In the past, artisans also performed both male and female (clitorectomy)

circumcision. The artisan received some food from the ceremony in exchange for


the operation, but in general was not paid. The hide-workers used a metal knife for

circumcision. The knife could be used to circumcise more than one individual and

may be in use for several years. In the distant past, stone rather than iron was used

for this ceremony. The knife used for a mala circumcision had to be made by or

reheated by a mala smith, although a mana/chinasha or degala artisan performs the

circumcision. Both group and individual ceremonies were performed at the mala

debusha or at the degala debusha. The Gamo puberty rites of passage are similar to

other systems, and include a period of separation, learning, and reintegration (Van

Gennep 1960). After circumcision, the household provided the initiate (referred to

as gatchino, which means being born) with a rich diet of meat and butter, during the

period of isolation. Then, boys hunted an animal and hung it outside their

household, as a symbol of their ability to provide for their future family. For the

next nine months, the initiate did little work and his family fed him, as he

symbolically proceeded through a period of gestation. All the initiates of the dere

demonstrated their bond between one another by using the same river to bath in. The

initiates went into the largest local town presenting themselves to the community

(sofie) wearing an ostrich feather on their heads, indicating that they were fertile and

mature. Female initiates did not hunt or participate in a communal bath.

The Gamo require circumcision before an individual can produce children

and before a man can become a sacrificer/leader in the community. Degala and

mana/chinasha initiates are not presented in a sofie ceremony to the community after

circumcision, which denies them their fertile citizen status within Gamo society.

This reinforces societal taboos restricting sexual intercourse between degala and

mana/chinasha with each other and with mala. The implication is that any such

interaction would be barren and even dangerous because wasting one's own fertility

upsets the ancestors. Yet, the artisan as a dependent on others and as an impure

individual orchestrates the circumcision ceremony again acting as mediator by

instigating rebirth and the subsequent fertility of the initiate. During the socialist

period, the national government of Ethiopia outlawed local ceremonies marking

ethnicity and local identities, which undermined the artisan's role in Gamo society.

Today, many people go to the several clinics scattered sparsely across Gamo territory

for circumcision (male and female).

The hide-workers use the same materials (cattle by products such as horns, as

well as stone) to fulfill their economic roles as leather producers to aid them in

carrying out their social roles in society including healing, announcing events, and

circumcision. Hence, the materials they use every day to maintain a livelihood have

secondary functions within the Gamo social-economic system. Since the technology

of hide-working is tied to larger social contexts, the variation in the material culture

of the Gamo hide-workers may rest with the origins of caste formation within Gamo

society. Among the studies of Omotic societies, there have been two proposals

concerning the origins of artisans. Haberland's (1984) study of the Dizi suggests that

an immigration of the Gonga people, who were descendants from northern Christian

Ethiopia, came upon the Dizi and implemented their caste-structuring system on the

cultivators and pastoral peoples making ethnically different groups within one

dominion. In contrast, Todd (1978a) suggests that the origin of caste groups in

Ethiopia is not a result of their incorporation into host societies. Todd argues that

craft specialization arises through a process of internal social differentiation. He

states that smiths produced better tools, which led to a more efficient agriculture that

in turn enabled the population to support fulltime smiths. Pastoralism and hunting

provided many skins, and the need for skin shields to protect the chief led to

specialized hide-workers. In essence, Todd advocates that the development of an

internal surplus led to the creation of specialization and social differentiation. Oral

histories and future archaeological work may help to resolve whether or not Gamo

craft-specialization and their associated tools result from external influences and/or

internal development.

Political-ritual positions

Thirty years ago, Gamo society consisted of ten political districts (deres)

including the Bonke, Borada, Dita, Doko, Dorze, Kamba, Kogo, Ganta, Ochollo, and

Zada (Figure 3-3). Each dere is separated from its neighbor by a river or mountain

ridge. These areas are not typically inhabited and are considered the locations for the

ancestral spirits (Cartledge 1995:140). In 1976, the Ethiopian government

reorganized deres into peasant associations and local administrative regions,

awardjas, to include DitaDaromalo (a combination of the Gamo Dita dere and two

other ethnic groups Daro and Malo), Kamba, Bonke, Borada-Abaya, Chencha

(Doko, Dorze, and, Kogo), and Arba Minch (Ganta and Ochollo). Since the

inception of the new Ethiopian government in 1990, the Gamo people have worked

to reinstate their traditional political/ritual structure, which the socialist government

forbade. Today the Ethiopian national government considers the Gamo people part