African Archaeological Review

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 165–176 | Cite as

Iron smelting and interethnic conflict among precolonial Maa-speaking pastoralists of north-central Kenya

  • Roy Larick


The sparse archaeological remains attributed to pastoralists in north-central Kenya include quantities of smelting debris. A preliminary investigation suggests that smelting sites occur in two distinct locations: a majority in the lowlands at mountain bases or plains oases, and a minority on low mountain ridges. Mountain-base sites would offer direct access to the natural and human resources required for smelting ores, forging iron, and exchanging finished implements. At ridge-top sites, however, these resources would be inaccessible. Descendants of the last Maa-speaking smelters suggest that pre-colonial blacksmiths may periodically have resettled in mountains to continue their craft in the face of intense interethnic conflict. The conflict hypothesis is evaluated against oral traditions and archaeological evidence.


Human Resource Cultural Study Preliminary Investigation Direct Access Archaeological Evidence 
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Les vestiges archéologiques attribués aux pastoralistes de la région nord-centrale du Kenya comprennent des quantités de débris de fonte. Une investigation préliminaire suggère que des gisements de fondeurs se trouvent dans deux situations différentes: la plupart sont dans la plaine au pied des montagnes ou dans des oasis, tandis qu'une minorité de gisements se trouve sur de basses crêtes de montagnes. Les gisements au pied des montagnes offriraient un acces direct aux ressources naturelles et humaines necessaires pour fondre les minérais, forger le fer, et échanger des outils achevés. Par contre, dans les gisements de crête, ces ressources seraient inaccessibles. Les descendants des derniers fondeurs de langue Maa suggèrent que des forgerons précoloniaux ont peut-être ré-occupé les montagnes périodiquement et poursuivi leur métier face aux conflits intenses entre différents groupes ethniques. L'hypothèse du conflit est evaluée par rapport aux traditions orales et aux vestiges archéologiques.


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© Cambridge University Press 1986

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  • Roy Larick

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