African Archaeological Review

, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 29–51 | Cite as

Roulette decoration on African pottery: technical considerations, dating and distributions

  • Robert Soper


The study of roulette decoration on African pottery has received little attention from archaeologists, with the result that a useful tool for culture historical reconstruction is going to waste. In this paper, a classification and description of various types of roulettes and some of their characteristics are put forward, and rouletting is distinguished from other techniques of impression with which it may be confused. The archaeological and ethnographic distribution of rouletting is then examined. The ethnographic evidence is found to be insufficiently precise and the archaeological evidence scanty and often of doubtful reliability. It is tentatively concluded that the earliest appearance of ‘cord’ rouletting was in the later Neolithic of the southern Sahara and that it may date from post-Meroitic times in the Nile basin. Carved wooden roulettes are first found in the early Iron Age Nok ‘culture’ of Nigeria. Rouletting starts much later in eastern Africa, where there is some reason to associate it with speakers of various branches of the Nilotic languages.


Iron Cultural Study Archaeological Evidence Technical Consideration Early Appearance 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


L'étude de la décoration par roulette sur la céramique africaine ayant jusqu'à maintenant peu attiré l'attention des archéologues, ce trait est resté sous-exploité pour la reconstruction de l'histoire culturelle. Cet article propose une classification et une description de certains types de roulettes et de leurs caractéristiques. Nous distinguons également entre décoration faite par roulette et d'autres techniques d'impression avec lesquelles elle est parfois confondue. Les répartitions ethnographiques et archéologiques de cette technique sont alors étudiées. Il s'avère que les témoignages ethnographiques n'ont pas la précision souhaitable, et que les données archéologiques sont à la fois peu abondantes et souvent d'une fiabilité douteuse.

Dans l'état actuel des connaissances, l'apparition de roulettes en ‘cordelette’ semble remonter au Néolithique récent dans le Sahara méridionale et ne s'introduire dans le bassin du Nil qu'après la période méroitique. Les roulettes en bois sculptées sont attestées pour la première fois dans la civilisation de Nok de l'âge du fer ancien au Nigeria. La décoration par roulette débute beaucoup plus tard en l'Afrique de l'est, où l'on a quelque raison de supposer son association avec les représentants de plusieurs rameaux des langues nilotiques.


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© Cambridge University Press 1985

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  • Robert Soper

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