African Archaeological Review

, Volume 29, Issue 2–3, pp 209–251 | Cite as

Surveying the Boundaries of Historical Linguistics and Archaeology: Early Settlement in South Central Africa

  • Kathryn M. de Luna
Original Article


Drawing on evidence from South Central Africa, this paper explores two methods for linking the linguistic and archaeological records. Since the 1960s, scholars have correlated the hypothesized spatial and temporal overlaps of linguistic speech communities and pottery traditions, with varying success in the face of revisions to linguistic classifications and debates over pottery typologies. This paper assesses similar correlations between speech communities within the Bantu-Botatwe family and ceramic traditions of South Central Africa. Then, it proposes direct associations for specific activities and tools attested in both the linguistic and archaeological records in order to test correlations between pottery traditions and speech communities as well as the reliability of glottochronology. The development of a dense cluster of direct associations between the two records converging on the “when and where” of historical processes allows for the incorporation of theoretical and historical interpretations founded on one body of evidence into narratives developed from another type of data and, therefore, facilitates a “peer” engagement between the disciplines.


Botatwe Bantu Historical linguistics Iron Age South Central Africa Glottochronology 


Avec les données du sud de l’Afrique centrale, cet article explore deux méthodes pour relier les évidences linguistiques et archéologiques. Depuis les années 1960, les chercheurs ont corrélé les chevauchements hypothèse spatiale et temporelle des communautés linguistiques et les traditions de poterie, avec un succès variable à cause des révisions des classifications linguistiques et débats sur les typologies poterie. Cet article évalue les corrélations similaires entre les communautés linguistiques au sein de la famille bantoue Botatwe et traditions céramiques du centre-sud de l’Afrique. Ensuite, il propose des liens directs pour des activités spécifiques et des outils attestée tant dans les évidences linguistiques et archéologiques en vue de tester les corrélations entre les traditions de poterie et des communautés linguistiques ainsi que la fiabilité de la glottochronologie. Le développement d’une groupe des liens directs entre les deux genres d’évidences qui convergent vers le «quand et où» des processus historiques permet l’incorporation des interprétations théoriques et historiques fondée sur un ensemble de preuves dans les récits développés à partir d’un autre type de données, et donc, peuvent faciliter l’engagement entre les disciplines.



I appreciate funding provided by Fulbright Hays, Northwestern University, and Rice University for various fieldwork periods between 2005 and 2011. I gratefully acknowledge the intellectual support of colleagues at the Livingstone Museum and the Universities of Zambia, Namibia, and Botswana. Ideas presented in this paper developed out of training under David Schoenbrun, Timothy Earle, Chap Kusimba, and Andrew Reid. I am extremely fortunate to have two Africanist archaeologists as colleagues at Rice University, Susan McIntosh and Jeff Fleisher, who patiently teach me about their field. This paper was written for a methodological conference convened at Rice University in March, 2011, “Thinking across the African Past: Archaeological, Linguistic, and Genetic Research on the Precolonial African Past,” and benefitted from comments made by the participants. Many thanks to Jean Niswonger at the Fondren Library GIS lab at Rice University for her generous and frequent help developing the maps, Adwoa Hinson at Brown University for compiling some of the archaeological data represented in the maps and figures, and to the anonymous reviewers of this journal. All errors are, of course, my own.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.History Department—MS 42Rice UniversityHoustonUSA

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