African Archaeological Review

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 145–167 | Cite as

Nkope: The Early Ironworking Pottery Tradition of Southern Coastal Tanzania

  • Amandus P. KwekasonEmail author
Original Article


This paper discusses Early Ironworking (EIW) pottery traditions of the southern coast of Tanzania. The beginning of the trend toward settled village communities in large parts of southeastern Africa was assumed to result from the southward movements of Bantu speakers who are presumed to have introduced the earliest evidence of domestication and sedentary behaviour, as well as iron- and pottery-making skills. The corollary of this was that the earliest settled villages of the coast were considered to have been of the Kwale tradition, which is a coastal variant of EIW ceramics that dates from the third and fourth centuries ad on the northern and central coasts of eastern Africa. Recent studies on the southern coast of Tanzania have revealed an EIW pottery tradition with a strong resemblance to the Nkope tradition of the southwestern interior, corresponding to the woodland belt on the southern edge of the equatorial forest zone. The temporal pattern of this tradition does not suggest any direction of movement but rather an axis of interactions between the coast and interior, at least since the last millennium bc.


Southern Tanzanian coast Early Ironworking Kwale tradition Nkope tradition 


Cette communication traite des débuts de la tradition de la poterie à l’âge du fer sur la côte sud de la Tanzanie. Les origines de l’installation de villages dans le Sud Est de l’Afrique sont essentiellement dues à des populations Bantoues qui ont laissé derrière eux les premières traces dans la région de domestication et de sédentarisation ainsi que de l’usage du fer et de la poterie. En lien avec cette théorie, l’on considère que les premiers occupants de la côte Est ont été ceux de l’époque KWALE aux 3ème et 4éme siècles avant notre ère, précisément au Nord Est de la côte africaine. De récentes études sur la côte Sud ont révélé aussi une tradition ancienne de poterie de l’âge de fer ressemblant beaucoup à la tradition NKOPE du Sud Ouest de l’intérieur du continent. Cela correspond à la « ceinture forestière » (woodland belt) du sud de la forêt équatoriale. Les évolutions temporelles de cette tradition ne suggèrent pas vraiment de déplacement ou même une direction dans l’évolution mais plutôt un axe d’interaction entre la côte et l’intérieur des terres, au moins depuis le dernier millénaire de notre ère.



The research that produced this paper was enabled by the African Archaeological Network (AAN) through the University of Dar es Salaam. It was conducted under the auspices of the National Museum of Tanzania, with standing permission from the Antiquities Department, Tanzania. Prof. Felix Chami contributed as the Coordinator of the AAN and supervisor during the analysis of the pottery. Dr. Paul Msemwa, Dr. Bertram Mapunda, Dr. Innocent Pikirayi, Prof. Simiyu Wandibba, and Prof. Chapurukha Kusimba are thanked for their comments and support during the research analysis. Thank you also to the anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments. Special thanks to Dr. Adria LaViolette for her tireless efforts in helping bring the publication of this paper to fruition. [The Editor likewise thanks Dr. Kwekason for his enormous patience, good faith and good cheer in the revision process.]


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Museum of TanzaniaDar es SalaamTanzania

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