African Archaeological Review

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 501–529 | Cite as

A Reconsideration of Rwandan Archaeological Ceramics and their Political Significance in a Post-Genocide Era

  • John Daniel Giblin
Original Article


This paper reviews Rwandan ceramic typologies and integrates these with recent regional ones through the consideration of four new ceramic assemblages dating to three distinct phases across the past 2,000 years. In addition to providing a synthesis of ceramic approaches as a research resource, it also suggests that ceramics previously termed type C might now better be understood as a transitional form of Urewe. In so doing, it both describes how previous accounts of Rwanda's archaeological ceramics reproduced a contested ethno-racial colonial construction of Rwandan society and suggests the replacement of these with non-ethno-racial explanations of material culture change proposed elsewhere for comparable circumstances in Great Lakes Africa. Finally, as the government seeks to reintroduce secondary school history teaching using archaeological narratives, it discusses the contemporary political significance of this and other research in post-genocide Rwanda, arguing that archaeology, whether framed in technical language or not, has contemporary political reference.


Urewe Roulette-decorated Rwanda Ethnicity Post-genocide Politics of archaeology 


Cet article passe en revue les typologies proposées pour la céramique rwandaise et les intègre dans une perspective régionale récente qui comprend quatre nouveaux assemblages datant de trois phases distinctes des deux derniers millénaires. Outre une synthèse de la façon dont les analyses céramiques ont servi d'outil de recherche, l'article suggère que les céramiques précédemment regroupées sous l'appellation ‘type C’ correspondent vraisemblablement à une forme transitoire de Urewe. Ce faisant, il montre comment les précédentes interprétations de la céramique archéologique du Rwanda reproduisaient une conception coloniale ‘ethno-raciale’ de la société rwandaise, aujourd'hui remise en cause. L'auteur suggère le remplacement de ces interprétations par des explications non ‘ethno-raciales’ des changements touchant la culture matérielle, comme cela a été proposé pour des contextes similaires dans la région des Grands Lacs. Enfin, au moment où le gouvernement Rwandais cherche à réintroduire l'enseignement de l'histoire en secondaire, en exploitant les récits archéologiques, il discute de la signification politique actuelle des recherches archéologiques dans le Rwanda de l'après-génocide, en soulignant le fait que l'archéologie constitue une référence politique contemporaine, qu'elle soit formulées ou non dans un langage technique.



The Arts and Humanities Research Council funded the author's Ph.D. research at University College London, with additional fieldwork assistance from the Institute of Archaeology Awards, University College London Graduate School and the Central Research Fund of the University of London. The research was conducted with permission of the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda (INMR) under their institutional umbrella. The INMR and the British Institute in Eastern Africa provided assistance in Rwanda. Andrew Reid supervised the author's doctoral research, and the radiocarbon dates were obtained through an AHRC/NERC-ORADS dating grant awarded to Andrew Reid. The author would also like to thank Ceri Ashley, Charlotte Cross, Jane Humphris, and Andrew Reid and the anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticisms regarding earlier drafts of this paper. Any errors or omissions, however, are the responsibility of the author alone.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lecturer in Heritage and Tourism, Institute for Culture and Society, School of Social Sciences and PsychologyUniversity of Western SydneyPenrithAustralia

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