African Archaeological Review

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 75–92 | Cite as

Forming and Shaping Pottery Boundaries in Contemporary South-Eastern Botswana

  • Phenyo C. ThebeEmail author
  • Karim Sadr
Original Article


In southern African archaeology, the equation of pottery styles with archaeological ‘cultures’ and their attribution to the antecedents of contemporary ethnic groups has been a common practice for a long time. Ethnoarchaeological studies from other parts of Africa and beyond have shown that the matter is complex and that stylistic and technological boundaries in ceramic distributions can reflect different kinds of social boundaries under different circumstances. To expand on these findings and make them locally relevant, a large-scale ethnoarchaeological study of 41 potters in south-eastern Botswana aims for a better understanding of ceramic technological style and boundary relations. Here, we present and explain only the results concerning the boundaries in the forming and shaping stage of ceramic vessel manufacture. We conclude that learning networks explain the visible boundaries in the technological style of forming and shaping pots in south-eastern Botswana today; language and ethnic affiliation do not. Boundaries in the other stages in the operational sequence of pottery manufacture, such as clay sourcing and preparation, vessel surface treatment and decoration, firing and finishing, will be presented in a series of further publications.


Pottery style Pottery technology Ethnoarchaeology Social boundaries Botswana 


En archéologie de l’Afrique australe, l’équation de styles de poterie avec ‘cultures’ archéologiques, et leur attribution aux antécédents de groupes ethniques contemporaine a été une pratique courante depuis longtemps. Les études ethnoarchéologiques provenant d’autres parties de l’Afrique et au-delà ont montré que la question est. complexe et que les frontières stylistiques et technologiques dans les distributions de céramique peut refléter différents types de frontières sociales dans des circonstances différentes. Pour développer sur ces résultats et les rendre pertinentes au niveau local, une étude ethnoarchéologique à grande échelle de 41 potiers dans le sud-est. du Botswana vise à une meilleure compréhension de ces relations. Ici, nous présentons et expliquons que les résultats concernant les limites dans l’étape de formation et de mise en forme de la céramique. Nous concluons que les réseaux d’apprentissage expliquent les limites visibles dans le style technologique de former et de façonner des pots dans le sud-est. du Botswana; la langue et l’appartenance ethnique ne le font pas. Les limites sociaux dans les autres étapes de la séquence de fonctionnement de la fabrication de la poterie, tels que l’approvisionnement de l’argile et de la préparation, le traitement de surface de la cuve et de la décoration, la cuisson et la finition seront présentés dans une série d’autres publications.



We thank the 41 potters in south-eastern Botswana for generously allowing us into their homesteads to conduct interviews and document the manufacture of ceramic vessels. Thanks also to the research assistants who took part in the field work: Tjangu Matanire, Tinae Gopolang, John Lephalo, Tsholofelo Selepeng and Botho Gabalape. We thank the University of Botswana and the University of Witwatersrand for supporting this project.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


This study was funded by Universities of Witwatersrand and Botswana.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Archaeology Unit, Department of HistoryUniversity of BotswanaGaboroneBotswana
  2. 2.School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental StudiesUniversity of WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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