Faculty Publications


Ceramic ethnoarchaeology among the Gamo of southwestern Ethiopia.

SelectedWorks Author Profiles:

John Arthur

Document Type


Publication Date


Date Issued

January 2000

Date Available

July 2016


The goal of this research is to provide an understanding of ceramic assemblage variation in the interpretation of nonwestem agrarian societies. My research in a contemporary setting was undertaken among the Gamo people of southwestern Ethiopia. The Gamo are an agrarian society who produce and use pottery for the daily activities of cooking, serving, storing, and transporting water and a variety of foods. I spent two years working among the Gamo focusing on pottery procurement, production, distribution, use, reuse, and discard within a household context. I use the life-cycle of pottery to explore how pots move through different social and economic contexts from the time they are produced to eventual discard. In addition, research issues concentrating on spatial analysis, use-alteration, population size, and use-life are explored through the regional, social, and economic conditions of Gamo society. I inventoried and measured 1,058 vessels from 60 households in three villages. My study indicated that ceramic variability exists between regions, castes, and economic ranks throughout the entire life-cycle and within the larger issues of space, population, and vessel use-life. The regional analyses revealed dramatic differences between pottery-producing and non-pottery-producing villages concerning how households obtain, use, mend, reuse, and discard their pottery, as well as how pottery correlates with population size, storage of vessels, and vessel longevity. The analyses concerning caste and economic wealth variability concluded that household ceramic assemblage variation has great potential to decipher household socioeconomic differences. The significance of this project is that it will allow archaeologists to move beyond commonsense inferences about ceramics to those derived from detailed documentation in a living context. Finally, this ethnoarchaeological research will allow for global cross-cultural comparisons and, more specifically, aid researchers in interpreting regional, social, and economic variability at Ethiopian archaeological sites.


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