Gold. Copper. Iron. Metal working in Africa has been the subject of both public lore and extensive archaeological investigation. Here, four of the leading contemporary researchers on this topic attempt to provide a complete synthesis of current debates and understandings: Where, how, and when was metal first introduced to the continent? How were iron and copper tools, implements, and objects used in everyday life, in trade, in political and cultural contexts? What role did metal objects play in the ideological systems of precolonial African peoples? Substantive chapters address the origins of metal working and the technology and the various uses and meanings of copper and iron. An ethnoarchaeological account in the words of a contemporary iron worker enriches the archaeological explanations. This book provides a comprehensive, timely summary of our current knowledge.
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This book is a very welcome addition to the Africanist literature. Its major strength is the position chosen by the authors in ongoing debates about the past and future of anthropology. Their work reflects the shift away from a grand biology-derived paradigm of social 'evolution' and toward a more modest and humanistic concern for the particular.... I strongly recommend this book on the basis of its ambition and its wealth of detail. (Colleen E. Kriger, University of North Carolina at Greensboro International Journal of African Historical Studies)
This book is a welcome addition to an excellent and growing list by AltaMira Press on African archaeology and prehistory.... [Bisson's] synthesis of ethnohistoric accounts of copper smelting in Central Africa is perhaps the best available rendering of how copper smelting was conducted.... De Barros brings an informed and wide-ranging synthesis to a complicated topic that is a phenomenally rich field of symbolic study.... [This book is] also an excellent reference to more particular and authoritative literature. It has obvious importance to archaeologists and other scholars interested in ideology and technology. (Peter Schmidt, University of Florida American Antiquity)
If only the rest of the world had the rich record of metallurgy and society that Africa has! In the US archaeologists struggle with bits, literally bits, of rare prehistoric metallurgical data, from which they wring (or, too often, invent) a past for indigenous metal-using societies. Not so in the Africa depicted by Bisson and company. The book begins with a comprehensive summary of metals and precolonial African society by Augustin F.C. Holl. This very useful chapter is followed by detailed accounts of early copper working (Bisson) and early ironworking (Philip de Barros), each focused not only on rich, dense, field-based material evidence but full accounts of the social context of mining, smelting, smithing, and trading. The final chapter is a narrative ethnographic account of traditional ironworking as collected by S. Terry Childs in contemporary Uganda. This is an absolutely first-rate book blending historical, archaeological, and ethnographic data that will correct widely held misconceptions about African technologies while providing an entertaining read. Highly recommended for academic collections. (S.R. Martin, Michigan Technological University CHOICE)
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