ArticlePDF Available

Abstract

and Keywords Africa hosts some of the oldest mines (for exploiting ochre used in personal adornment) in the world, but the ones that relate to the transformation of rocks to metal occur much lat er when compared to those found in Eurasia. Throughout the world, the processes of identifying and winning ores from parent rock in order to transform them into metals and, ultimately, into usable objects is indeed considered to be a novelty. African ethno-ar chaeological research suggests that the realization that certain rocks contained sufficient quantities of metal for heat-mediated reduction into metals, as well as the appreciation of the different properties of targeted metals, have never been difficult issues to the local Africans but archaeometallurgists are still rationalizing how this novelty began without an apprenticeship phase, especially south of the Egyptian pyramids. Indigenous sub-Saha ran Africa metallurgy is laden with symbolism, ritual, and taboos. This particular aspect made the whole craft to be derided by Western science as magical and therefore unwor thy of proper scientific study. This prejudiced thinking has since been discredited by sound research, but the ripple effects still linger and archaeometallurgical research is still generally underfunded when compared to other elements of anthropological inquiry. Nonetheless, the limited research conducted to date firmly highlight the direction of preindustrial mining and metallurgical research in this region. In a pattern unknown in Eurasia, where copper and bronze preceded iron production in a very gradual process, sub-Saharan Africa metallurgy was ushered in by the simultaneous advent of iron and copper in parts of East, Central, and West Africa before this metallurgy was introduced to the southern subcontinent. Gold, tin, and cuprous alloys (mostly bronze and brass) were then introduced after centuries of ongoing iron and copper metallurgy. As the last block to take up metallurgy, Southern Africa is often uncritically assumed not to have had an in novative aptitude, but the historiography of mining and metallurgy of the whole sub-Saha ran Africa constantly evokes prejudiced thinking about African incapacity or the counter discourse. A more careful reading of sub-Saharan metallurgy literature places this craft at par with the equivalent from Eurasia. Considering that the African continent is the cra dle of humankind, this is not surprising. Fortunately, as products of a high-temperature process, archaeometallurgical objects and waste by-products retain in their physical and chemical properties partial histories of the transformations they went through, allowing archaeometallurgists glimpses into the technologies of past societies. Guided by concepts such as "materiality" and in agreement with Maussian thinking, Africanist archaeometal
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 1 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
Subject: Archaeology Online Publication Date: Jul 2020
DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190854584.013.64
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Foreman Bandama
Summary and Keywords
Africa hosts some of the oldest mines (for exploiting ochre used in personal adornment) in
the world, but the ones that relate to the transformation of rocks to metal occur much lat
er when compared to those found in Eurasia. Throughout the world, the processes of
identifying and winning ores from parent rock in order to transform them into metals
and, ultimately, into usable objects is indeed considered to be a novelty. African ethno-ar
chaeological research suggests that the realization that certain rocks contained sufficient
quantities of metal for heat-mediated reduction into metals, as well as the appreciation of
the different properties of targeted metals, have never been difficult issues to the local
Africans but archaeometallurgists are still rationalizing how this novelty began without
an apprenticeship phase, especially south of the Egyptian pyramids. Indigenous sub-Saha
ran Africa metallurgy is laden with symbolism, ritual, and taboos. This particular aspect
made the whole craft to be derided by Western science as magical and therefore unwor
thy of proper scientific study. This prejudiced thinking has since been discredited by
sound research, but the ripple effects still linger and archaeometallurgical research is
still generally underfunded when compared to other elements of anthropological inquiry.
Nonetheless, the limited research conducted to date firmly highlight the direction of
preindustrial mining and metallurgical research in this region. In a pattern unknown in
Eurasia, where copper and bronze preceded iron production in a very gradual process,
sub-Saharan Africa metallurgy was ushered in by the simultaneous advent of iron and
copper in parts of East, Central, and West Africa before this metallurgy was introduced to
the southern subcontinent. Gold, tin, and cuprous alloys (mostly bronze and brass) were
then introduced after centuries of ongoing iron and copper metallurgy. As the last block
to take up metallurgy, Southern Africa is often uncritically assumed not to have had an in
novative aptitude, but the historiography of mining and metallurgy of the whole sub-Saha
ran Africa constantly evokes prejudiced thinking about African incapacity or the counter
discourse. A more careful reading of sub-Saharan metallurgy literature places this craft
at par with the equivalent from Eurasia. Considering that the African continent is the cra
dle of humankind, this is not surprising. Fortunately, as products of a high-temperature
process, archaeometallurgical objects and waste by-products retain in their physical and
chemical properties partial histories of the transformations they went through, allowing
archaeometallurgists glimpses into the technologies of past societies. Guided by concepts
such as “materiality” and in agreement with Maussian thinking, Africanist archaeometal
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 2 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
Figure 1. African metallurgical blocks and some key
sites mentioned in the text.
Modified after Chirikure (2015).
lurgists consider the so-called magic to be just as important as the technical control be
cause there is no chasm between the technological and anthropological factors of arti
facts, and all technologies falls within the broader social paradigm of their construction.
Keywords: preindustrial African metallurgy, genesis of African metallurgy, metallurgical innovations, anthropolo
gy of technology, archaeomining, bloomery metallurgy
Introduction to Indigenous African Metallurgy
The locus and locale of this study is Africa, the 30,301,596 square kilometers land mass
that is spatially superior to the combined size of India, the United States, China, Argenti
na, and Europe. The unsurmountable task of unpacking the various aspects of preindus
trial metallurgy makes the partitioning of Africa into blocks inevitable. While this task is
achievable, the north–south division of the African continent should be adequately ex
plained because prejudiced Westerners, such as Hegel (1748, republished 1956, 99) un
scrupulously maintained that North Africa is no part of Africa because of connections
with Eurasia and that beyond this subcontinent, Africa itself does not exist (no history, no
movement, and no development). With an apology to Africanists, the author maintains the
north–south divide for nothing more than convenience that is driven by the patterns, pur
poses, paces, and periods of metallurgy that appear to be distinct between parts of north
Africa (Egypt in particular) and sub-Saharan Africa. This work has a strong sub-Saharan
Africa bias. In this broad region, metallurgical histories are further divided into West,
Central, and East Africa on one block and Southern Africa on the other (Figure 1).
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 3 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
It is also unfortunate that any discourse about precolonial Africa cannot totally escape the
modern boundaries drawn at the 1884–1885 Berlin Conference (Figure 1), but the contex
tual understanding of these places does not necessarily follow these national borders.
The first African participant of metallurgy is Egypt (5000–3000 BCE). This took place in
the Eurasian Copper Age, and for Egyptians and Eurasians, their initial motivation lay in
the appreciation of the colors (luster) of native copper and its ores as grave goods for
adorning the dead. They later discovered that heat could transform the colors of these
ores, and in this way, melting followed. Accordingly, simple melting preceded formal
smelting and, just like in Eurasia, Egyptian metallurgy was adopted very gradually, from
the Copper Age to the Bronze Age (3000–1500 BCE) before mastery of the technologically
complex iron (Iron Age c. 800 BCE onward). However, the advance of iron technology
(with iron physically superior to bronze in the utilitarian sphere) in Egypt was halted by
millennia-old social prestige issues and chiefly networks that preferred bronze until after
the invasion by the Assyrians. Egypt is not alone in this regard, as southern Scandina
vians also rejected iron metallurgy for several hundred years because of the preference
toward bronze, which was held in high regard by nobility and was embedded in social
prestige (Kristiansen 2005, 154). Other parts of North Africa appear to have received
metallurgy from the Phoenicians around 800 BCE, but there is no evidence of a south
ward Phoenician penetration beyond these regions, nor do the patterns southward show
resemblance to the northern metallurgical picture.
In sharp contrast to Egypt, North Africa, and Eurasia, metallurgy in West, Central, and
East Africa kick-started with the still contested simultaneous working of iron and copper
before 800 BCE. With Eurasia having taken millennia to master iron metallurgy, the al
most inexplicable simultaneous introduction of iron and copper, presumably without ex
ternal help, was bound to be challenged. The debate about these dates is discussed in the
following section (see “ON THE ORIGINS DEBATE”), but it suffices to say that metallurgy
in West, Central, and East Africa took a different pattern from, served a different pur
pose, and spread much faster at a later date than that of Eurasia. Southern Africa is the
last African block to receive metallurgy, but its picture mimics that of its immediate
neighbors (West, Central, and East Africa) from whence came the technology and the peo
ple (ancestral Bantu) early in the 1st millennium CE. This picture extends to the inception
of gold, tin, and alloyed copper, which lagged behind iron and copper metallurgy in the
whole of sub-Saharan Africa until the intensification of long-distance trade via the Indian
Ocean rim (East and Southern Africa) and trans-Saharan route (West Africa). The pattern
contrasts with the initial working of gold, copper, and later bronze before the inception of
iron technology in Egypt and Nubia (Figure 2).
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 4 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
Figure 2. Chronological timeline for the inception of
metallurgy in Africa and adjacent regions. One must
note that the contested dates for iron and copper
metallurgy in parts of West, Central, and East Africa
go back to 2000 BCE.
Modified after Bandama (2013).
On the Origins Debate
The search for the origins of innovations (not just metallurgical innovations) is never
straightforward. Figure 2 shows the limited range of metals worked in preindustrial
Africa involving at least four metals (gold, tin, iron, and copper and its alloys). For sub-Sa
haran Africa, the histories of these metals contrast with the earlier established chronolo
gy for Eurasia in which copper was worked first, followed by bronze, and then iron in a
very gradual process lasting several millennia. In sub-Saharan Africa (West, Central, and
East Africa in particular), the simultaneous appearance of iron and copper appears to
have ignited a long-lasting debate on whether this technology is autochthonous, even
though the initial exchange never involved any sound archaeological data (Lhote 1952;
Mauny 1952; Alpern 2005; Zangato and Holl 2010; Killick 2016). One of the two opposing
camps has remained theory heavy (scenario and hypothesis driven), while the other has
called for the supremacy of actual archaeological data.
The single origin and external origin hypothesis holds that metallurgy was discovered
once in Eurasia before it was subsequently introduced to Africa. For the proponents of
this hypothesis, the complexity of iron (related to temperature regimes that are higher
than those for copper and its alloys) makes it unimaginable that the Africans would have
figured out how to work it without prior apprenticeship phases, as was the case in Eura
sia where copper and bronze were worked for millennia before the mastery of ferrous
metallurgy (Phillipson 1985, 149). To account for the appearance of metal in sub-Saharan
Africa, conduits (Carthage and Meroe) were suggested. Unfortunately, these conduits
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 5 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
could not be valid because their iron chronology is synchronous or later than the dates
for some sites in the West, Central, and East African interior. As a reaction to the external
origin hypothesis, a counter view proposing a local and multiple origin hypothesis was in
evitable.
The local and multiple origins hypothesis initially rose as a reaction to the external ori
gins hypothesis and articulated its argument on the basis of the diversity and ubiquity of
iron technology in Africa, which was thought to suggest a deep-seated culture of experi
mentation that made possible the discovery of iron metallurgy without external assis
tance. In this regard, sub-Saharan Africa would not have been alone because experimen
tations are thought to have triggered metallurgical discoveries in various other places
such as Serbia, Anatolia, India, and the Americas (Radivojevic et al. 2010, 2013; Chirikure
2014). A handful of radiocarbon dates within the range of 2000 and 800 BCE have since
been accumulated in places such as Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger, Central Africa Republic,
Senegal, Togo, Burkina Faso, and the Great Lakes Region (Clist 1989; Grebenart 1988;
MacEachern 1996; Deme and McIntosh 2006; de Barros 2006; Pringle 2009; Eze-Uzoma
ka 2009; Zangato and Holl 2010). A few of these dates have been found to be problemat
ic, and to some researchers, this weakens the status of the rest of the dates, and calls for
their corroboration by other methods such as thermoluminescence dating have been
echoed (Killick et al. 1988; Killick 2004, 2009). The realization that the majority of these
dates fall within the radiocarbon black hole further strengthens the challenge on the sta
tus of these radiocarbon dates, but local origin hypothesis proponents still maintain that
the several radiocarbon dates outside this black hole are enough to fortify the argument
that sub-Saharan Africa discovered metallurgy independently.
A cursory look would suggest relative calm with regard to the origins of metallurgy in
Southern Africa because the first metals here were introduced from West and East Africa
around 200 CE. Contention exists with regard to the advent of tin and bronze metallurgy
in this region. In contrast to the Eurasian case, innovations in tin and bronze in Southern
Africa were additions to already vibrant and deeply embedded iron and copper metallur
gical traditions. Because iron was already in use, it also meant that, unlike in Europe, the
demand for bronze was outside of the mechanical of the alloy hardness, which is higher
than either tin or copper (Herbert 1984). Instead, the innovation of tin, and especially
bronze, may consequently be sought in its value in the expressive sphere, suggesting a
preexisting appreciation of bronze which could not be adequately satisfied by ongoing
copper metallurgy (Bandama, Hall, and Chirikure 2015). Some researchers have suggest
ed that the fact that bronze resembles gold could have triggered the innovation in bronze
and that the presence of the culturally preferable copper (in bronze) cemented the prefer
ence of the alloy over the noble metal (Miller 2003; Killick 2009). The simultaneous dis
covery of both tin and bronze means that one cannot hypothesize a random discovery of
bronze production through an unintentional exploitation of mixed copper–tin ores. In
Southern Africa, most tin was alloyed with copper to make bronze, other than ingots and
rare instances of earrings, hilts for daggers, and tongs (Thompson 1954; Herbert 1984;
Miller 2002; Bandama et al. 2016). Because bronze production was already in full swing
in Eurasia by the second millennium CE (Craddock 2001), southeast African coastal
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 6 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
Figure 3. Simplified chaine operatoire for traditional
iron production.
Modified from Bandama (2010).
traders may have learned about bronze from Eurasians and diffused the idea into the re
gion (Miller 2002; Killick 2009). Yet, unlike gold, which mainly fed into overseas markets,
this alloy was never exported out of the subcontinent in significant quantities, leaving re
gional elite centers as the logical node for the demand for tin and bronze production in
Southern Africa (Bandama, Hall, and Chirikure 2015).
The Chaine Operatoire of African Metallurgy
As a signature craft technology, it is not surprising that metal working in Africa has a
complicated history and that its production line is far from sequential. Depending on the
type of metal, the chain of events (chaine operatoire) for metal objects habitually starts
with the search for (prospecting), acquisition of (mining and collecting), and preparation
of raw materials (beneficiation of ores and charcoal processing), followed by the building
of a reaction infrastructure for smelting (tuyere and furnace construction), smelting
(heat-mediated reduction of ores to metal), bloom cleaning, smithing, and forging, before
they enter the use, discard and recycle contexts (see Figure 3 for an example of iron pro
duction). Other metals are mostly variants of this pattern with the exception of the melt
ing, alloying, and casting stages for nonferrous metallurgy. Discussion of nonferrous pro
duction lines is given in subsequent sections.
Prospecting: Seeing and Searching for Metal in Rocks
Throughout the world, metallurgy rarely commenced with a systematic search for ores to
use in smelting. Instead, unconscious discoveries led to the realization that certain types
of rocks contained sufficient metal for smelting or melting. Once learned, metal workers
in Africa subsequently mastered the techniques of identifying and locating metal-contain
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 7 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
ing rocks using rudimentary but effective prospecting methods. The pinpoint accuracy of
such methods is underlined by the realization in countries such as Zimbabwe, South
Africa, Ghana, and Zambia, to mention a few, that rich ore bodies were exploited before
the onset of, and directed modern prospecting (Summers 1969). Rudimentary prospect
ing methods included a reading of the geology, soil, and vegetation, water tasting down
stream, as well as following alluvial deposits upstream. For much of sub-Saharan Africa,
prospecting (just like the rest of metallurgical activities) was never a purely technical ex
ercise but one that required the blessing, guidance, and intervention of the spirit world.
Accordingly, this practice was often preceded by rituals in order to invoke the good will of
ancestors, evade negative spirits, and sanctify oneself for successful hunting and gather
ing of ores (Buleli 1993; Chirikure 2006, 2015; Haaland 2004). Unfortunately, for a long
period of time, Western science could not comprehend how such magical activities aided
technical processes; thus, the whole craft was derided as unscientific and therefore not
worthy of study. Once the ores were located and identified, the next task was to collect
and carry them to the processing area.
Mining: Winning Ores from Rocks
Southern Africa hosts one of the oldest mines in the world, with about 40,000 years of ex
ploitation on the Bomvu Ridge in Swaziland (Dart and Beaumont 1971), but these mines
were only for iron-rich specularite use for decorative purposes without actual reduction
into metal. The actual collection and use of such minerals go even deeper into antiquity,
dating to around 120,000 years ago, when Middle Stone Age people in parts of South
Africa processed specularite for making pigments. Specularite (for decoration) and
haematite (for smelting) ores have the same chemical composition (Fe O ) and crystalline
structures under the microscope, the only significant difference being the aggregation of
minute crystals, which form a single crystal in specularite compared to aggregates in
haematite. In hand specimens, haematite ores had a red-brown color and a red streak on
the fresh breaks, but unlike specularite, they do not have bright shining sparkles. Togeth
er with magnetite and banded ironstone, haematites are the chief ore types in sub-Saha
ran Africa. Special mention goes to the Chewa people of Malawi who worked low-grade
laterites that are not considered economical in blast furnace technology (Killick 1990).
Erudite selection of ores was so important because in some instances, the success of a
smelt depended on this process. For instance, minimal viscosities in iron slags occur only
in a narrow range of temperatures and compositions, which in precolonial times may
have been controlled by choosing particular ores over and above varying the proportion
of ore to fuel and varying the force of the blast (Rostoker and Bronson 1990).
Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, mining for iron ores was rarely a subsurface process
when compared to copper, gold, or even tin mining. Exceptions do occur as noted by the
occurrence of subsurface precolonial iron mines near Thabazimbi in South Africa (Wood
house 1974) and the Mouhoun Bend in Mali (Holl 2014). Simple quarrying or surface col
lection would have sufficed for most ferrous ores, but when needed, hard rock mining
commenced by sinking vertical or inclined shafts using iron gads (chisels) and hammers.
A similar approach was employed for hard rock mining of copper, tin, or gold ores, but of
2 3
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 8 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
ten these nonferrous mines were deeper (as far as the water table) and developed into
underground shafts, according to ore mineralization. Narrow audits and stopes for venti
lation and lighting were other innovations erroneously associated with child miners by
some researchers (van der Merwe and Scully 1971; Herbert 1984, 45). Other innovations
in nonferrous mines included fire-setting to break hard rock and reach desired ores. The
complexity and know-how in sub-Saharan hard rock mining for copper, tin, and gold ores
was significant enough to cause prejudiced Europeans to deny black African authorship
of some of these mines. Black Africans were relegated to mere laborers under coercion
from their superior foreigner masters (Semitic or Arab races) (Summers 1969; Hammel et
al. 2000). In Southern Africa, gold and copper mining (and occasionally iron mining) is as
sociated with dolly holes (grooves typically made on granitic surfaces for processing met
al and ores) (Huffman 1974).
Most precolonial copper mines have been obliterated by modern mining activities, but the
pattern for their distribution can still be inferred today. Copper mines are rare in East
Africa and they are not widespread in West Africa except in a few places such as Akjoujt
(Mauritania) and Agadez (Niger) (Lambert 1983). The richest copper ore deposits in Sub-
Saharan Africa that were exploited in preindustrial times include the Lufilian Arc cover
ing the Central African Copper Belt in modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo
(DRC) and Zambia (Bowen and Gunatilaka 1977, 129; Bisson 1976). The Zimbabwe
Plateau, parts of eastern Botswana, and northern South Africa also host significant pre
colonial mines (Summers 1969; Swan 1994; Thondhlana 2012).
To date, unequivocal evidence for preindustrial mining for tin in sub-Saharan Africa ap
pears to be limited to two areas: Rooiberg in northern South Africa and the Jos Plateau in
Nigeria. Besides hard rock mining, it is possible to pan for tin ore because cassiterite (the
richest tin ore) is a dense ore that can be easily separated from other lighter materials
(Tylecote 1962, 63). In Rooiberg, the occurrence of alluvial cassiterite as part of the tin
feed at some of the smelting sites has been reported and physiochemical analyses of tin
slags from some sites confirm the presence of heavy elements such as zirconium, which
were most likely retained together with cassiterite during alluvial panning (Wagner and
Gordon 1929, 568; Miller and Hall 2008; Chirikure, Heimann, and Killick 2010; Bandama,
Hall and Chirikure 2015). Alluvial panning for tin ore has also been mooted in the Jos
Plateau (Hodder 1959). Unfortunately, cassiterite panning leaves very little archaeologi
cal traces, and there are other unconfirmed candidates throughout the region such as in
Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Panning, one of the oldest mining techniques in Africa, is almost synonymous with pre
colonial gold working in sub-Saharan Africa, but hard rock mining was also practiced for
the noble metal. Other fascinating exceptions include the East African Kikuyu women and
the West African Mafa people who panned magnetite sands for iron smelting (Cline 1937).
The same principle of density separation worked in gold panning, with the noble metal
being easier to spot in the gangue due to its signature glittering shine. Minor variations
exist, but generally the technique involved scooping and shaking of mineral-rich sand into
a receptacle. Alluvial gold panning was practiced in the Nubian Desert, in the auriferous
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 9 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
zones of Bambuk between Senegal and Falene Rivers, Bure around Upper Niger, the Akan
region of Ghana, the Anyi and Baule regions of Ivory Coast, the greenstone belt of the
Zimbabwean plateau, and parts of Zambia and northern South Africa. Of these cases, the
men who dove into the river bed of the Ankobra in southern Ghana caught the attention
of some early writers and there is an image from a 1668 book (Description of Africa, by
Olfert Dapper) published in Amsterdam that depicts this practice (Habashi 2009).
Melting and Smelting: Winning the Metals from Ores
Meteoric metal and gold (which exist in native form) are the only examples that did not
require smelting in refractory installations. In ancient Egypt, native copper would be used
for adorning the dead, but later, copper was melted for other decorative uses. As for gold,
throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the dust or nuggets of this noble metal were melted in
crucibles to consolidate them into ingots or, rarely, into cast, hammered, or drawn ob
jects.
Iron, tin, and copper ores were reductively smelted in various forms of forced or natural
draught furnace installations. Unlike areas to the north, the highly reducing tall shaft
(natural draught) furnaces were limited to sub-Saharan Africa (Chirikure and Bandama
2014). These furnaces could also produce significant quantities of iron per smelt. Strictly
speaking, natural draught furnaces were a preserve for iron smelting, with copper and tin
smelting being limited to forced draft furnaces. There is evidence, however, from Kansan
shi in the 12th century (Chirikure 2018), for unrepeated experimentation with reducing
copper in natural draught furnaces. Whichever furnace installation was employed, all
smelting was preceded by charcoal preparation, beneficiation of ore, and furnace prepa
ration. Even for highly ritualized sub-Saharan Africa iron smelting, it is not surprising
that mining, charcoal preparation, and transportation of ores and fuel were sometimes re
laxed to ensure maximum utilization of labor through the mobilization of women and chil
dren. The Bassar (Togo), Babungo (Cameroon), and Njanja (Zimbabwe) are some exam
ples of this practice. Beneficiation was often carried out with hammerstones (or iron ham
mers) and anvils, and some of the gangue materials could be physically removed during
this process.
The African bloomery smelting process is relatively better known but varied and replete
with innovations and experimentations. This solid-state reduction technique involved low
ering the melting point of gangue using a self-fluxing recipe, and thus melting the impuri
ties at temperatures in excess of 1200 degrees Celsius, leaving a metal-rich slagged
bloom. The flux often came from the fuel ash, the melting furnace wall, or tuyere, but in
northern South Africa, there have been reports of occasional additions of sand (Prender
gast 1974; Bandama, Chirikure, and Hall 2013). After smelting, the occluded slag and en
trapped charcoal fragments still required cleaning and consolidation under a forge.
Reductive copper smelting happened either in clay furnaces or in crucibles under reduc
ing conditions. Reduction was necessary because most African copper ores occurred as
oxides or carbonates. Just as with iron smelting, the incomplete combustion of charcoal
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 10 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
created carbon monoxide, necessary for reducing ores to usable metal at temperatures
above 1000 degrees Celsius. However, unlike iron smelting, some copper smelts would
have required mechanical crushing of the resultant metal-laden slags from the first re
duction while the bellow-powered copper smelts were about to create free-flowing slag
that floated above the heavier metal (Chirikure 2018). Some North African innovations in
copper smelting included roasting of sulfide-rich copper ores (to drive off the sulfur) be
fore smelting the resultant copper matte, as well as the Egyptian use of their mouths to
blow into reeds that were tipped with clay nozzles (Ogden 2000). In sub-Saharan Africa,
roasting of copper ores and slag-tapping were practiced in the Democratic Republic of
the Congo during the late 19th century, tempering clay crucibles with iron slag having
been done in northern South Africa.
With regard to tin smelting, the precolonial process did not conform to the modern indus
trial two-stage process, where an initial stage involves mild reduction followed by further
smelting under highly reducing conditions in the second stage. Instead, a nuanced one-
stage process was employed in which conditions were manipulated to avoid the detrimen
tal co-reduction of iron and tin (Miller and Hall 2008; Chirikure, Heimann, and Killick
2010). This was a compromise because more tin was lost to the slag, thereby reducing
the metal output.
Alloying
The constituent alloy produced in precolonial sub-Saharan Africa was bronze, and to a
lesser extent, brass and steel. Precolonial gold–silver alloy production was mainly prac
ticed in Egypt, Nubia, Ethiopia, and North Africa (Chirikure 2018). Sub-Saharan Africa
blacksmiths were capable of producing hypereutectoid steel with variable carbon con
tent; ferrite (up to 0.02 percent), cementite (6.67 percent) and ferrite (0.8 percent) (van
der Merwe 1980; Miller 1992; Denbow and Miller 2007). In East Africa, there are reports
of working cast iron which was decarburized to low-carbon steels in crucibles so that it
could be forgeable (Kusimba, Killick, and Cresswell 1994; Kusimba and Killick 2003).
While high-carbon steels must have been produced by the Swahili smiths in the first mil
lennium CE, the possibility remains of importation of such crucible steel (Killick 2009;
Chirikure 2015).
In Eurasia, bronze was probably discovered at an earlier date than the reduction of tin
ores to metal through co-smelting copper ores with noticeable amounts of tin, leading to
the production of unintentional low tin bronzes (Craddock 1995). The same pattern does
not apply in sub-Saharan Africa. Instead, deliberate alloying to produce several low-tin
and standard bronzes using tin mined principally in northern South Africa and Jos Plateau
in Nigeria was carried out in several countries. The alloying was predominantly done by
mixing already smelted tin and copper in ceramic crucibles that were further insulated in
a cluster of large rocks to allow for the pumping of bellows, necessary for melting of
these metals (Wagner and Gordon 1929; Bandama, Moffett, and Chirikure 2017). The
melting temperatures for alloys of brass (930 degrees Celsius) and tin bronze (950 de
grees Celsius) was very high and therefore required receptacles with sufficient mechani
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 11 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
cal stability at high temperatures. Accordingly, at KwaZulu Natal (South Africa), brass
workers used sandstone crucibles (as opposed to the widely used ceramic crucibles)
(Maggs and Miller 1995). Because zinc is very volatile, Eurasians typically worked brass
in constricted (sometimes lidded) vessels in order to force the zinc fumes into the copper
(Rehren 2003, 209; Martinon-Torres and Rehren 2014, 115). Poor brass research cover
age in Africa makes it difficult to be categorical about African brass installations, but gen
erally, the production of this alloy must have been limited to recycling and reworking of
imported brass articles because no zinc deposits were exploited in sub-Saharan Africa
prior to the 19th century.
Fashioning Metal into Objects: Smithing, Fabrication, and Casting
Nuances to the post smelting and melting metallurgical process were based on the type
of metal, alloy, or end product anticipated. Regional variations of specific tasks also oc
curred in Africa. For iron, smithing and fabrication techniques appear to be less varied
when compared to nonferrous ones. Shallow furnaces were typically employed to drive
excess slag from smelted iron blooms, often accompanied by hammering with large ham
merstones. Once the bloom was sufficiently cleaned, simple hammering techniques (hot
and cold working, sometimes accompanied by annealing but without quenching) were
major fabrication techniques for ferrous metallurgy. Fabrication for nonferrous metals al
so employed the same hammering techniques but casting and wire drawing were also
added. While South and East Africa emphasized wire drawing, soldering and lost wax
casting were practiced in West and North Africa as well as in Eurasia (Herbert 1984).
In Southern Africa, casting involved simple pouring of molten metal or alloys into shaped
clay molds or prepared sand to produce ingots (such as rods, buns, and bars). The minia
ture hat-like (mu-Tsuku) ingot of the Lemba and Venda people, as well as the golf club-like
(lerale) ingot of the Sotho–Pedi people appear to crown ingot casting in Southern Africa
(Thompson 1949; Miller 1992, 2010). By contrast, the West African lost wax method used
molds made of beeswax, which burned out after casting to reveal more complex artifacts
(Herbert 1984). Generally, alloys of copper and tin (bronze) or copper and zinc (brass) are
much easier to cast than copper alone because they melt at much lower temperatures
than copper and generate fewer gases to cause blowholes and porosity in the finished
products (Bandama 2013). The Akan gold workers in Ghana also produced impressive
golden objects using the lost wax casting method (Garrand 1989).
Cline (1937) posits that wire drawing was mainly practiced in Southern, East, and North
Africa. Beginning perhaps in the 10th century CE and throughout much of the second mil
lennium, wire drawing appears to have been the principal fabrication method for nonfer
rous metallurgy in Southern Africa (Herbert 1984). Sites dating to this period in Zimbab
we, Zambia, South Africa, and Mozambique continue to exhibit quantities of these wires.
This relatively simple but delicate technique was executed using pincers to pull the ham
mered end of wire through a draw plate (fastened to a tree) with different sizes of holes
(Steel 1975). In some cases, it was the draw plate that was pulled as the pincers were fas
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 12 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
tened to a tree (Herbert 1984). Annealing after each pull and lubricating the plate hole
with fat reduced shearing and produced less striation marks.
Consumption and Distribution of Metals
The African appetites for different metals have been far from straightforward, and the
identification of local and regional patterns was key to successful itinerant trading. In
Egypt, iron technology did not find root until late in the first millennium BC because
bronze was preferable (Killick 2009). By contrast, the same metal was quickly adopted at
the first opportunity in much of sub-Saharan Africa, with bronze and gold lagging behind.
In sub-Saharan Africa, iron appears to have cut across both the utilitarian and the expres
sive spheres, and together with copper, they never lost favor even after the introduction
of cuprous alloys and the noble metal (Bandama et al. 2018). Copper, “the red gold of
Africa,” and its alloys found local meaning in much of sub-Saharan African communities
and were therefore more preferable than gold, much to the delightful bewilderment of
Eurasian traders and travelers (Herbert 1984).
As expected, iron and copper ingots and objects served as convenient stores of value and
were often used as currency in some contexts. In West Africa, iron blooms were traded
and kept as heirlooms, while iron hoes were a form of medium of exchange in parts of
Southern Africa. In the parts of the latter region, copper ingots, such as the X- and H-
shaped ones, served as currency for a long period (Swan 2007). Tin and bronze as well as
other non-metallurgical objects also served as some form of currency, raising a question
about how different modern comprehension of the concept of currency is from the pre
colonial one. For instance, by CE 1600, the Portuguese traveler Joao dos Santos reports
that the “currency” at Sena and Tete consisted of small copper bars, small ingots of tin,
colored beads on strings, and various kinds of cloth and gold (Axelson 1960). More signifi
cantly, the assigning of value in Africa has always been context- and time-specific. For in
stance, silver used to be more valuable than gold in Egypt at one point, but this situation
later reversed (Chirikure 2018).
The Sociology and Spatiality of African Metal
lurgical Practice
One key feature of African metallurgy is that it resists homogenization, yet anthropolo
gists who study the subject are more inclined to homogenize than to seek variations. The
highly ritualized sub-Saharan iron smelting process carries the largest burden of homoge
nization by researchers. To some extent, ethnographic, ethnohistorical, and archaeologi
cal data have shown that in much of this region, iron smelting was considered ritually
akin to the act of procreation and therefore was carried out away from or in seclusion
from women and domestic contexts. Yet there were numerous exceptions, such as the
Ndondondwane and Magogo of South Africa, Njanja and HlambaMlonga of Zimbabwe,
Busanga of Ghana, and Barongo of Tanzania (Schimmin 1893; Maggs and Ward 1984;
Herbert 1993; Schmidt 1996; Chirikure 2007, 2015; Swan 2007). Perhaps the need to cap
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 13 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
italize on labor (from both women and children) was one of the major factors for relocat
ing smelting precincts within domestic space. For instance, in some societies women
were allowed in the smelting area and even participated in ore procurement and furnace
construction, even though the actual smiths and smelters were male (Killick 1990; Her
bert 1993; Kiriama 1993; Schmidt 1997). With alluvial deposits such as gold and tin ores,
more women may have taken part because, as once suggested by Park (1799, 217–218) in
the case of gold mining in Mandingo, women participated in the washing of alluvial ores
because the act resembled cereal winnowing, which they were used to.
Large-scale metal production also made a case for looser application of taboos and pro
scriptions against women. All the same, a blanket application for all large-scale produc
tion situations is not possible, as shown by the case studies of the Bassar (Togo) and
Babungo (Cameroon) iron industries where there was both maximum utilization of labor
through the mobilization of women, children, and slaves in work (such as mining, char
coal preparation, as well as haulage of these materials to the furnace) and the upholding
of rituals by just a few individuals supervising the smelting operations (Herbert 1993; de
Barros 2000; Chirikure 2015). The Kwanyama of southern Angola are known to have in
cluded the whole family in the iron smelting process in which females also took turns with
the pumping of bellows because of the need to meet increased demand (Angebauer 1927,
111). Beyond iron smelting, the Mafa (Cameroon) invited the whole family to witness ritu
als associated with the establishment of a new forge (Labouret 1931, 68) and in Kenya,
some forges were located in private places for spiritual reasons, among other functional
considerations (Kusimba 1996, 390). Cases of smithing while naked have also been re
ported (Jeffreys 1952, 152). Even with the normally less ritualized copper smelting, some
communities in Burundi forbade the presence of women or strangers during either forg
ing or wire drawing and the smiths were also supposed to refrain from sexual relations
the night before work was undertaken (Herbert 1984, 41). This confirms that African so
cial boundaries of metal working are difficult to define because of so much diversity.
Technically, all iron workers could work copper, gold, tin, bronze, or brass, but there are
contexts in which sociocultural factors prevented some groups from performing some
tasks. For instance, the casting of cult brass images by Ogboni smiths among the Yoruba
was a preserve for men past child-bearing age because the process was surrounded by li
bations, sacrifices, and other rites (Herbert 1984, 40).
Without ethnohistorical intervention, some nuances may have been lost because the most
dominant means of incorporating gender into African smelting was through explicit sexu
al songs and dances (Blakely 2006, 104), and in some cases, ritual “medicines” were ad
ministered orally to the smelters or though placing of organic materials such as pieces of
human afterbirth into the furnace, which do not leave recognizable traces in the archaeo
logical record (McCosh 1979, 163). Nonetheless, examples of “small medicine holes” usu
ally sunk into the floor of iron smelting furnaces can be encountered (Schmidt and Childs
1985; Rowlands and Warnier 1993).
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 14 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
African Metallurgical Innovations
The diversity of African metallurgical practices makes a case for a systematic search for
innovations because, as argued by Kristiansen (2005), innovations are generally part of
an ongoing process of refining routines and efficiency by adding new elements. In its min
imal sense, innovation refers to attempts to put into practice an idea or process thought
to be new to a community, and the term contrasts with invention, which is the first con
ception of that new idea or process (Kristiansen 2005, 151). Taken in this simplest sense,
the list of African innovations becomes almost endless. From the still contested indepen
dent and simultaneous discovery of iron and copper metallurgy in West, Central, and East
Africa to the creative use of sandstone crucibles for brass making in Southern Africa,
African metallurgists appear to have been looking for new ways of winning metals from
ores and transforming them into usable objects. The Egyptians roasted sulfide-contami
nated copper ores to remove the sulfur and added a human element by literally blowing
into the copper smelts with their mouths prior to the advent of various bellow types
(Chirikure 2015). Further to the south, the people of Congo also roasted copper ores to
drive off water and to partially crack the ores before the smelt. In Southern Africa in the
second millennium CE, inception of tin and bronze production is also considered an inno
vation. Though the influence for the alloying of copper with tin may have come from Indi
an Ocean trade connections, the techniques and demand for this alloy largely remained
local and regional (Bandama, Hall and Chirikure 2015).
Other innovations include slag-tapping for both iron and copper smelting processes in
Southern Africa. The use of tall furnaces in which air was fed convectionally without
forced draught power in sub-Saharan Africa is another innovation without direct evidence
of transfer from outside the continent. The pairing of furnaces in order to maximize labor
use by allowing one person to pump two bellows at the same time during periods of inten
sive metal production is another example of metallurgical innovation that has been re
ported in Southern Africa (Maggs 1982). Related to copper smelting is the innovative
tempering of crucibles with crushed iron slag (Thondhlana 2012, 146–147). In East and
West Africa, there are reports of tuyeres that were inserted deep into the furnace, as an
intentional sacrifice to aid slagging (David et al. 1989). Previously, such deep tuyere pro
trusions were linked with the now challenged “preheating hypothesis” in which air pass
ing through the tuyere would have been preheated before it entered the furnace, thereby
ensuring very high temperatures and the production of high-carbon blooms (Avery and
Schmidt 1979; Schmidt 1997). In mining contexts, the use of fire-setting to break rocks
and narrow audits to provide lighting and ventilation in underground copper, tin, and
gold mines is also another innovation (Summers 1969; van der Merwe and Scully 1971,
181–182). With metallurgical research having just scratched the African surface, it can be
anticipated that new research will unearth even more novelties.
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 15 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
Further Reading
Bisson, M. S. 1997. “Copper Metallurgy.” In Encyclopedia of Precolonial Africa: Archaeol
ogy, History, Languages, Cultures, and Environments, edited by J. O. Vogel, 125–132. Lan
ham, MD: AltaMira Press.
References
Alpern, S. 2005. “Did They or Didn’t They Invent It? Iron in Sub-Saharan Africa.” History
in Africa 32: 41–94.
Angebauer, K. 1927. Ovambo. Funfzehn jahre unter Kaffern, Buscheuten und Berzirk
samtmannern. Berlin.
Avery, D. H., and P. Schmidt. 1979. “A Metallurgical Study of Iron Bloomery, Particularly
as Practiced in Buhaya.” Journal of Metals 31 (10): 14–20.
Axelson, E. 1960. Portuguese in South East Africa 1600–1700. Johannesburg: Witwater
srand University Press.
Bandama, F. 2010. “Indigenous Iron Production in South Africa: An Archaeometallurgical
Investigation of Metal Working at Rhenosterkloof 1, Limpopo Province.” Poster presented
at the 13th Joint PANAF-SAFA Conference, Dakar, Senegal, November 2010.
Bandama, F. 2013. “The Archaeology and Technology of Metal Production in the Late Iron
Age of the Southern Waterberg, Limpopo Province, South Africa.” PhD diss., University of
Cape Town.
Bandama, F., S. Chirikure, and S. Hall. 2013. “Ores Sources, Smelters and Archaeometal
lurgy: Exploring Iron Age Metal Production in the Southern Waterberg.” Journal of
African Archaeology 11 (2): 243–267.
Bandama, F., S. Hall, and S. Chirikure. 2015. “Eiland Crucibles and the Earliest Relative
Dating for Tin and Bronze Working in Southern Africa.” Journal of Archaeological Science
62: 82–91.
Bandama, F., A. J. Moffett, T. P. Thondhlana, and S. Chirikure. 2016. “The Production, Dis
tribution and Consumption of Metals and Alloys at Great Zimbabwe.” Achaeometry 58
(S1): 164–181.
Bandama, F., A. J. Moffett, and S. Chirikure. 2017. “Typological and Technological Attrib
utes of Metallurgical Crucibles from Great Zimbabwe (1000–1700 CE)’s Legacy Collec
tions.” Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 12: 646–657.
Bandama, F., S. Chirikure, S. Hall, and I. Shuro. 2018. “Iron Fabrication during the ‘Age’
of Tin and Bronze in the Southern Waterberg of Limpopo Province, South Africa.” Studies
in the African Past 13–14: 1–19.
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 16 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
Bisson, M. S. 1976. “The Prehistoric Copper Mines of Zambia.” PhD diss., University of
California, Santa Barbara.
Blakely, S. 2006. Myth, Ritual and Metallurgy in Ancient Greece and Recent Africa. New
York: Cambridge University Press.
Bowen, R., and A. Gunatilaka. 1977. Copper: Its Geology and Economics. New York: Wiley.
Buleli, N.S. 1993. “Iron-making techniques in the Kivu region of Zaire: Some of the differ
ences between the south Maniema region and north Kivu”. In The Archaeology of Africa:
Food, Metals and Towns, edited by T. Shaw, P. Sinclair, B. Andah, and J. Okpoko, 468–477.
London: Routledge.
Chirikure, S. 2006. “New Light on Njanja Iron Working: Towards a Systematic Encounter
between Ethnohistory and Archaeometallurgy.” South African Archaeological Bulletin 61:
142–161.
Chirikure, S. 2007. “Metals and society: Iron production and its position in Iron Age com
munities of southern Africa.” Journal of Social Archaeology 7 (1): 74–103
Chirikure, S. 2014. “Geochemistry of Ancient Metallurgy: Examples from Africa and Else
where.” In Treatise on Geochemistry, edited by K. Turekean, 169–197. New York: Elsevi
er.
Chirikure, S. 2015. Metals in Past Societies: A Global Perspective on Indigenous
African Metallurgy. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
Chirikure, S. 2018. “Precolonial Metallurgy and Mining across Africa.” In Oxford Re
search Encyclopedia of African History, edited by Thomas Spear. Oxford: Oxford Uni
versity Press.
Chirikure, S., and F. Bandama. 2014. “Indigenous African Furnace Types and Slag Com
position—Is There a Correlation?” Archaeometry 56 (2): 296–312.
Chirikure, S., R. B. Heimann, and D. Killick. 2010. “The Technology of Tin Smelting in the
Rooiberg Valley, Limpopo Province, South Africa.” Journal of Archaeological Science 30:
1–14.
Cline, W. B. 1937. Mining and Metallurgy in Negro Africa. General Series of Anthropology
5. Menasha, WI: George Banta.
Clist, B. 1989. “Archaeology in Gabon 1886–1988.” The African Archaeological Review 7:
59–96.
Craddock, P. 2001. “From Hearth to Furnace: Evidence for the Earliest Metal Smelting
Technology in Eastern Mediterranean.” Paleorient 26: 151–165.
Craddock, P. T. 1995. Early Metal Mining and Production. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh Uni
versity Press.
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 17 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
Dart, R. A., and P. B. Beaumornt. 1971. “On a Further Radiocarbon Date for Ancient Min
ing in Southern Africa.” South African Journal of Science 67: 10–11.
David, N., R. Heimann, D. Killick, and M. Wayman. 1989. “Between Bloomery and Blast
Furnace: Mafa Iron-Smelting Technology in North Cameroon.” African Archaeological Re
view 7 (1): 183–208.
de Barros, P. 2000. “Iron Metallurgy: Social Cultural Context.” In Ancient African Metal
lurgy: The Sociocultural Context, edited by M. Bisson, T. Childs, P. de Barros, and A. Holl,
147–199. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.
de Barros, P. 2006. “The Surprising Early Iron Age Site of Dekpassanware (Togo).” Paper
presented at the Society of Africanist Archaeologists Biennial Conference, Calgary, Alber
ta, Canada, June 22–26.
Deme, A., and S. K. McIntosh. 2006. “Excavations at Walalde: New Light on the Settle
ment of the Middle Senegal Valley by Iron Using Peoples.” Journal of African Archaeology
4 (2): 317–347.
Denbow, J., and D. M. Miller. 2007. “Metal Working at Bosutswe, Botswana.” Journal of
African Archaeology 5: 271–313.
Eze-Uzomaka, P. 2009. “Iron and Its Influence on the Prehistoric Site of Lejja.” Paper pre
sented at the World of Iron Conference, University College London, February 16–20.
Garrard, T. F. 1989. Gold of Africa: Jewellery and Ornaments from Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire,
Mali and Senegal in the Collection of the Barbier-Mueller Museum. Geneva, Switzerland:
Prestel.
Grebenart, D. 1988. Les Premiers Metallurgistes en Afrique Occidentale. Paris: Editions
Errance.
Haaland, R. 2004. “Iron Smelting—A Vanishing Tradition: Ethnographic Study of This
Craft in South-West Ethiopia.” Journal of African Archaeology 2 (1): 65–79.
Habashi, F. 2009. “Gold in the Ancient African Kingdoms.” De Re Metallica 12: 65–69.
Hammel, A., C. White, S. Pfeiffer, and D. Miller. 2000. “Pre-colonial Mining in Southern
Africa.” Journal of the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy 100: 49–56.
Hegel, W. G. F. 1956. The Philosophy of History. Translated by J. Sibree. New York: Dover.
Herbert, E. W. 1984. Red Gold of Africa: Copper in Precolonial History and Culture. Madi
son: University of Wisconsin Press.
Herbert, E. W. 1993. Iron, Gender and Power: Rituals of Transformation in African Soci
eties. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 18 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
Hodder, B. W. 1959. “Tin Mining on the Jos Plateau of Nigeria.” Economic Geography 35
(2): 109–122.
Holl, A. F. C. 2014. Archaeology of West African Mound-Clusters. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Huffman, T. N. 1974. “Ancient Mining and Zimbabwe.” Journal of the South African Insti
tute of Mining and Metallurgy 74 (6): 238–242.
Jeffreys, M. D. W. 1952. “Some Notes on the Bikom Blacksmiths.” Man 52: 49–51.
Killick, D. J. 1990. “Technology in Its Social Setting: Bloomery Iron-Workings at Kasungu,
Malawi, 1860–1940.” PhD diss., Yale University, New Haven, CT.
Killick, D. J. 2004. “Review Essay: What Do We Know About African Iron Working?” Jour
nal of African Archaeology 2 (1): 97–112.
Killick, D. J. 2009. “Cairo to Cape: The Spread of Metallurgy through Eastern and South
ern Africa.” Journal of World Prehistory 22 (4): 399–414.
Killick, D. J. 2016. “A Global Perspective on the Pyrotechnologies of Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 51 (1): 62–87.
Killick, D. J., N. J. van der Merwe, R. B. Gordon, and D. Grebenart. 1988. “Reassessment
of the Evidence for Early Metallurgy in Niger, West Africa.” Journal of Archaeological
Science 15: 367–394.
Kiriama, H. O. 1993. “The Iron-Using Communities in Kenya.” In The Archaeology of
Africa: Food, Metals and Towns, edited by T. Shaw, P. Sinclair, B. Andah, and J. Okpoko,
484–498. London: Routledge.
Kristiensen, K. 2005. “Theorising Diffusion and Population Movement.” In Archaeology:
The Key Concepts, edited by C. Renfrew and P. Bahn. London: Routledge.
Kusimba, C. M. 1996. “The Social Context of Iron Forging on the Kenya Coast.” Africa 66
(3): 386–410.
Kusimba, C. M., and D. J. Killick. 2003. “Iron Working on the Swahili Coast of Kenya.” In
East African Archaeology: Foragers, Potters, Smiths, and Traders, edited by C. M. Kusim
ba and S. B. Kusimba, 99–115. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Ar
chaeology and Anthropology.
Kusimba, C. M., D. J. Killick, and R. G. Cresswell. 1994. “Indigenous and Imported Metals
at Swahili Sites on the Coast of Kenya.” In Society, Culture and Technology in Africa, edit
ed by S. T. Childs, 63–77. Philadelphia: MASCA, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Ar
chaeology and Anthropology.
Labouret, H. 1931. Les Tribus du raeau Lobi. Paris: Laburthe-Tolra.
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 19 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
Lambert, N. 1983. “Nouvelle Contribution a l’Etude du Chalcolithique Mauritanien.” In
Metallurgies Africaines: Nouvelles Contributions, edited by N. Echard, 63–87. Paris:
Memoires de la Societe des Africanistes .
Lhote, H. 1952. “La Connaissance du fer en Afrique Occidentale.” Encyclopedie Mensu
elle dOutre-Mer 269–272. Paris: Programme National Persée.
MacEachern, S. 1996 “Iron Age Beginnings North of the Mandara Mountains, Cameroon
and Nigeria.” In Aspects of African Archaeology, edited by G. Pwiti and R. Soper, 489–
496. Harare: University of Zimbabwe Publications.
Maggs, T. M. 1982. “Mabhija: pre-colonial industrial development in the Tugela Basin.”
Annals of the Natal Museum 25: 123–141.
Maggs, T., and D. E. Miller. 1995. “Sandstone Crucibles from Mhlopeni, Natal: Evidence
of Precolonial Brass-Working.” Natal Museum Journal of Humanities 7: 1–16.
Maggs, T., and B. Ward. 1984. “Early Iron Age Sites in the Muden Area of Natal.” Annals
of the Natal Museum 26: 105–140.
Martinon-Torres, M., and Th. Rehren. 2014. “Technical Ceramics.” In Archaeometallurgy
in Global Perspective, edited by B. W. Roberts and C. P. Thornton, 107–131. New York:
Springer.
Mauny, R. 1952. “Essai sur l’Histoire des Metaux en Afrique Occidentale.” Bulletin de
lIFAN 14 (2): 545–95.
McCoshi, F. W. J. 1979. “Traditional Iron-Working in Central Africa with Some Reference
to the Ritualistic and Scientific Aspects of the Industry.” Zambesia 7 (2): 155–170.
Miller, D. 1992. “Pioneering Metallurgical Analyses of Indigenous Metal Artifacts from
Southern Africa: Material Collected by Frobenius Expedition of 1929–1930.” South
African Archaeological Bulletin 56: 108–115.
Miller, D. 2002. “Smelter and Smith: Iron Age Metal Fabrication Technology in Southern
Africa.” Journal of Archaeological Science 29: 1083–1131.
Miller, D. 2003. “Archaeological Bronze Processing in Botswana.” Proceedings of the Mi
croscopy Society of Southern Africa 33: 18.
Miller, D. 2010. “Indigenous metal melting and casting in southern Africa”. South African
Archaeological Bulletin 65 (191): 45–57.
Miller, D., and S. Hall. 2008. “Rooiberg Revisited: The Analysis of Tin and Copper Smelt
ing Debris.” Historical Metallurgy 42: 23–38.
Ogden, J. 2000. “Metals.” In Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, edited by P. T.
Nicholson and I. Shaw, 148–176. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 20 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
Phillipson, D. 1985. African Archaeology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Prendergast, M. D. 1974. “Research Into the Ferrous Metallurgy of Rhodesian Iron Age
Societies.” Journal of the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy 74: 254–264.
Pringle, H. 2009. “Seeking Africa’s First Iron Men.” Science 323: 200–202.
Radivojevic, M., Th. Rehren, E. Pernicka, D. Sljivar, M. Brauns, and D. Boric. 2010. “On
the Origins of Extractive Metallurgy: New Evidence from Europe.” Journal of Archaeologi
cal Science 37 (11): 2775–2787.
Radivojevic, M., Th. Rehren, J. Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic, M. Jovanovic, and J. Northover.
2013. “Tainted Ores and the Rise of Tin Bronzes in Eurasia, c. 6500 Years Ago.” Antiquity
87 (338): 1030–1045.
Rehren, Th. 2003. “Crucibles as Reaction Vessels in Ancient Metallurgy.” In Mining and
Metal Production Through the Ages, edited by P. T. Craddock and J. Lang, 147–149. Lon
don: British Museum Press.
Rostoker, W., and B. Bronson. 1990. Preindustrial Iron: Its Technology and Ethnology.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum Publications.
Rowlands, M., and J. P. Warnier. 1993. “The Margical Production of Iron in the Cameroon
Grassfields.” In The Archaeology of Africa: Food, Metals and Towns, edited by T. Shaw, P.
Sinclair, B. Andah, and J. Okpoko, 512–550. London: Routledge.
Schimmin, I. 1893. “Journey to Gambisa’s.” In The Story of Mashonaland and the Mission
ary Pioneers, edited by F. W. MacDonald. London: Wesleyan Missionary House.
Schmidt, P. R. 1996. The culture and technology of African iron production. Florida: Uni
versity Press of Florida.
Schmidt, P. R. 1997. Iron Technology in East Africa: Symbolism, Science, and
Archaeology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Schmidt, P., and T. Childs. 1985. “Innovation and Industry during the Early Iron Age in
East Africa: The KM2 and KM3 Sites of Northwestern Tanzania.” African Archaeological
Review 3: 53–94.
Steel, R. H. 1975. “Ingot Casting and Wire Drawing in Iron Age Southern Africa.” Journal
of the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy 76 (4): 232–237.
Summers, R. 1969. Ancient Mining in Rhodesia and Adjacent Areas. National Museums of
Rhodesia Memoir No. 3. Salisbury: National Museums and Monuments of Rhodesia.
Swan, L. 1994. Early Gold Mining on the Zimbabwean Plateau. Uppsala, Sweden: Soci
etas Archaeologica Upsaliensis.
Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy in Africa
Page 21 of 21
PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ANTHROPOLOGY (oxfordre.com/anthropology). (c) Oxford Uni
versity Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy
Policy and Legal Notice).
Subscriber: null; date: 03 August 2020
Swan, L. 2007. “Economic and Ideological Roles of Copper Ingots in Prehistoric Zimbab
we.” Antiquity 81 (314): 999–1012.
Thompson, L. C. 1949. “Ingots of Native Manufacture.” Rhodesia Ministry of Native Af
fairs NADA 31: 14–16.
Thompson, L. C. 1954. “A Native Made Tin Ingot.” Rhodesia Ministry of Native Affairs NA
DA 31: 40–41.
Thondhlana, T. P. 2012. “Metalworkers and Smelting Precincts: Technological Reconstruc
tions of Second Millennium Copper Production Around Phalaborwa, Northern Lowveld of
South Africa.” PhD diss., University College London Institute of Archaeology.
Tylecote, R. F. 1962. Metallurgy in Archaeology. London: Edward Arnold.
van der Merwe, N. J. 1980. “Production of High Carbon Steel in the African Iron Age: The
Direct Steel Process.” In Proceedings of the 8th Pan African Congress of Prehistory and
Quarterly Studies, edited by R. E. Leakey and B. A. Ogot. Nairobi, Kenya: International
Leakey Memorial Institute for African Prehistory.
van der Merwe, N. J., and R. T. K. Scully. 1971. “The Phalaborwa Story: Archaeological
and Ethnographic Investigation of a South African Iron Age Group.” World Archaeology 3
(2): 178–196.
Wagner, P. A., and H. S. Gordon. 1929. “Further Notes on Ancient Bronze Smelters in the
Waterberg District, Transvaal.” South African Journal of Science 26: 563–574.
Woodhouse, B. 1974. “Excursions: Symposium on Ancient Mining and Metallurgy in
South Africa.” Journal of the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy 74: 271–
272.
Zangato, E., and A. F. C. Holl. 2010. “On the Iron Front: New Evidence from North Cen
tral Africa.” Journal of African Archaeology 8: 1–17.
Foreman Bandama
Sol Plaatje University
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
Full-text available
Although Sub-Saharan Africa has the oldest evidence for the deliberate production of fire, its recent record of pyrotechnology is more often presented as a list of absences than as a list of accomplishments. In this review I summarise the evidence, both before and after the initiation of long-distance trade with the Islamic world. The literature is decidedly unbalanced, with almost all attention so far having gone to African iron smelting, but the recent discovery of a unique type of glass production in Nigeria suggests that much more attention needs to be paid to other branches of pyrotechnology. I also suggest that we need to look outside the continent to understand why the record of preindustrial pyrotechnology in Sub-Saharan Africa is so different from that in other parts of the Old and New Worlds.ABSTRAITBien que l'Afrique sub-saharienne possède la plus ancienne indication de la production délibérée du feu, les données relatives à la pyrotechnologie de la période récente sont le plus souvent présentées plutôt comme une liste des lacunes que comme une liste d'accomplissements. Cet article résume les données dont nous disposons, à la fois avant et après l'ouverture du commerce à longue distance avec le monde islamique. La littérature est décidément inégale: l'accent a été mis de façon disproportionnées sur la question de la fonte du fer, mais la découverte récente d'un type unique de production du verre au Nigeria suggère qu'il convient d'accorder beaucoup plus d'attention à d'autres branches de la pyrotechnologie. Le présent article propose aussi que nous devons regarder en-dehors du continent pour nous aider à comprendre pourquoi la pratique pyrotechnique préindustrielle en Afrique sub-saharienne a été si différente de celle d'autres parties de l'Ancien et du Nouveau Monde.
Chapter
Full-text available
Few archaeologists have considered the possibility that control of local craft production and distribution may have been important in the development of sociopolitical complexity on the Iron Age Swahili Coast. Metallographic analysis of iron artifacts from Swahili sites reveals important information regarding the variety of ironworking techniques practiced. Swahili ironworkers were capable of producing high-carbon steel and even cast iron in their bloomeries. Artifacts of crucible steel from Galu, an iron forging site on the Kenya coast, are the first crucible steel samples known from sub-Saharan Africa and may have been locally produced. If iron formed a major commodity of Indian Ocean trade it may have crossed the ocean in many directions at different manufacturing stages-as bloom or finished artifacts. Coastal iron technology and its trade may have played a key role in Indian Ocean trade and social complexity among the Swahili. Copyright © 2003 by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. All Rights Reserved.
Article
This paper reports on the typological and archaeometallurgical studies of an assemblage of long forgotten but often misidentified metallurgical crucibles and moulds from Great Zimbabwe's century old archive. It exposes that specialised crucibles, non-specialised crucibles (common pottery), as well as an eclectic assortment of moulds, were primarily used to hold the melt and to form ingots during non-ferrous metallurgical operations, throughout the site's occupation history (1000–1700 CE). The moulds appear in different types, some elongated but others more circular as if they were used to produce small gold 'buttons'. Available records indicate that the various types of metallurgical ceramics were often found in the same stratigraphic contexts as domestic debris. The characterisation of the crucible fabrics and attached slags suggest that while the two types of crucibles were made using local granitic clays, they were also used to process similar metals and alloys, but sometimes representing different stages in the chaîne operatoire. This raises significant questions relating to the techno-cultural choices behind the typological variation, if the intention of their producers and users, was to work the same metals and alloys.
Article
The legacy of vandalism and almost a century of continuous focus on drystone wall masonry is that little is known about metal craft production and consumption activities at Great Zimbabwe. Within these limitations, this paper attempts to explore the metallurgy of Great Zimbabwe, guided by the framework of archival, chronological and fieldwork- and laboratory-based studies. The paper contends that residents of various components of Great Zimbabwe worked and processed their own metal, pointing to homestead-level production and consumption. Metal from local and regional sources sustained long-distance trade with the Indian Ocean rim.