Hearth and home in the Iron Age of eastern Africa: ethnographic models, historical linguistics and archaeological evidence
Keywords:Early Iron Age, early farming communities, Urewe, settlement space, symbolism, East Africa, historical linguistics, Central Cattle Pattern
Except for work on the symbolism of iron technology, there have been few archaeological studies that provide insight into the social and symbolic dynamics of early farming/metal-working communities (or Early Iron Age societies) in eastern Africa. Most research has instead been directed toward determining the chronology of the spread of diagnostic ceramic traditions, interactions with herding and hunter-gatherer groups and, most recently, identifying the range of crop types cultivated and the date of their introduction. Where archaeologists have sought to answer such questions as ‘What types of homes did people live in and how was this space organised?’ or ‘What were the gender divisions in society and the nature of relationships between young and old?’, they have tended to rely on models developed from historical linguistics and ethnography. This paper provides an assessment of these models in the light of available archaeological evidence from the region, while also contrasting the under-theorisation of the archaeological record of early farming communities in eastern Africa with the approaches adopted by archaeologists working in southern Africa. Some suggestions for future research directions and changes in excavation methodologies are proposed.