Ceramics and Society: Early Tana Tradition and the Swahili Coast

Stephanie Wynne-Jones, Jeffrey Fleisher, 2013

Data copyright © Dr Stephanie Wynne-Jones, Dr Jeffrey Fleisher unless otherwise stated

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Department of Archaeology
University of York
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Stephanie Wynne-Jones, Jeffrey Fleisher (2013) Ceramics and Society: Early Tana Tradition and the Swahili Coast [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor] https://doi.org/10.5284/1016128

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Photograph: ETT sherds from Dakawa, Tanzania

Locally-produced ceramics are the most ubiquitous find on archaeological sites in East Africa and their study offers the potential to develop a robust understanding of activity and interaction within and between sites. In particular, understandings of the Iron Age societies that developed on the East African coast and its hinterland have been transformed by exploration of a particular group of vessels known as Early Tana Tradition or Triangular-Incised Ware. During the late first millennium, c. AD 600 - 900, sites across East Africa were united by the production and use of these ceramics, consisting of necked jars with incised decoration and a series of other jar and bowl forms in varying quantities.

The Ceramics and Society project sought to explore this corpus of Early Tana Tradition ceramics, creating a database of sherds from excavated sites across the region. The history of research in East Africa has resulted in a very diverse set of methodologies and analytical systems being applied to different sites, and through systematic comparison Ceramics and Society sought to bring these data into a common framework for comparison. In a project funded by the British Academy and the British Institute in Eastern Africa, a series of key ETT/TIW sites were revisited, and sherds analysed according to a single system, allowing quantitative cross-site comparison for the first time.

The production of a database for future studies was central to the aims of the project. We are committed to a quantitative approach to the study of ETT ceramics, and hope that the Ceramics and Society data will allow future researchers to put their own finds into context. Some conclusions have already been published (Fleisher and Wynne-Jones 2011), but it is hoped that the data will be taken in multiple different directions by scholars of the coastal region, facilitating the analysis of new ceramic assemblages and a re-examination of stored collections. To this end, the database is available for download here. The site also includes:

  • Downloadable information on methodology and terminology
  • Photographs and illustrations
  • A query form for searching the data according to multiple parameters
  • A link to a wiki discussion page for feedback and suggestions

A data paper about this archive is available at: Wynne-Jones, S., & Fleisher, J. (2013). Ceramics and Society: Early Tana Tradition and the Swahili Coast (Data Paper). Internet Archaeology, (35). Council for British Archaeology. doi: 10.11141/ia.35.7.