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The decorated marriage jars of the inner delta of the Niger (Mali): Essay of archaeological demarcation of an ethnic territory

Author(s): Alain GALLAY

Journal: The Arkeotek Journal
ISSN 1961-9863

Volume: 1;
Issue: 1;
Date: 2007;
Original page

Keywords: Mali | ceramics | specialised activity | distribution network | ethnic territory | cartography

From 1988 to 1995, the Department of Anthropology and Ecology of the University of Geneva effected, in Mali, a series of ethnoarchaeological investigations on the traditional pottery among the various populations occupying the inner Delta of the Niger. The investigation, directed by the author of this study in collaboration with Eric Huysecom, concerned some hundred villages, more than 300 female potters and some 150 residential complexes, totalling nearly 6500 documented ceramic pieces, drawn for the most part (Gallay 1993, 2000, 2005, Huysecom, Mayor 1993, de Ceuninck 1993, 2000, Gallay et alii 1996, 1998, Burri 1996, 2003).The present demonstration comes within the framework of the research and development of models allowing the demarcation of the geographic space occupied by a particular population (hereafter "ethnic group") on the basis of its archaeological traces. It is founded on the observation that there exists in the zone considered perfectly distinctive ceramic traditions, whose material components, the ceramics, enable two concentric zones to be defined, one, that of marriage ceramics, can be superimposed on the area occupied by the ethnic group, the other, wider, concerns the common ceramics and is characteristic of the distribution networks relating to an economy with peripheral market (Bohannan, Dalton 1962).The demonstration is made up of four parts:1. Context of observationThe first (P01 to P08) presents the techno-economic and social context characteristic of the inner Delta of the Niger and situates the context of application or actualisation of the model proposed.2. The provision of production zone concessions with richly decorated ceramicsThe second part (P09 to P017) concerns the origin of the ceramics present in a residence occupied by an extended family (concession in the established terminology) and highlights the mechanisms assuring the supply of a concession with ceramics, especially concerning the richly decorated ceramics, often offered to the bride. The various mechanisms considered allow a zone of limited extension to be defined corresponding to the production zone of the ceramic tradition in question.3. Diffusion of the common ceramics in the production zoneThe third part (P018 to P024) is dedicated to the ways in which the common ceramics were diffused in the production zone of the tradition, or traditions, and in its margins. It is shown at this level that the market economy, which causes traditions to be mixed at the consumption level, is not sufficient to perturb the ceramic ethnic equivalence observable at the level of consumption and that the combined effect of the potteresses and buyers' movements on the markets is the origin of a zone of diffusion of the tradition spreading beyond the latter's production zone.4. General spatial patternThe fourth part combines the results obtained in parts 2 and 3 to propose a general pattern for the diffusion of a tradition in space usable by archaeologists. The ceramics' diffusion mechanisms described above generate, on a regional scale, particular spatial distributions of cultural components. This pattern (a regularity in our terminology, Gallay 1986, 1990), lets one come closer to the geographic insertion of an ethnic population and suggest certain leads for archaeological applications (see especially Mayor 2005).
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