Men at work: Grinding stone production by the experts and others in northern Ethiopia

  • Laurie Nixon-Darcus Simon Fraser University
  • Yemane Meresa
Keywords: grinding stones; manufacturing; production; ethnoarchaeology; Ethiopia

Abstract


It is necessary to access the oral forms of local histories often held in traditional African communities to help us understand the African past and avoid framing interpretations solely in terms of Western epistemologies. Ethnoarchaeological fieldwork was carried out in villages in the Gulo Makeda region of northeastern Tigrai, northern Ethiopia, where access to mechanical mills has only been available in the last few decades. Individuals in this area still have knowledge and memory of manufacturing, using and discarding grinding stones. Interviews were held with male advisors who shared their knowledge and expertise about the entire process of manufacturing grinding stones. To move beyond understanding just the technical aspects of grinding stone manufacturing (what and how), the theory and methods associated with the chaîne opératoire and design theory were incorporated into the research to allow discovery of intricate socio-economic interrelationships (how and why) that exist through grinding manufacture within this culture. Manufacturing offers opportunities for socialization, cooperation and community engagement.

Through ethnoarchaeology it became clear that the manufacturing of grinding stones in northeastern Tigrai is a complex process requiring design decisions, skills, knowledge, and social interaction that builds interpersonal relationships. By arranging two separate manufacturing sessions, one with experts and one with non-experts, comparisons were made of technological and social differences between experts and non-experts. The individuals who are experts in manufacturing grinding stones made higher quality grinding stones than the non-experts. The experts are also afforded a special respect by others, as they are the creators of the technology “necessary for life” in a culture traditionally dependent on cereal flours for sustenance. Potentially this respect for experts could be true for the past as well. Since the grinding stone artifacts from Mezber are large stones, likely meant to produce significant amounts of flour, they would have been important to daily life. Those who manufactured these tools important for subsistence would likely have been considered important individuals in the community.

Author Biographies

Laurie Nixon-Darcus, Simon Fraser University

Simon Fraser University
8888 University Drive
Burnaby, B.C.
V5A 1S6
Canada

Yemane Meresa

Archaeology and Heritage Management,

Aksum University, P. O.Box 1010, Aksum,

Ethiopia

References

Abadi-Reiss, Y., & Rosen, S.A. 2008, A Chip Off the Old Millstone: Grinding Stone Production and Distribution in the Early Bronze Age of the Negev. In: New Approaches to Old Stones (Rowan, Y.M., & Ebeling, J.R., Eds.), Equinox Publishing Limited, London: p. 99-115.
Adams, J. L. 1993, Toward Understanding the Technological Development of Manos and Metates. Kiva 58(3, New Trends in Ground Stone Research: It's Not the Same Old Grind): 331-344. doi:10.1080/00231940.1993.11758213
Adams, J. L. 2014, Ground Stone Analysis: a technological approach. The University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, 318 p.
D'Andrea, A. C. 2008, T'ef (Eragrostis tef) in Ancient Agricultural Systems of Highland Ethiopia. Economic Botany, 62(4): 547-566. doi:10.1007/s12231-008-9053-4
D'Andrea, A. C., & Haile, M. 2002, Traditional Emmer Processing in Highland Ethiopia. Journal of Ethnobiology, 22(2): 179-217.
D’Andrea, A. C., Haile, M., Butler, E.A., & Lyons, D.E. 1997, Ethnoarchaeological Research in the Ethiopian Highlands. Nyame Akuma, 47: 19-26.
D'Andrea, A. C., & Wadge, P. 2011, T’ef (Eragrostis tef): A Legacy of Pastoralism?. In: Windows on the African Past: Current Approaches to African Archaeobotany. Reports in African Archaeology, Vol. 3 (Fahmy, A.G., Kahlheber, S., & D’Andrea, A. C., Eds.), Africa Magna Verlag, Frankfurt: p. 547-566.
Arthur, J. W. 2014, Culinary Crafts and Foods in Southwestern Ethiopia: An Ethnoarchaeological Study of Gamo Groundstones and Pottery. African Archaeological Review, 31(2): 131-168. doi:10.1007/s10437-014-9148-5
Binford, L. R., (Ed.), 1977, For Theory Building in Archaeology. Academic Press, New York, 419 p.
Clarkson, C., Jacobs, Z., Marwick, B., Fullagar, R., Wallis, L., Smith, M., Roberts, R.G., Hayes, E., Lowe, K., Carah, X., Florin, S.A., McNeil, J., Cox, D., Arnold, L.J., Hua, Q., Huntley, J., Brand, H.E.A., Manne, T., Fairbairn, A., Shulmeister, J., Lyle, L., Salinas, M., Page, M., Connell, K., Park, G., Norman, K., Murphy, T., & and Pardoe, C. 2017, Human occupation of northern Australia by 65,000 years ago. Nature, 547: 306-310. doi:10.1038/nature22968
Conlee, C. A. 2000, Intensified Middle Period Ground Stone Production on San Miguel Island. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, 22(2): 374-391.
Cook, S. 1982, Zapotec Stoneworkers: the dynamics of rural simple commodity production in modern Mexican capitalism. University Press of America, Maryland, 432 p.
Costin, C. L. 1991, Craft Specialization: Issues in Defining, Documenting, and Explaining the Organization of Production. Archaeological Method and Theory, 3: 1-56. doi:10.2307/20170212
Costin, C. L. 2007, Thinking about Production: Phenomenological Classification and Lexical Semantics. Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association, January 2007, Vol.17(1): 143-162. doi:10.1525/ap3a.2007.17.1.143
David, N. 1998, The Ethnoarchaeology and Field Archaeology of Grinding at Sukur, Adamawa State, Nigeria. The African Archaeological Review, 15(1): 13-63. doi:10.1023/A:1022270208256
David, N., & Kramer, C. 2001, Ethnoarchaeology in Action. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 476 p. doi:10.1017/CBO9781316036488
Field, J. H., Fullagar, R., Dortch, J., Dutkiewicz, A., & Gordon, P. 2003, Sandstone Quarries and Grinding Stone Manufacture: Survey and Excavation at Yambacoona Hill in South-Eastern Australia. Australian Archaeology, 56: 46-47. doi:10.1080/03122417.2003.11681750
Fratt, L., & Biancaniello, M. 1993, Homol’ovi III Ground Stone in the Raw: A Study of the Local Sandstone Used to Make Ground Stone Artifacts. Kiva, 58(3, New Trends in Ground Stone Research: It's Not the Same Old Grind): 373-391. doi:10.1080/00231940.1993.11758216
Hard, R. J., Mauldin, R.P., & Raymond, G.R. 1996, Mano Size, Stable Carbon Isotope Ratios, and Macrobotanical Remains as Multiple Lines of Evidence of Maize Dependence in the American Southwest. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 3(3): 253-318. doi:10.1007/BF02229401
Horsfall, G. A. 1979, A Design Theory Perspective on Variability in Grinding Stones. Master of Arts Thesis at the Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, 133 p.
Horsfall, G. A. 1987, Design Theory and Grinding Stones. In: Lithic Studies Among the Contemporary Highland Maya (Hayden B., Ed.), University of Arizona Press, Tucson: p. 332-377.
Jones, J. C. 1970, Design Methods: seeds of human future. Wiley-Interscience, London, 407 p.
Leroi-Gourhan, A. 1993, Gesture and Speech. (Translated by Bostock Berger, A.). MIT Press, Massachusetts, 431 p.
Margolin, V. 1989, Design Discourse: history, theory, criticism. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 291 p.
Mauldin, R. 1993, The Relationship between Ground Stone and Agricultural Intensification in Western New Mexico. Kiva, 58(3, New Trends in Ground Stone Research: It’s not the Same Old Grind): 317-330. doi:10.1080/00231940.1993.11758212
McBrearty, S., & Brooks A.S. 2000, The revolution that wasn't: a new interpretation of the origin of modern human behavior. Journal of Human Evolution, 39(5): 453-563. doi:10.1006/jhev.2000.0435
Nixon-Darcus, L.A. 2014, The Cultural Context of Grinding Equipment in Northern Ethiopia: An Ethnoarchaeological Approach. Master of Arts Thesis at the Archaeology Department, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, 343 p.
Pye, D. 1978, The Nature and Aesthetics of Design. Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 159 p.
Sandgathe, Dennis, personal communication at Simon Fraser University, June 2013.
Schneider, J.S., & Altschul, J.A. 2000, Of Stones and Spirits: Pursuing the Past of Antelope Hill. Technical Series 76. Statistical Research Inc., Tucson, 215 p.
Schneider, J. S. 1996, Quarrying and Production of Milling Implements at Antelope Hill, Arizona. Journal of Field Archaeology, 23(3): 299-311. doi:10.2307/530484
Searcy, M. T. 2011, The Life-Giving Stone: ethnoarchaeology of Maya metates. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 168 p.
Smith, M., McBryde, I., & Ross, J. 2010, The economics of grindstone production at Narcoonowie quarry, Strzelecki Desert. Australian Aboriginal Studies, 2010(1): 92-99.
Teklu, G. 2012, Ethnoarchaeological Study of Grind Stones at Lakia'a in Adwa, Tigray Regional State, Ethiopia. Master of Arts Thesis at the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Management, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, 103 p.
Published
15-Dec-2020
How to Cite
Nixon-Darcus, L., & Meresa, Y. (2020). Men at work: Grinding stone production by the experts and others in northern Ethiopia. Journal of Lithic Studies, 7(3), 24 p. Retrieved from http://journals.ed.ac.uk/lithicstudies/article/view/3091
Section
Articles from the 2nd Meeting of the Association for Ground Stone Tools Research