The Namoratunga of East Africa:
An Archaeological Mystery

Charles Nelson
Spring Semester, 2010
Academy for Life Long Learning

Four two-hour sessions:
3:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
February 18th and 25th
March 4th and 11th
Bellingham Senior Activity Center
315 Halleck Street

Get map, directions.

Brief course description:         eMail the instructor
The Turkana of northern Kenya believe that stone pillars mark places where ancient dancers were turned to stone. The first Namoratunga visited by archaeologists was described as an astronomical observatory of the ancient Cushites, but others have shown this to be unlikely. This course centers on the first excavation of a Namoratunga on the shore of Lake Turkana at the foot of the Jarigole Hills. This 4,000 year-old site, made by the first keepers of domestic stock in Eastern Africa, reveals the earliest evidence for long-distance trade in Subsaharan Africa and a ceramic tradition of incredible beauty and complexity.

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Pictorial Introduction

Jarigole Namoratunga

 Excavations at Jarigole
   Report published in Kenya Past & Present

 Early Trade in East Africa.
    Based on the Jarigole material.

 Jarigole Annotated Galleries
    All aspects of the site & artifacts
    Many supplements still to be added
    Site Setting
    Site Structure
    Go to new section on Ceramics
    Go to new section on Nderit Prehistory
    Go to new section on Ceramic Techniques

Other Namoratunga

 Lothagam Namoratunga
    Site Structure
    Annotated gallery

 Il Lokeridede Namoratunga
    Excavation & ceramics
    Annotated Gallery
    Pottery clays and radiocarbon age

 Kalokol Namoratunga
   Lynch & Robbins 1978 article pdf 1.0mb
    Kalokol as an observatory.
   Soper 1982 article pdf 10.0mb
    Kalokol's function questioned.
   Doyle 1985 article article
    Cushitic calendar question revisited.
   Images of Kalokol Namoratunga
    Site plan, alignments, photos.
    Image 23A added 2/23/10.
   ASI Kalokol
    Testing the Astronomical Hypothesis.

 The Lokori Namoratunga
   Supplementary pictures.

 The Ella of Dirikoro, Omo, Ethiopia
   Recent discovery of stone platforms.

Background Material

 Geographic Background


 Cultural Background
   Borana Pastoralism
    Borana cattle breeding & lifestyle

More links and content will be added in February.


Preliminary Course Outline

Africa on the Cusp of Civilization
   Climatic Change 10,000 to 4,000 years ago
   Gatherers/fishers/herders/farmers in the climatic vice
   Regional adaptations and population movements
   Consequences for Sub-Saharan Africa
Some Archaeological Puzzles in Eastern Africa
   Glimpses of early pottery makers
   L.S.B. Leakey and the elusive people of the Nderit
   Domestic animals: now you see them; now you don't
   1,000 BC: where did all these pastoralists come from?
   Tour of stone pillar sites: ancient Cushite observatories?
That A-ha! Moment: Introducing the Jarigole Namoratunga Undressing an archaeological site: where to begin?
   Observation: both the site and its context
   One site or several sites?
   Asking questions that you can answer
   Multiple working hypotheses
   Implications & Planning
   Mapping & surface collection
   Excavation priorities and techniques
Jarigole revealed ... partially (yes, some mystery abides)
   Site - it's situation and structure
   Site contents: general character & amounts
   Cultural and social implications
   How new ideas arise while you are excavating
   Adjusting research to address these new issues
Site contents considered in detail
   Ornaments: trade and social differentiation
   Ground stone tools: what is absent can be revealing
   Flaked stone tools: hints, but mysteries abound
Ceramics: A big and complex topic, as you will see
   The importance of ceramic analysis
   What is a "Ceramic Ware" & what does it mean?
   Nderit Ware: It's history and traditional interpretation
   Why Jarigole redefines the concept of Nderit Ware
   How to make a Jarigole vessel: the potter's choices
   The components of Nderit Ware at: "motif clusters"
      Classic vessels (stylus band & panel motif clusters)
      Soft paste stylus evulsion motif cluster
      The burnished ripple motif cluster
      The channel and stamped motif cluster
      The floating panel motif cluster
      How do we know these clusters form a ceramic ware?
      What leads to motif clusters in a ceramic ware?
         Choice (reduction) analysis in pot making
         Choice analysis for ostrich eggshell beads
      Why are some clusters absent from other Nderit sites?
What Does Nderit Ware signify?
   The Geo-cultural hypothesis
   The role of climatic change
   Geographic spread of Nderit communities
   Development of new wares in isolated Nderit groups
   The children of the Nderit
Representational art and objects
   Symboling: how you recognize and interpret it
   Figurines: large, diverse, oldest in Sub-Saharan Africa
   Fertility symbolism: some obvious; most not so
   What do ceramic designs mean?
   Towards an "Nderit language of ceramic design"
Remaining Questions
   The social significance of burial: what we need to know
   Clans or lineages: are these reflected in the ceramics?
   The persistence of asymmetry in pastoral design.
   Where did the Nderit come from: how do we find them?

Resurrecting Nderit Ware: If you are a potter and would like to have a go at this, I would love to help you out!

©2009 by Charles M. Nelson
All rights reserved.