A technological and anthropological study of iron production in Venda, Limpopo Province, South Africa

E.N. Mathoho, F. Bandama, A.J. Moffett, S. Chirikure

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This study investigates the technology and sociology of indigenous iron production in Venda, northern South Africa, within a framework of ethnographies, historical documents and archaeometallurgical analyses. Investigations revealed that indigenous iron production in the study area, like elsewhere in southern Africa, was based on the direct process in which high-grade iron ores were reduced to metallic iron in charcoal fuelled low-shaft furnaces. The technology exploited at the sites under study used high-grade haematite and magnetite ores, which were extracted from open shaft mines within the vicinity of the smelting precincts. Although new furnace types appeared in the mid-second millennium AD, evidence suggests that the technology of iron smelting was relatively stable during the Early (AD 200-900) and Late (AD 1000 to 1900) Iron Ages. Iron smelting in this area was accompanied by rituals and taboos that connected the smelters to the living and the dead. A comparative study of such rituals and taboos with those invested in other categories of practice, such as male initiation, identified notable similarities and differences. This indicates that material culture production and use broadcast ideas and beliefs applicable to both technical and quotidian practices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)234-256
Issue number2
Early online date26 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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