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Title: Metals in Past Societies: A Global Perspective on Indigenous African Metallurgy Shadreck Chirikure

This slim book (166 pages) shines a spotlight on pre-industrial African metallurgy, its global connections, and anthropological implications. It integrates seemingly disparate disciplines, such as history, geology, ethnography, archeology, and metallurgy, to illustrate the diversity and innovation in metallurgy across Africa and the role of metals in the rise of socio-economic inequalities and political power. The book has 7 chapters and the focus on metals as enablers of human needs and wants is evident in each chapter. The first chapter presents the context of the work and data sources. The second chapter focuses on the origin and development of mining and metallurgy in pre-industrial Africa. Chapter 3 is dedicated to the interaction of nature and culture in the process of mining. Chapter 4 deals with the transformation of the ore into metal by smelting and the sociocultural aspects of this process. Chapter 5 explores the social and cultural roles acquired by metals as a result of fabrication into objects. Chapter 6 examines the social role of metals, trade in metals, cultural contact, proto-globalization, and technology transfer. Finally, Chapter 7 draws lessons for global anthropology from the African experience. The sources of information are adequately cited and the long list ofmore » references at the end of each chapter will be a boon to researchers in this field. The author highlights the cultural aspects and social context of the adoption of metallurgy in Africa while drawing parallels between practices in pre-industrial Africa and those in other parts of the world. The book is peppered with delightful vignettes that offer insights into the process of transforming nature into culturally significant objects. For instance, African miners, like their counterparts in Nepal and Latin America, called upon deities, spirits and ancestors to mediate between nature and humans. Women had distinct roles in this process, but there were variations in these roles and in the caste status of metal workers across Africa. Taboos, rituals and magic were very much a part of the development of metallurgical technology. The smelting of metal was considered analogous to conception, gestation, and child birth. Power, fertility and metallurgy were intertwined as shown by the decoration of furnaces with female anatomical features. The book concludes with a warning against broad generalizations and stereotypes about African practices. This volume is well written and illustrated with photos, micrographs, colorful maps and illustrations that make it eminently readable.« less
  1. Pacific Northwest National Lab. (PNNL), Richland, WA (United States)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
Journal ID: ISSN 0883-7694; applab
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: MRS Bulletin; Journal Volume: 40; Journal Issue: 10
Materials Research Society
Research Org:
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Richland, WA (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
Country of Publication:
United States
36 MATERIALS SCIENCE Metallurgy; Africa; Book review