Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2017

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Understanding how the modern world has been shaped by the origins and spread of food production deeper in our past is an enduring and fundamental goal of anthropological archaeology. In Africa, mobile pastoralism emerged as a way of life that is economically and ideologically focused on herding livestock, and spread across the continent over the last 8000 years. Despite the potential importance of African pastoralism within global dialogues on the origins of food production, the social and economic systems that sustained its spread through the continent remain poorly understood. A culture-complex known as the Elmenteitan is associated with the spread of stone-tool using herders into southern Kenya, and the development of a long-distance obsidian exchange system stemming from a single quarry site on top of Mt. Eburru from 3000-1400 years ago. This dissertation uses the Elmenteitan case-study to mount the first comprehensive study of how economic needs, environmental conditions, and socio-cultural institutions shaped ancient pastoralist technological strategies. To accomplish this I directed archaeological surveys and excavations at the Elmenteitan Obsidian Quarry on Mt. Eburru to test hypotheses regarding the social systems involved in herder obsidian procurement. I engaged in intensive analysis of stone tool debris at the quarry in order to establish a start point for a larger comparative analysis of 12 lithic assemblages from Elmenteitan sites spread across southwestern Kenya. Based on archaeological and lithic datasets, I demonstrate that Elmenteitan herders deployed a regionally uniform lithic technology that emphasized flexibility in responding to environmental diversity and climatic change. I show that this form of technological organization was supported by a system of obsidian access and distribution that was maintained through investment in social institutions that bound Elmenteitan communities into a system of reciprocity, alliance, and cultural identity. I conclude that the integration of social, economic, and technological systems developed as strategy for ensuring long-term risk mitigation in unpredictable environments.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Fiona B. Marshall

Committee Members

Stanley H. Ambrose, Stanton Braude, Michael D. Frachetti, Gayle J. Fritz,


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