Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Fiona B. Marshall


This thesis represents the first comprehensive ethnoarchaeological study to date on the material culture of African mobile pastoralism, a way of life economically, culturally, and ideologically centered on the herding of livestock. In Africa, tens of millions of people today still rely on cattle-based pastoralism for survival in arid lands that are unsuitable for agricultural production. Our understanding of ancient pastoralism is still hampered, however, by a belief held by many that nomadic populations such as pastoralists are difficult to trace in the archaeological record. Results from ethnographic research among modern Samburu cattle pastoralists in Kenya in fact challenge common archaeological assumptions about relationships between mobility, subsistence practices, and material culture.

Data from twelve months of participant observation, extensive interviewing, and the administration of 117 household surveys reveal a deep and perhaps unexpected integration of pottery and other container types into a highly nomadic lifestyle centered on the herding of livestock. Key findings demonstrate that ceramic production and consumption, for example, are not prohibited by high levels of residential mobility. Instead, ceramic technologies enable pastoralist systems of production in part by allowing people to better exploit certain resources in unpredictable and drought-prone environments. Despite prevailing wisdom, repeated use of some spaces by pastoralists would allow for significant and varied accumulations of ceramics and other archaeologically-recoverable material culture. These results should, ultimately, prompt new dialogue in the archaeological literature on the material consequences of food production.


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