The social geography of pottery in Botswana as reconstructed by optical petrography

Edwin N. Wilmsen, David Killick, Dana Drake Rosenstein, Phenyo C. Thebe, James R. Denbow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Over the last 30 years Wilmsen and Denbow have recovered and studied pottery from 28 sites in Botswana dated between ca cal AD 200 and AD 1885. Some sherds in several of these assemblages appear, on stylistic evidence, to have been made in other sub-regions of Botswana than where they were found. These inferences are confirmed in this paper by use of an independent archaeometric technique, optical petrography. We are able to demonstrate the transport of pots from the Okavango Delta to Bosutswe in the eastern hardveld, some 400-600 km distant, as early as cal AD 900-1100, and of others over equal distances to the Tsodilo Hills probably before that time. We are also able to demonstrate several shorter itineraries at contemporary and later times in the Tsodilo-Delta-Chobe region as well as in the hardveld. Furthermore, we demonstrate that clays were transported from geological deposits to sites where pots were made from them. We consider some implications of these findings for a deeper appreciation of the movement of peoples and goods at several time periods of the past and present as well as further implications for understanding the participation of the region in the Indian Ocean trade during the 8th-10th centuries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-39
Number of pages37
JournalJournal of African Archaeology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009


  • Botswana
  • Exchange networks
  • Optical petrography
  • Pottery analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Archaeology


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