An ethnoarchaeological study of hafting and stone tool diversity among the Gamo of Ethiopia

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Citation: Kathryn Weedman (2006/09) An ethnoarchaeological study of hafting and stone tool diversity among the Gamo of Ethiopia. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 13: 189-238 (RSS)


Tagged: archaeology (RSS), stone tool (RSS)


Kathryn Weedman examines the morphology and patterns of use of the three types of hafted hide scraping tools in use by the Gamo peoples of southwestern Ethiopia. Archaeological evidence from this area dates the use of stone tools to work hides back to at least 100 AD. However, the Gamo are among the only groups in the world still employing this technology. The scraping tools of the Gamo are characterized by the haft/handle styles that hold the stone scrapers. The zucano handle is an oval-shaped handle with a center hole carved out for holding the tool. The stone blades are fastened in closed sockets, one on each side of the handle. The other two handle types (long and short tutuma) hold the scrapers in splits in the end of straight tubular handles. The blade is wedged in and secured with twine. The use of the various styles is distributed regionally within the northern, central and southern areas of the Gamo territory. Zucano hafts are used in the north, tutuma in the south with central communities using or at least owning both. It is the aim of Weedman’s ethnoarchaeological analysis to examine this distribution pattern in terms of environment, history and social group membership and identity.

During the course of this two-year study Weedman interviewed 180 hideworkers from 115 villages, spread over the Gamo territories. The morphological analysis of the scrapers was based upon a sample of 811 unused scrapers and 868 used-up/discarded scrapers. These classes were further divided between those used with zucano hafting (unused n = 448, used-up n = 489) and those hafted in tutuma handles(unused n = 363, used-up n = 379). Length, width and thickness were measured and compared. Analysis of these parameters helped to distinguish the types of hafting for which the tool was intended. The tutuma scrapers were shorter, narrower and thinner. Retouch on the scrapers was compared by t-test results of the working edge.

Beyond the morphological analysis of the tools the article also investigated several other factors that may have influenced the choices of styles used at the various locations. Examined were the accessibility of the wood and mastic materials used in handle manufacture, stone resources, the regional and social affiliations of the hideworkers, as well as political and economic influences within the region.

Interestingly, the results of the retouch analysis on the assemblages demonstrated that tutuma scrapers were successively rotated in their hafts as the edges were used up and that this led to very similar morphologies for the used-up scraper from both hafting styles.

Although shifts in politics and the economies of hide scraping have changed some areas, the general pattern of zucano use in the north and tutuma in the south remains in practice. There have been some notable shifts to a mixed usage in central regions due to land reform measures of the Marxist-Leninist government since 1974. Also the move of the capital to the southern area tended to increase the perceived influence of that region that may have contributed to the dominance of tutuma use in some central villages. The primary factor attributed to the selection of handle types used, however, remains based upon a sense of familial and regional identity and is used as a marker of those affiliations by the Gamo hideworkers. These identities are formed around a patrilineage/village social structure. Even when hideworkers migrate into villages where one of the other styles is in use, they opt for the handle type of their father and home village. The informants explained that the selection was made on the grounds of “Woga,” that is, “it is our tradition.”

Theoretical and practical relevance:

This article is much more than a functionalist analysis of a stone tool assemblage. The ethnoarchaeological approach which focuses on a tool assemblage (hafted hide scrapers) variability analysis in the assemblage and its special distribution in far broader context than environmental and processual terms. Weedman is able to demonstrate that the forces that may shape material choices go well beyond the material and that social, political and economic factors can be viewed as assemblage attributes in some archaeological analysis.