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Material elaboration and monumentality: Mortuary beads, pastoralists, and social innovation in northwest Kenya

Author(s): Carla Klehm

Year: 2017

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Summary

Megalithic architecture appeared suddenly in northwest Kenya 5000 years ago in tandem with the earliest pastoralists in the region. As Lake Turkana’s levels dropped, these people built "pillar sites" – massive feats of labor and coordination that represent one of the earliest instances of monumentality in Africa – in a brief explosion of material and architectural elaboration. The burials associated with these pillar sites are highly ornamented, with thousands of beads made from stone, bone, and ostrich eggshell that would have been brilliantly colored when worn. This paper takes a first look at sourcing, minerology, and the context of these bead assemblages, excavated by the Later Prehistory of West Turkana Project, as a entry into understanding the radical reconceptualization of self and society that took place. During this era of climate instability and economic innovation, people felt compelled to procure a wide variety of minerals, gather them together, and place them with their dead, suggesting novel approaches to the ways they understood the worlds of the living and the afterlife. These beads in turn provide insight at the level of individual perception into how people grappled with social changes and, potentially, differentiation in early complex societies.


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Material elaboration and monumentality: Mortuary beads, pastoralists, and social innovation in northwest Kenya. Carla Klehm. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430403)


Keywords

Geographic Keywords
AFRICA


Spatial Coverage

min long: -18.809; min lat: -38.823 ; max long: 53.262; max lat: 38.823 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 14636

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America