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Pots, Words and the Bantu Problem: On Lexical Reconstruction and Early African History

Koen Bostoen
The Journal of African History
Vol. 48, No. 2 (2007), pp. 173-199
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4501038
Page Count: 27
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Pots, Words and the Bantu Problem: On Lexical Reconstruction and Early African History
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Abstract

Historical-comparative linguistics has played a key role in the reconstruction of early history in Africa. Regarding the 'Bantu Problem' in particular, linguistic research, particularly language classification, has oriented historical study and been a guiding principle for both historians and archaeologists. Some historians have also embraced the comparison of cultural vocabularies as a core method for reconstructing African history. This paper evaluates the merits and limits of this latter methodology by analysing Bantu pottery vocabulary. Challenging earlier interpretations, it argues that speakers of Proto-Bantu inherited the craft of pot-making from their Benue-Congo-speaking ancestors who introduced this technology into the Grassfields region. This 'Proto-Bantu ceramic tradition' was the result of a long, local development, but spread quite rapidly into Atlantic Central Africa, and possibly as far as Southern Angola and northern Namibia. The people who brought Early Iron Age (EIA) ceramics to southwestern Africa were not the first Bantu-speakers in this area nor did they introduce the technology of pot-making.

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