For ceramics to be relevant in the Southern African Iron Age, archaeologists
must broaden their theoretical base to include social and other contexts when
interpreting material culture items such as pottery. Pottery remains critical in understanding
cultural dynamics in the region for the past two millennia, but current usage is
narrow in scope. Using ethnohistorical data and archaeological examples from South
Africa and Zimbabwe, we argue that pottery provides valuable information on the
region's Iron Age, if archaeologists address the social meaning of ceramic assemblages.
Ceramic production among rural communities provides the basis on which a wide
range of social issues are discussed and used to critique pottery recovered from
archaeology. Ethnography suggests that ceramic assemblages are context specific,
and archaeologists are cautioned against making generic statements on the basis of
similarities of vessel shape and decoration motif.