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De la pertinence de l’utilisation de comparatifs ethnoarchéologiques pour l’étude des structures architecturales antiques : Exemple de la confection des briques au Soudan à l’époque méroïtique

Abstract : In order to overcome the deficiencies of archaeological documentation, which by nature is limited, the use of ethnographic data can help interpret the archaeological record. Comparative analysis of archaeological cases is common in the Middle East and in Europe, but is relatively rare in the Middle Nile Valley. This article aims to question whether the use of ethnographic observations is appropriate in the case of brick manufacturing, given that bricks have been widely used for millennia. Their manufacturing process in present-day Sudan will be compared to what is known of it in Sudan during the Meroitic period (3rd century BC – 4th century AD). An investigation conducted in 2018 in two traditional brickyards of the Sudanese Nile Valley, through the observation of the brick makers’ practices, resulted in a set of ethnographic data that shed new light on the archaeological remains. After giving a brief history of the introduction of bricks in the Middle Nile Valley and its uses since Antiquity, this study will present the method of data collection employed. It will then focus on the modern brick manufacturing process. The principle of ethnoarchaeology – according to which ethnographic material assists in the interpretation of archaeological contexts – and its limitations will be recalled, before outlining the essential prerequisites for ethnoarchaeological analogy, that is, cultural continuity and similarities in terms of geographical and socio-economic features between the two groups under review. However, one must bear in mind that these conditions are now being called into question by the rapid changes in the lifestyle of the so-called traditional societies. Finally, the discussion will focus on the information brought by the examination of modern bricks to the understanding of the conditions of production of ancient bricks. Indeed, the study of ancient bricks makes it possible to define/document the method used for their manufacture, as well as their composition. It also gives valuable information on the character of production (either domestic or mass production), the seasonal nature of brickwork, the use of reclaimed materials or the identity of people assigned to brick manufacturing. In addition, it offers the possibility of investigating yields, investment in time and effort and the more or less specialization required. Finally, careful observation of bricks makes it possible to detect, at least to some extent, the transfer of skills and craftsmen and the supply and management of ancient construction sites. To conclude, this article aims to move ethnoarchaeology toward a better understanding of the relationships between manufacturing techniques and their context of production. Ethnoarchaeological observations should play a more substantial role in the study of past technical behaviours, particularly within the study of know-how.
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Gabrielle Choimet. De la pertinence de l’utilisation de comparatifs ethnoarchéologiques pour l’étude des structures architecturales antiques : Exemple de la confection des briques au Soudan à l’époque méroïtique. Sources. Material & Fieldwork in African Studies, IFRA Nairobi, 2020, Varia, pp.43-77. ⟨halshs-02864043⟩

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