Typological and Interpretive Analysis of a 19th-Century Bead Cache in Coastal Kenya

in Journal of African Archaeology
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  • 1 Department of Anthropology, Gettysburg College
  • 2 Coastal Archaeology Division, National Museums of Kenya

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This article provides a typological and interpretive analysis of 3968 beads unearthed at Amwathoya, a late 19th-century Giriama homestead site in Kenya’s central coastal hinterland. These beads are predominantly imported glass specimens, and most were recovered from a single cache. The typological analysis of Amwathoya’s assemblage draws on both historical bead terms from 19th-century Eastern Africa and broader classificatory schemes developed by archaeologists in other world areas. Smaller glass bead assemblages from two nearby contemporaneous settlements are also examined for comparative purposes. The interpretive analysis of Amwathoya’s beads focuses on such ornaments’ potential role in the expression of cultural and gendered identities; the use of locally produced shell beads in divination and healing practices is also explored.

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