15. Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers in Africa? Historic

2004. In: Hunters and Gatherers in Theory and Archaeology
G.M. Crothers, ed. Center for Archaeological Investigations
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers
in Africa? Historic Perspectives
from the Okiek and Archaeological
Perspectives from the Kansyore
Darla Dale Fiona Marshall and Tom Pilgram
Abstract: The material characteristics and past distribution of delayed­
return hunter-gatherers in Africa are investigated through ethnoarchae­
ological research among the Okiek and an archaeological study of the
Kansyore. We recognize groups with delays in return but without hier­
archy as moderate delayed-return hlmter-gatherers. The Ownership
Model, developed here, allows identification of such groups through in­
dicators of ownership: repeated use of sites, large quantities of ceramics,
as well as specialized tools, and a rich and predictable resource base. The
presence of such positive indicators must be combined with the absence
of lines of evidence for complex delayed-rehlrn hunter-gatherers: large
sites, permanent structures, and elaborate material cui hIre or exotic
items. We conclude that the Kansyore were moderate delayed-return
hunter-gatherers and that there were probably forms of delayed-return
hunter-gatherers in a number of contexts in Africa during the Holocene.
Their identification will assist consideration of the effect of factors such
as latihlde on the development of delayed-rehlrn hunter-gatherer sys­
tems worldwide.
There has been considerable discussion about the nature of, and
under! ying reasons for, sociocultural variation among con temporary hun ter­
gatherers (Bernard and Woodburn 1988; Binford 2001; Kelly 1995; Renouf
1991; Sahlins 1972; Testart 1982; Woodburn 1982, 1988). Most scholars recog­
nize a broad distinction between hunter-gatherers with elaborate social sys­
tems and those who appear more egalitarian, but the ways in which those
distinctions have been conceived vary. Terms used range from foragers and
collectors (Binford 1980), storing and nonstoring (Testart 1982), generalized and
Hunters and Gatherers in Theory and Archaeology, edited by George M. Crothers. Center for
Archaeological Investigations, Occasional Paper No. 31. © 2004 by the TIoard of Trustees,
Southern Illinois University. All rights reserved ISBN 0-88104-087-8.
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers in Africa 341
specialized (Gamble 1978; Price and Brown 1985), simple and complex (Arnold
1996; Gould 1976; Hayden 1990; Price and Brown 1985), egalitarian and non­
egalitarian (Kelly 1995), to immediate-return and delayed-return hunter-gatherers
(Woodburn 1982, 1988). Following Woodburn, we refer to hunter-gatherers
with more elaborate social systems as delayed return and those with more
egalitarian social systems as immediate return.
According to Woodburn, immediate-return hunter-gatherers are those who
live in small, mobile groups with social and subsistence systems oriented to
the present. Immediate consumption, egalitarian principles, and low levels of
technology are all considered part of an immediate-return social orientation
and are broadly associated with hunter-gatherers who do not have elaborate
social systems (Bailey 1983; Lee and DeVore 1968; Renouf 1991; Testart 1982;
see Table 15-1). By contrast, delayed-return hunter-gatherers are those who
live in large, less-mobile communities and have social and subsistence sys­
tems oriented to the past, present, and future (Woodburn 1982, 1988). Such
groups experience delays in return for labor invested and have ownership
rights over valued assets, a high level of technological investment, and storage
(see also Renouf 1991; Testart 1982). Binford (1980) draws a similar distinction
between foragers with residential mobility and collectors associated with lo­
gistical mobility, but he places more emphasis on settlement systems and less
on ownership. Class distinctions and rights over non-kin labor, key to identifi­
cation of complex hunter-gatherers sensu Arnold (1996), are not always pres­
ent among delayed-return hunter-gatherers, or logistical collectors.
Archaeological indicators used to identify delayed-return, or complex,
hunter-gatherers include logistical mobility, large sites, permanent structures,
storage, elaboration of and investment in material culture, diverse tool assem­
blages, marked spatial variation within sites, exotic items, burial areas, re­
source specialization, and specialized trash dumps (Ames 1994; Binford 1980,
1987; Lightfoot 1993; Price and Brown 1985; Zvelebil 1986; see Table 15-2).
Most research has focused, however, on the material signatures of hunter­
gatherers with very elaborate or very egalitarian social systems. Relatively lit­
tle attention has been paid to groups with delays in return, but without hier­
archy, that lie between.
There is continuing debate over the underlying causes for development of
delayed-return over immediate-return systems and the relative roles of social
and ecological factors in social change of this kind. Social theorists have em­
phasized factors such as risk reduction (Hegmon 1991; Kell y 1991), competi­
tion (Hayden 1990), and encapsulation (Woodburn 1982). Ecological theories
can be broadly divided into those that expect social and economic complexity
in areas where resources are abundant (Hayden 1990, 1995a, 1995b; Price and
Gebauer 1992, 1995), where resources are patchy (Binford 1980; Oyuela­
Caycedo 1996), where the nature of the resource base is the detennining factor
(Aikens and Akazawa 1996; Hayden 1981; Rowley-Conwy 1983; Soffer 1989),
or where populations are high (Keeley 1995). Binford (1980,2001) and Keeley
(1995) stress the relationship between latitude and socioeconomic systems and
argue that logistical collectors are more likely to be found in temperate lati­
342 ID. Dale, F. Marshall, and T. Pilgram
Table 15-1. Characteristics of Delayed-Return vs. Immediate-Return
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers
Immediate-Retum Hunter-Gatherers
Large, less-mobile groups
Ownership, sometimes social stratifica tion
Social systems oriented to past, present,
Storage and delayed consumption
Technological investment/elaboration
Small, mobile groups
Egali tarian principles
Social systems oriented to present
Resource specialization
Immediate consumption
Low levels of technological
Generalized resource exploitation
Studies of hunter-gatherer societies are not evenly distributed, however. As
a result, the ways in which ecological variables affect hunter-gatherer societies
are not yet well understood. Much of what we know about prehistoric com­
plex hunter-gatherers, or about prehistoric hunter-gatherer variation in gen­
eral, comes from research focused on temperate regions like Europe, North
America, and Japan (Aikens and Akazawa 1996; Bailey 1983; Gamble 1986;
Rowley-Conwy 1986; Soffer 1989; Zvelebil 1986). Very few studies of prehis­
toric complex hunter-gatherers have been conducted in low-latitude, tropical
environments (but see Marquardt 1986; Oyuela-Caycedo 1996). In Africa, this
lack of study is striking considering the role that recent and historic African
hunter-gatherers assume in Woodburn's formulation of the delayed-return
In this chapter we examine material indicators of contemporary delayed­
return hunter-gatherers and the possible existence of prehistoric delayed­
return hunter-gatherers in East Africa. We present two East African case
studies, an ethnoarchaeological study of the Okiek and an archaeological
study of the Kansyore (Figure 15-1).
The Okiek Case
In this section, we discuss items cached in high-altitude forest
houses used by Okiek honey hunters and material in the houses of a few
Okiek forest hunter-farmers. We then discuss the relevance of house-content
data to identification of the Okiek as delayed-return hunter-gatherers and to
interpretation of archaeological sites.
Historically, the Piik ap Gom Okiek local group of the western Mau Escarp­
ment, Kenya (Figure 15-1), had a lineage, or clan-based, social organization
and specialized subsistence systems. Okiek subsistence among this and other
Okiek local groups focused on beekeeping, honey storage, and hunting using
altitudinal gradients to exploit different forest types and flowering times at
different seasons (Blackburn 1971, 1982, 1996; Huntingford 1929, 1955; Kratz
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers in Africa 343
Table 15-2. Archaeological Indicators of Hunter­
Gatherer Socioeconomic Complexity
Large sites
Variation between sites
Specialized trash dumps
Elaborate technology
Exotic items
Resource specializa tion
Variation within sites
Investment in technology
Burial areas
1981, 1986, 1994; Marshall 1994). That focus enabled them to obtain honey
during most of the year. Among the Okiek, carbohydrates were derived
largely from honey, and plant foods were of little importance (Ambrose 1986;
Blackburn 1982; Huntingford 1955; Kratz 1994; Marshall 1994,2001).
The Piik ap Dam Okiek lived in single-family settlements, each usually con­
sisting of only one simple house. Historically, families moved between houses
on family or clan territories at different altitudes. The altitude gradient was
key to historic Okiek subsistence. Forest plants at high altitude flower later
than those at low altitude (Figure 15-2). Therefore, carefully timed movements
led clans from houses on one ridge with full hives to houses on another. The
Okiek had long delays built into the subsistence return for work on hives.
Honey could not be collected for several months after a hive was made and
put in place. The delay could be a year or more if the hive maker was unlucky.
Even when a colony of bees was thoroughly established in a hive, honey could
be harvested only a few times a year.
Small gaps in honey production were filled with increased hunting and use
of stored honey, which keeps several years if buried in ceramic containers.
Honey beer and wine were drunk often and in large quantities by most Okiek
groups (Blackburn 1971; Kratz 1981, 1994). A variety of herbivores were
hunted, the larger ones with dogs and spears, the smaller ones with snares.
Hunting took place and hives were hung in trees on clan territories. The name
for an individual territory, konoito (plural konotwek), means "ridge," which is
the smallest physical unit of territory. The konotwek of a clan consisted of a
patchwork pattern of ridges up a long altitude gradient, usually organized
around a long stream channeL Individual clans moved up and down the alti­
tude gradient as part of their subsistence round.
Patrilineal clans were the main Piik ap Oom social institution. Clan names
and age sets were the same as those used by their Kipsigis farming neighbors.
Age sets created bonds between unrelated men of the same age and increased
the power of older age groups. Individual and clan territories were inherited,
as were other honey-related assets such as hives and the right to hang them in
certain trees. Such resources were not shared. The relatively elaborate nature
of Okiek social organization was also reflected by rights of men over women
in marriage and the existence of bridewealth historically paid in hives and
hunting dogs (Blackburn 1971; Kratz 1994). There were no institutions for a
\vhole local group historically, no chiefs and no counst'i of elders (Blackburn
3441 D. Dale, F. Marshnll, and T Pilgram
100 km
1Ake~yarjMamba OLDke ManyOTa
Figure 15-1. The location of the Piik ap Oom ethnoarchaeological study
area, the Kansyore archaeological study area at Siror, and keyarchaeo­
logical sites mentioned in the text.
1971). There were also no inherited status differences between families and no
In identifying the Okiek as delayed-return hunter-gatherers, Woodburn
(1982, 1988:35) stresses the delays built into Okiek subsistence return and dis­
tinctive social systems that "control and apportion the delayed yields." The
reliance of the Okiek on bees and their storage of honey and on patterns of so­
cial organization also fits with distinctions that other scholars make between
hunter-gatherers with more elaborate social organization and material culture
and those with less elaborate organization (Hayden 1990; Price and Brown
1985; Soffer 1989; Testart 1982).
Delays in return for effort expend ed in constructing, hoisting, and main­
taining hives and related concepts of private property held by the Okiek cre­
ate the potential for inequalities because resources that are individually
owned, such as honey, are not shared outside families. There are social struc­
tures that formalize inequalities between men and women and between older
and younger men (such as bridewealth and the age-set system), but there is no
hierarchy and no class system. The inequalities that do exist are small in scale
compared with those characterizing well-known delayed-return hunter­
gatherers such as the Calusa or Northwest Coast groups of North America.
Okiek women have less independence, however, than do their counterparts
among immediate-return hunter-gatherers such as the !Kung. The existence of
age sets also reflects a more bounded society, and more elaborate social struc­
Delayed-Retllfn Hunter-Gatherers in Africa 345
Okiek Name
Linnean Name
Macaranga k1ll
Acanl:bapale pulse
Mimulopsls solmsl
Verunfca aurlca1lfera
Laslantb us KJ11
Ekebergla cape
SchlefflerJa Yolk
Allopbylus abys
Alblzia sp.
Polysdas fulva
Schrebera alar
Months Honey Is Ready
Altitude at Which It Grows'
Low Mid High V. High
.---- I
--- -i
"Low region below forest reserve, which is now 1iumIand; mid region between the edge ofthe
forest reserve and the beginning of the altitude at which bamboo grows; high region at which
bamboo grows; very high region above bamboo growth.
Figure 15-2. Plants of the western Mau whose flowers provide honey, the
times at which honey from them is ready, and the altitudes at which they
grow. Results represent the combined reports from five Piik ap Oom
honey experts. There was considerable minor disagreement, which we re­
solved by using the majority opinion.
ture, than has been noled among more egalitarian immediate-return groups.
The social differences between such moderate delayed-return hunter­
gatherers and egalitarian hunter-gatherers may not seem great to those accus­
tomed to elaborate hunter-gatherer social systems. Taken together, however,
they are profOlmd, and they affect both the rhythm of daily life and long-term
trends of social change. For instance, food production is adopted with greater
ease by hunter-gatherers with concepts of ownership (Brooks et al. 1984; In­
gold 1980; Marshall 2000; Meillassoux 1972; Woodburn 1988). Age sets, more­
over, can be an effective institution for political mobilization, and even for war­
fare. Hence, they may affect both internal and external forces for social change.
Historic Changes, Relevance, and the Study Context
The pace of social change among many Okiek local groups has
been very rapid during the last 50 to 100 years. Among the Piik ap Gam, only
rerrmants of the socioeconomic patterns described above now remain. We fo­
cus on those activities such as honey work, hunting, houses, and storage that
reflect the delayed-return system of the past. We also describe the ways those
activities fit into the complex socioeconomic variability of the present.
During the early 1900s, the first European farms were established on top of
the Mau Escarpment, the upper part of the Piik ap Gam range. Kipsigis pastor­
alists also moved into the lower part of the Okiek range and cleared forest­
land, which they started cultivating in the 1920s. With the loss of both ends of
3461 D. Dale, F. Marshall, and T. Pilgram
their annual round, the Piik ap Gam thus had two periods of famine buil t into
their year. Hunting and honey gathering no longer provided an adequate sub­
sistence base.
The Piik ap Gam responded by attempting to take up food production,
herding, and agriculture. However, the area of remaining forest between the
Kipsigis agriculturalists and the colonial dairy farmers was declared forest re­
serve and prohibited to settlement. Piik ap Dam homes and fields were some­
times burned, and their cattle were killed or driven out of the forest. This
pattern culminated in a memorable famine in the early 1940s, during which
most young Piik ap Gam men sought wage labor with the colonists to earn
money to feed their families.
Many of the men were happy with their new lives and moved their families
to join them. Others disliked wage labor and returned to the forest. Some of
them were able to clear unclaimed land among the Kipsigis near the edge of
the forest reserve. Most of those Okiek cleared land on their clan's kanatwek.
Many of the men continued to go into the forest to hunt and collect honey,
however, leaving their wives to farm and effectively combining peasant and
hunter-gatherer subsistence and lifestyles.
In the 1980s, Okiek families still tried to establish farms in the forest reserve,
but the Forestry Department continued its policy of harassment in an attempt
to preserve the forest. Living in the forest was possible, however, because
there were no roads, the region was isolated, and outsiders, even forest
guards, were generally afraid of the forest. Thus harassment, though long­
term, occurred relatively seldom (only every few years), and outsiders were
not encountered on a frequent basis. For the Okiek who owned farms, the ef­
fort was not worth the trouble, and they usually returned after a year or two
to "Kipsigis" (Kipsigis country). The Okiek who did not own farms, usually
those who worked for years for the colonists and were too late to claim un­
cleared land, had nowhere else to go, however.
This pattern of land-claiming resulted in a paradoxical pattern of subsis­
tence activities. Most of the Okiek who lived in the deep forest were those
who worked at wage labor for a relatively long period. During that time, they
lost many of their honey-gathering skills and did not keep hives. Many did
some hunting and had small kitchen gardens, usually on a kanaita they re­
membered from their youths. Some had a little livestock or maize; a few sold
homemade beer to neighbors, or occasionally sold forest products, baskets, or
charcoal in Kipsigis, or earned money by working a small-scale donkey train.
By the 1980s, there was much variation from household to household in sub­
sistence base and the extent to which families relied on forest resources. At
that time, many families did some hunting, but few concentrated on honey
production. Most people depended on some type of domesticate, and many
aspired to being livestock owners. Wild and cultivated vegetables from kitch­
en gardens and traded maize were staples for most people (Marshall 2001).
The Okiek who lived outside the forest were those who worked only briefly,
and they supplemented the products of their legally owned farms with hunt­
ing and honey gathering. Therefore, the Okiek who had well-developed farms
in Kipsigis country had had a less interrupted experience of the forest, had
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers in Africa I 347
had a subsistence based on wild resources, and had practiced more hunting
and gathering than the Okiek living in the forest.
Among those who had maintained a solid link with past subsistence pat­
terns, and used high-altitude houses to continue the honey schedule, there
were two key differences between present and past use of the forest. Hunting
and gathering supplemented agriculture rather than being a mainstay. Time
spent in the forest was more in the nature of a visit than part of a constant sea­
sonal round. Second, the amount of time spent by families in the forest de­
creased gradually until by our study period women stayed on the farms when
the men went into the forest. Movement up and down the altitude gradient
was by that time made by small groups of older males and their sons rather
than by complete families.
In contrast with the study area, the base of the western Mau forest was used
very intensively by Kipsigis farmers in the 1980s. Some Kipsigis families were
subsistence farmers growing maize and keeping cattle, but many grew tea
(Camellia sinensis L.) as a cash crop (Donovan 1993; Manners 1962; Orchardson
1970; Peristiany 1964). Piikap Oom Okiek families were integrated with fron­
tier Kipsigis society at the forest margins. Many of these Kipsigis families who
Ii ved near the forest boundary came from Okiek lineages but called them­
selves either Okiek or Kipsigis depending on circumstances.
The Piik ap Gom Okiek data that we present are complex. Both the 1980s
data and historic information show great variability in social and subsistence
practices between families. As we indicate, these patterns of change are non­
linear and some of them are counterintuitive. The challenge for ethnoarchae­
ologists is to distinguish relationships between behavior and material culture
that have relevance for thinking about the archaeolOgical record. We seek to
establish relational analogies (sensu Wylie 1989) between the Okiek as de­
layed-return hunters~gatherersand patterns of use and accumulation of mate­
rial culture. In the following sections, we indicate precisely which
contemporary behaviors we think are relevant to understanding the role of
material culture in the past.
The da ta discussed here were collected a t in tervals during 1989
and 1990 in a 13-month-Iong ethnoarchaeological study. This was an espe­
cially interesting and dynamic period of change. We were able to observe the
final remnants of the delayed-return system in the area in which we worked.
Since that time, forces for integration of the remaining Piik ap Oom families
living in the forest into the socioeconomy of the larger region have multiplied.
Incentives not to use the forest have been greatly increased by litigation over
the right to live in the forest, construction of a new road through the study
area, and expansion of government tea farms.
We focus on the contents of high-altitude honey houses, most of which were
empty or abandoned. The data on currently occupied houses were collected
with the participation of householders. The data that we present on houses
that were not occupied were collected with the help of knowledgeable com­
3481 D. Dale, F. Marshall, and T. Pilgram
munity members but largely without help from the houses' owners, most of
whom are no longer living or are no longer part of the socioeconomic world of
the forest.
During our fieldwork, we lived with two Okiek families in the Langaam
and Siratet areas of high-altitude Podocarpus and bamboo forest. This is an
isolated region and an important "honey forest." As noted above, however,
paradoxically most of these families worked little with honey, did some
hunting, and focused more on small vegetable gardens or livestock herds. A
good deal of hunting and all the honey-gathering activities we studied were
carried out by Okiek men who lived in farming country and visited the forest
at intervals. While in the forest; the men usually stayed in their own houses Or
in those of their families located on clan territory. Those forest honey houses
serve as bases for two main kinds of activity: hive making and hunting.
Honey and Hunting Activities and Forest Houses
Hive making, hoisting, maintenance, and the harvesting of honey
was generally undertaken by elders. Hives were made with almost compul­
sive care, and making one required more than 12 hours of labor. The men
usually worked just slightly more than half the day, stopping shortly after
noon, because that is when rain becomes likely in the rainy season and when
heat became severe in the dry season. Work was often stopped early if one
phase of the building process was completed near stopping time. It might also
be stopped in order to go drinking, an important part of Okiek culture and
forest life (Blackburn 1971; Kratz 1977, 1994). As a result making and hanging
a hive usually took more than four days' work.
There were two kinds of hunting, each favored by a different age group.
Hunting with snares, which might be termed "passive" hunting, was gener­
ally conducted by elders. Hunting with spears, bow and arrow, and dog
packs, which might be termed "active" hunting, was most frequently done by
youths. These activities and their timing were probably similar to what was
done in that area when such hunting was part of a full seasonal round of
hunting and honey gathering.
In 1989 and 1990, there were many recently abandoned houses that had
been used for honey and hunting as part of the "traditional" exploitation of
the altitudinal gradient. There were also abandoned houses in clearings that
marked attempts by Kipsigis farmers in the 1970s to move into areas that had
been reoccupied by honey hunters.
Houses Used Seasonally for Honey and Hunting
and Their Possessions
We visited more than 50 standing houses, sometimes ranging sev­
eral kilometers from the konotwek in which we lived and usually worked. We
knew the occupants of four of the houses bu t went to all the houses tha t
householders and guides knew of in the area, both in use and abandoned. We
recorded the condition of each house, its contents, and all that we could find
out about the people who used or had used it.
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers in Africa I 349
Types of Structures or Shelters
We found two types of forest structures: the lean-to and the thatched wattle­
and-daub house. The lean-to was quite rare. It was made of a simple frame­
work of long sticks, lashed together or propped against one another and cov­
ered with grass thatch and plastic sheeting. Lean-tos have a long history in the
forest, although in the past they would have been covered with cut leafy
branches rather than thatch and plastic. They occupied the intermediate level
of comfort in the three kinds of shelter commonly sought by the Okiek in the
past. The simplest form of shelter was just a large tree, usually sabtet (Neobuto­
nia kili). Sabtet is very densely leaved and provides good shelter against rain. It
is still the tree of preference for those caught out in thunderstorms. Lean-tos
provide more shelter than trees, and the best and most permanent shelter was
provided by rockshelters, which are, however, no longer used. The most com­
mon type of structure we encountered was a thatched wattle-and-daub house,
which the Okiek said they began to copy from the Kipsigis about 40 years ago.
The houses originally had a circular design, but many are now square. They
tend to be occupied for short periods, a few days to two weeks.
Continuously Occupied vs. Reoccupied Forest Houses
Eighteen of the 50 houses were seasonally occupied. We focus our
analysis on their contents. Eleven of those houses appeared never to have
been abandoned. They were in a good state of repair, neatly organized, and
contained either coals from a recent fire or, in one case, a swept hearth. Five of
the houses were in deep forest, suggesting they had never been used for any­
thing but forest work. Seven houses appeared to have been abandoned and
reoccupied. They contained coals from a recent fire, which indicated occupa­
tion. However, they were either in disrepair or showed signs of decay and re­
cent repair. Many had muddy patches on the floors from leaky roofs or rubble
on the floors from collapsed sections of wall. Some were missing their hearth­
stones, which are often moved when a family constructs and occupies a new
house near one it is abandoning. The houses that had been abandoned and
later reoccupied were more commonly near pasture than houses that were
continuously occupied. The difference suggests that houses originally built for
farming were often abandoned and partially reoccupied, while most houses
built for forest work remained in continuous use.
In the continuously occupied houses, we simply recorded all the items pres­
ent. In the abandoned and reoccupied houses, we recorded all items present,
but we also attempted to distinguish the items abandoned with the house
from those brought in by the reoccupiers.
Forest Dwellers: Cultivators, Herders, Hunters, and Collectors
For comparative purposes, we also studied the contents of houses
owned by two forest cultivator-herding families. One was oriented toward
hunting, collection of greens, and cultivation of maize for trade. The other fo­
cused on cattle and collection of \vild and weedy greens.
350 D. Dale, F. Marshall, and T. Pilgram
Okiek Farmer Outside the Forest in Kipsigis
Finally, we have some information on the house size and kinds of
material culture used by an Okiek farmer living in Kipsigis at the boundary of
the forest. He lived on clan territory in that area, and as a child had also used
the rockshelter that we studied on a higher altitude konoito of his clan. He no
longer used the forest, except for pleasure, and focused on dairy and tea
Forest Houses Used Seasonally for Honey and Hunting
Seventy-one different kinds of material-culture items were attrib­
uted to the current occupants of the 18 houses central to this study. Of those,
36 items were found in only one house, and 12 were found in only two. Our
analysis focuses on items found in two or more houses but includes a few oth­
ers of importance.
The 39 items that we analyze as having relevance to the activities typically
carried out in high-altitude honey and hunting houses can be broadly divided
into the following categories: general purpose, food collection, food consump­
tion, and furniture (Table 15-3). We subdivide the food-collection category
into material culture relating to honey and to hunting. Similarly, we recognize
four subsets within the food-consumption category: items used for food pro­
cessing, cooking, water or liquid collection and storage, and eating and
drinking. We did not exclude other activities such as those relating to belief
systems or ceremonies from our analysis, but they were not well represented
in the material culture we saw.
Hive making was identified by the presence of seven specialized objects:
wedges, awls, a hive-hanging rope, a drill, a kisienjit (adze), a hive in the pro­
cess of being made, and lichen used to smoke bees. The numbers of each item
found are reported in Table 15-3 and Figures 15-3 and 15-4. Six of the 18
houses contained at least one of the items, and most of the houses that con­
tained any item held more than one. Hive-hanging ropes are more than 25 m
long and are handmade by the user from the bark of meswot vines. They were
beautifully made and looked like high-quality hemp rope. We were told that
once all the bark has been gathered and soaked for several days, it takes a few
more days to make the rope (Figure 15-5). Drills were heavy metal rods, with
one end either pointed so they could be heated to burn a hole or flattened and
sharpened so they cut a hole when spun between the hands. A kisienjit was a
special adjustable adze characteristic of the Okiek. The cutting face could be
set at different angles to trim the interior of the hive smooth. In the past they
were also used to chop down trees. By the 1980s, purchased axes were used
for that task. Finally, a hive in the process of being made was a sign that hive
making was underway even if the tools to make it had been removed.
Four types of hunting tools were examined for their distribution in houses:
bows, spears, snares, and wire rolls (Table 15-3 and Figures 15-3 and 15-4).
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers in Africa
I 351
Table 15-3. Categories of Material Culture Found in Honey and
Hunting Houses
Material Culture
General Purpose
Woven bag
Bamboo snuff case
Food Collection
Wire rolls
Food Consumption
Fire-starting kits
Roasting sticks
Roasting racks
Vine meat hanger
Wooden spoons-all types
Aluminum pots-sufarias
Liquid beaters
Liquid Collection/S to rage:
Hive making:
Ropes: honey (4), sisal (3)
Hive adzes
Hive drills
Log-splitting wedges
Lichen (smoking bees)
Material Culture
5-liter jugs
5-liter cans
Clay pots
Leather bag
Plastic bottle
Tin cans
Tin bowls
Tin cups
Bamboo cups
Tin plates
Drinking horn
Honey spoon
Sleeping skins
Bows were homemade. Spears were crafted, usually by Masai blacksmiths.
Most Okiek purchased their spears at the market at Mulot, near Masai coun­
try. Spears were the single most expensive item found stored in the houses.
The wire rolls were manufactured and kept in the houses as raw material for
snares. All the rolls we saw were wire, almost all of it quite old barbed wire
taken from fences. The large quantity of snares was due both to the impor­
tance of snares as a passive method of hunting for elders working on hives
and to the fact that they were inexpensive and easy to make. Some snares
were made of vines, while others were made from manufachlred rope or wire.
Grindstones, knives, sieves, and a vine meat hanger were included in the
food-processing category. None of those were common: only three grind­
3521 D. Dale, F. Marshall, and T. Pilgram
' . ':.
'. :,':
'_.• _""~-'; ... ­
z-,.-;-"· . . . . .. '-"
Figure 15-3. Artifacts cached in or near Piik ap Oom forest honey
houses. Descriptions and maximum dimensions: (a) hive, 142 em; (b)
adze (kisienjit), 58 em; (c) vine for making snares, 30 em; (d) fire drill,
hearth, 8 em; (e) aluminum pot (sufaria), 21 em; (f) open-mouthed clay
pot, 25 em; (g) narrow-necked clay pot, 44 em; (h) leather honey bag, 30
em; (i) plastic 5-11ter jug, 24 em; (j) tin cans, 13 em; (k) bushbuek sleep­
ing skin, 105 em; (1) stool, 75 em
stones, two knives, two sieves, and one meat hanger were found. Grindstones
and sieves were not often used. Knives, on the other hand, were very impor­
tant to forest life but are not cached. People owned one or two, which they
carried wi th them.
Seven cooking implements were examined for their distribution in houses:
fire-starting kits, roasting sticks, roasting racks, vine meat hangers, alurninum
pots, wooden spoons, and liquid beaters (Table 15-3 and Figures 15-3 and 15­
4). Fire-starting kits consisted of a hardwood drill, a softwood base, and tinder
(often lichen), all tied up in a bundle with string. Roasting sticks were ordi­
nary sticks, usually from 0.5 to 1 m long, with both ends sharpened. Meat was
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers in Africa 353
Material Culture: Liquids
Material Culture: Honey
§ ~ ~ ~
r e I -0
' " 0>
'" '"
Material Culture: Eating and DrinKing
Material Culture: Hunting
n> '"
F~U ~5 ~~ ~g-u
Material Culture: Cooking
I •
o ~
'"' 0
o 0-
0- '"
'" u
~ ~
'" c
Figure 15-4. Frequencies of material culture in Piik ap Oom forest
honey houses, related to (a) honey; (b) hunting; (c) cooking; (d) liquid
collection and storage; (e) eating and drinking.
placed on one end, and the other end was stuck in the ground near the fire.
Roasting racks were wooden frameworks about 2 m long by 1 m wide by 1 m
high, built over a fire to roast meat in large quantities, usually to lighten it for
transport. Aluminum cooking pots were the most cornman all-purpose boiling
pots used for soups, stews, kimnyet (maize paste), and even beer. Wooden
spoons were used for stirring; food in sufarias (aluminum cooking pots) and for
making kimnyet by stirring maize meal into boiling water. Carved wooden
implements were also used to heat liquids.
Six liquid-collection and storage vessels were examined for their dis-tribu­
han by house type: leather bags, clay pots, 5-liter plastic jugs, 5-liter sheet­
metal cans, gourds, and plastic bottles (Table 15-3 and figures 15-3 and 15-4).
3541 D. Dale, F. Marshall, and T. Pilgram
Figure 15-5. Axe and hive-hanging rope handmade from meswot vines.
Most were used for water and sometimes for millet, honey beer, or honey.
Most of the 5-liter plastic jugs originally held cooking oil, which is used most
often by the small cafes in Kipsigis villages. Proprietors sold the jugs when
they were empty. Most of the 5-liter sheet-metal cans originally held varnish
used by Kipsigis furniture makers. These were also sold when empty. Clay
pots were brought in from outside areas in Kipsigis country and sold in the
markets in town. Leather bags have long been used by the Okiek for collection
of water and of honey. In the 1980s, they were generally used only for honey.
We found only one, but we saw more leather bags being used elsewhere. They
were sometimes buried with honey inside and sometimes left in the open, so
they were not common in houses.
Plastic jugs were better than metal cans or clay pots for carrying water be­
cause they were stronger, lighter, and a handier shape. The sheet-metal cans
also had a useful shape, but their handles were not comfortable for long car­
ries, and the containers rusted quickly. Clay pots were the least useful for wa­
ter transport because they were heavy, easily broken, and an awkward shape
for carrying. They were better for storage. However, smaller clay pots could
also be used for cooking and could take the place of more expensive alumi­
num pots. Only one house had clay pots and no aluminum pots, suggesting
that clay pots were not essential for cooking and were probably used for
short- or long-term storage of water or other liquids such as beer or honey
Eight eating-and-drinking implements were examined for distribution by
house type: bowls, cups, tin cans, tin plates, wooden honey spoons, bamboo
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers in Africa 1355
cups, drinking horns, and teapots (Table 15-3 and Figures 15-3 and 15-4).
Bowls, cups, and teapots were purchased, and tin cans were recovered dis­
cards. Margarine was a staple for cooking in Kipsigis farming country, and
vegetable shortening was also frequently used. Both were sold in cans of vari­
ous sizes, of which the most commonly purchased was the 500 g kimbo size.
When the contents had been used up, the cans were cleaned out and used as
cups. So, although tin cans were manufactured, they were seldom purchased
for their own sake but were the leftover by-products of other purchases. Tin
cans could be purchased very inexpensively in the markets and were often
casually given to friends. Bamboo was common in the high-altitude forest,
and sections cut from large canes were often used as cups or larger liquid­
storage vessels.
The only freestanding furniture found in houses was wooden stools made
from forest wood (Table 15-3 and Figure 15-3). Some houses also had benches
and sleeping platforms molded into the clay of the floor. Occasionally, bam­
boo sleeping platforms were also found. Sleeping skins (Figure 15-3) were de­
rived from a range of wild forest animals including bushbuck, red duiker,
blue dUiker, cattle, and goat. Their skins were only partially tanned and were
used as mattresses.
The most common items left in houses were roasting sticks (52), followed by
snares (34), nails (30), tin cans (27), wooden spoons (18), sleeping skins (17),
beehives (16.5), aluminum pots (14), 5-liter jugs (12), and stools (10; Table 15-3
and Figure 15-6). These represented activities associated with cooking, hunt­
ing, hive making, liquid collection and storage, eating and drinking, furnihue,
or bedding.
Forest Dwellers: Cultivators, Herders, Hunters, and Collectors
Most of the items in unoccupied houses were also found in the oc­
cupied forest houses that were seasonally used for honey and hunting. Mate­
rial found in farming houses, but not in honey-hunting houses, included axes
and jerry cans, as well as farming equipment: karais (large metal pans), hoes,
and spades, one wheelbarrow, and one 44-gal drum. The main difference be­
tween honey-hunting and farming houses was that more and larger contain­
ers are found in permanent houses. In addition, as expected, there was more
specialized farming equipment in the farming houses and a lack of specialized
hunting and honey equipment.
Okiek Farmer Outside the Forest in Kipsigis
Most of the items found in the house of an Okiek farmer who lived
near the forest boundary in Kipsigis farming country were also found in other
houses that we studied. This house was much larger than forest houses, how­
ever, as were many of the items that were in the house, which included water
containers, sufarias, and kisyets (small baskets for serving food). The house also
held items not present in forest-farming houses: sacks of grain and furniture, a
large bed, and a table. The gradient from small to large equipment and the
presence of grain reflected both specialization in farming and the permanence
of the settlements.
3561 D. Dale, F. Marshall, and T. Pilgram
Most Commonly Found Items in
Hive-Making Houses
.'::; .;.:
C .5 (/)
Figure 15-6. Most commonly found items in forest honey houses.
Discussion of Okiek Data
The material culture we found in forest houses was stored there
against future visits. Such storage contrasts with patterns seen among imme­
diate-return hunter-gatherers where reuse of abandoned camp sites is casual,
and caching is unsystematic (Brooks and Yellen 1987; Fisher and Strickland
1989; Kent 1987). The most common items of material culture left in Okiek
honey-hunting houses (Figure 15-6) reflect hunting, hive making, liquid col­
lection and its storage, cooking, sitting, and eating and drinking.
Material culture accumulated in houses because seasonal use of resources
and the time delay built into the honey schedule resulted in scheduled revis­
iting of specific locations in forests at different altitudes at different times of
the year. Visits were regular as a part of routine hive maintenance, hoisting,
and harvesting activities. Even more importantly, ownership of property al­
lowed the revisiting of the same ridges, trees, and houses and the long-term
caching or storage and accumulation of much material culture in the same
place. This form of storage is not so commonly associated with the Okiek as is
storage of honey, but nevertheless it reflects an important form of storage and
the presence of both a delayed-return system and ownership of property and
resource rights.
How Meaningful Are These Results?
The first question to ask is how representative are the items found
in honey and hunting houses of those used when the owners.of houses were
in residence? When we were studying honey- or htmting-related activities, we
spent time with two elders and two to six young men in and around three
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers in Africa 1357
honey-hunting houses. We had the opportunity, therefore, to gain some per­
spective on this question. When they returned to the high forest, honey hunt­
ers typically carried spears and axes and wore blankets. Sometimes they also
carried a kilo or two of maize meal. In general, people did not like to carry
much when traveling through the forest, so they used the material that they
left in houses. On the basis of these observations, it seems that the material left
or cached in houses is fairly representative of that used in the high forest. We
noted interesting differences, however, between the use and caching of axes,
spears, and machetes. Axes are a man's most important tool during honey­
related work, but they are never left in houses because they are expensive and
people do not own more than one. For the same reasons, as well as for their
use on the trail, pangas, or machetes, and spears are usually carried from
house to house and not left behind.
There is plenty of evidence for short-term storage, but the relative lack of
honey stored for the long-term is another interesting difference between ac­
tivities that we saw, what took place historically, and the material culture that
we found. When hives were harvested, honey was eaten in large quantities
and occasionally stored. We saw leather bags full of honey buried in remote
parts of the forest. We did not see honey stored in houses, probably because it
is now carried to low-altitude houses and stored there. Historically, Blackburn
(1971, 1973), Kratz (1989), and people that we talked to emphasize the use of
large ceramic containers to store honey in forest houses or caves (Figure 15-7).
Just as with the leather bags, those containers were often buried to prevent
honey badgers from smelling and eating the honey. When pots were used,
they were usually stoppered with stone and sealed with propolis.
Another issue of importance is how similar material cached in forest houses
and used by men is to that cached and used in the days when whole families
stayed in high-altitude houses. Do cached items approximate the material
residues of the hunter-gatherer system of residential mobility? There are sev­
eral ways to address this qu"estion. First, a number of men told us that it was
only during the last five to 10 years that women stopped coming to the forest
altogether. So, the material in some of the abandoned houses we studied
might date back to that period. Second, men said the houses were not much
different now from what they had been in the past. To cross-check this, we
compared the contents of men-only honey and hunting houses with those of
two forest farming houses in which women and children live. We also looked
at the house of an Okiek farmer outside the forest in Kipsigis. Finally, we refer
to historic data on other Okiek local groups, Kaplelaclz and Kipclzornwonek
(Blackburn 1971; Kratz 1994), and to our own interviews on the roles of Okiek
women in the past.
Historically, Okiek women were not very much involved in hunting or in
the search for food or honey. They were busy tending children, collecting wa­
ter and firewood, cooking, and making skin dothing (Blackburn 1971; Kratz
1994). Kratz (1994), comments that a woman's tools, without which she could
not take up a married woman's position in a new house, were fire, a knife; and
a bone needle. Tending to children, preparation of food, and collection of
firewood and water are vmrnen's chores to this day as can be seen among
3581 D. Dale, F. Marshall, and T. Pilgram
O.'. . ':.~,;o..!
,-.:;:-. .
Honey Pots
Cooking Pots
Used for storage:
Used to hold liquids
Used to eat
Forest Honey Pots
usually for boiling
Large 30-40 em,
Soft stone cap.
Sealed with propolis,
Buried in a hole in the
Large round pot for
boiling meat 15-40-cm
diameter, ID-20-cm
mouth diameter. ,
Most are 20 em high,
a wide
variety of foods
Used for storage or
brewing honey wine:
Cave Honey Pots
Very large 7 6 - c m ' diameter, 60 em high,
30-cm diameter mouth.
because stand on floor or
shelf in a cave,
Small shallow
Used for storage in the
.c.': '.:
Round pot, freestandmg,
7.5-30-cm diameter,
Used to b OJ' I
similar size as cooking
pots, but with narrower
mouth. Leather cover.
Small pots store honey
for children. This type
can be used to store fat.
Large wide-mouthed pot
used for boiling poison.
Size similar to meatboiling pot 30-cm
diameter (only used at
low altitude).
. ,"
House Honey
Thinner cupshaped vessel.
:'.:'.' ,';
. ' _~, ...•
Small cups used
for children,
, > ; Rounder than FlIP
Wide bowl
bowls for eating
were also used.
S ff 'di
nu -gnn ng
bowl (keiset).
A small shallow
bowl with rough
InSl e su ace.
Clay Pipe
Used for
Figure 15-7. Ceramics used by Kaplelach and Kipchomwonek Okiek
local groups in the recent past. Information from Blackburn (1971, 1973)
and Kratz (1989); figures redrawn from photographs in Blackburn
(1973:58-61, with permission of the British Institute in Eastern Africa)
and figures in Kratz (1989:67, with permission of Corinne Kratz),
Okiek forest-farmers and among farmers outside in Kipsigis areas. Without
women and children in high-altitude honey-hunting houses, however, the
men collect water and firewood and prepare food, These tasks are done on a
more limited basis than if the women were doing them, but they require the
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers in Africa I 359
same tools and techniques. On the other hand, honey houses wi thout women
and children lack a number of classes of material culture, including artifacts
related to women's dress, such as beads (Klumpp and Kratz 1993), to sewing,
or to children's activities. Such artifacts would include toys and small contain­
ers for feeding (Blackburn 1973). Interestingly, none of those items is cornman
in houses where women and children are present, and most are small and not
easy to detect. The same is true of material culture relating to ceremonies.
Such material is rare and sometimes, as in the case of clay figurines made for
female initiation, intentionally destroyed.
The contention that men do the essential women's work of collecting water
and firewood and cooking when in forest houses is supported by the fact that
almost all of the items found in forest-farming houses where women are pres­
ent are also found in honey-hunting houses. Only a few very specialized farm­
ing tools, such as a plow and shovels, are absent. If anything, there is more
material culture present in hunter-gatherer houses and absent in farming
houses. In particular, specialized hive-making and hunting tools are not pres­
ent in fanning houses. Items most used by women for getting water and for
cooking and serving food are, however, more abundant in farming houses, as
are clothing and piles of firewood. That abundance reflects the presence of
women and children as well as the greater length of time spent in farming
houses than in honey-hunting houses.
When thinking about applying the Piik ap Gom data to archaeologi­
cal cases, one must consider how visible the materials used today would be
archaeologicallyand how representative they are of the kinds of material cul­
ture used in the remote past. Because of the recent substitutions of plastics and
metals for ceramics, data collected by Blackburn (1973) and Kratz (1989) be­
tween the 1960s and 1980s among the Kipchornwonek and Kaplelach Okiek are
very helpful.
As Blackburn (1973) and Kratz (1989) note, among the families they studied,
clay pots and dishes had been recently replaced by metal sufarias, light and
unbreakable enameled iron plates and cups, and a variety of tin cans, but clay
pots were still used to brew and serve beer. In the past, the Knplelach and Kip­
chornwonek Okiek used large pots 30-60 cm high to store honey (see Figure 15­
7). Very large free-standing pots were hidden in rockshelters, where slightly
smaller pots were buried in the ground. Honey was also stored in houses in
considerably smaller and rounder pots approximately 20 cm high. Sometimes
very small pots were used in houses to store fat or honey for children. Me­
dium-sized cooking pots were commonly used for boiling meat. At low alti­
tudes, a similar shaped pot was used for boiling poison. A variety of ceramic
bowls was also used for eating honey and other foods; they were often about
7-18 cm wide and about 6-10 cm high. A very similar shallow bowt 14 cm
wide and anI y a few cm high, was used for snuff grinding. The Okiek also
made and used clay pipes.
Other metal or plastic artifacts would have been made of wood, leather,
basketry, or (further back in the past) stone. Many wooden spoons and other
360 D. Dale, F. Marshall, and T. Pilgram
cooking utensils were still used, however, as were gourds, tightly woven bas­
kets, and leather bags. By going through the list of items found in currently
occupied forest houses and interpolating backward, replacing metal contain­
ers with ceramics or wood and knives with stone, one can achieve a better es­
timate for the archaeological visibility of forest houses and the materials
cached in them (see Table 15-4). Ceramics are the only items found that were
common in the recent past and also well preserved archaeologically. They are
important indicators of food preparation, consumption, and storage. Residue
analysis might in some cases be able to detect their use for storage of honey or
fat. Stone is also likely to have been important and may have reflected spe­
cialized hunting and woodworking activities in archaeological si tes better
than metal items.
All Okiek sites, whether honey-hunting or farming houses, were small, iso­
lated, and made of mud and wooden poles. They would not be easy to detect
archaeologically on the basis of features. In some cases, postholes would be
preserved, or where houses had burned, fragments of compacted floor might
be seen. Micromorphological studies would be necessary to detect such floors.
Most houses contained hearthstones, which would preserve, as might the ash
between them. Pits were not dug for storage or rubbish, dogs were active, and
houses did not accumulate a significant rubbish-dump area or visible assem­
blages of animal bones. (Some historic rockshelter sites did, however, accu­
mulate large quantities of animal bones.) In addition, because houses were
isolated, located in areas with abundant forest vegetation, and received up to
an inch of rain a day, there was much insect, carnivore, and soil-formation ac­
tivity. Breakdown of organic matter was rapid, and preservation of many
classes of material culhIre unlikely.
Moderate Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers:
The Ownership Model
Given the potential significance of moderate delayed-return
groups for understanding socioeconomic variation and trajectories of social
change among past hunter-gatherers, it is important for archaeologists to con
sider hunter-gatherer socioeconomic systems of such intermediate groups. It
is always easier, however, to identify extremes, as reflected in the binary na­
ture of current categories for hunter-gatherer variation. We argue that more
nuanced archaeological research will reveal considerable variation in social
organization among delayed-return hunter-gatherers in the middle of the
scale of socioeconomic variation.
To conduct such research, however, it is necessary to develop expectations
for material signatures of intermediate groups. VYe develop a model here for
recognition of moderate delayed-return hunter-gatherers with socioeconomic
structures similar to those of the Okiek. We base that model on relational
analogies drawn from the Okiek and on criteria for identification of hunter­
gatherer socioeconomic complexity derived from other hunter-gatherers, as
well as from the archaeological record. ldentifica tion of ownership of re­
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers in Africa I 361
Table 15-4. Prehistoric Equivalents of Material ClIlture
Found in Honey-Hunting Houses
Material Culture (Number)
General Purpose
Panga (1)
Woven bag (1)
Bamboo snuff case (1)
Food Collection
Hive making:
Hives (16.5)
Ropes (10)
Hive adzes (4)
Hive drills (2)
Log-splitting wedges (2)
Lichen (for smoking bees) (1)
Snares (34)
Wire rolls (7)
Bows (5)
Spears (3)
Food Consumption
Grindstones (3)
Knives (2)
Sieves (2)
Fire-starting kits (5)
Roasting sticks (52)
Roas ting racks (2)
Vine meat hanger (1)
Wooden spoons-all types (21)
Aluminum pots-sufarias (14)
Liquid beaters (2)
Liquid CollectionlStorage
5-liter jugs (12)
5-liter cans (7)
Clay pots (5)
Gourd (1)
Leather bag (1)
Plastic bottle (1)
fa tinglDrinking
Tin cans (27)
Tin bowls (6)
Tin cups (5)
Bamboo cups (3)
Tin plates (3)
Drinking hom (1)
Honey spoon (1)
Teapot (1)
Stools (10)
Sleeping skins (17)
Probable Prehistoric Equivalent
Stone tool
Stone tools
Stone tools
Stone tools
Stone tools
Stone bases
Ceramic vessels
Ceranlic vessels
Ceramic vessels
Ceramic vessels
Ceramic vessel
Ceramic vessels
Ceramic vessels
Ceramic vessels
Ceramic vessels
3621 D. Dale, F. Marshnll, and T. Pilgram
sources is the key to recogmtlon of the Okiek as delayed-return hunter­
gatherers. Repeated use of sites, a relatively high density of archaeological
material, and the presence of ceramic storage vessels are excellent indicators
of ownership.
High densities of archaeological material caused by redundancy of site use
reflect a delayed-return system, as much as or more than does any single arti­
fact class. Ownership of property, the time delay built into the honey sched­
ule, and seasonal use of resources allow scheduled revisiting of the identical
ridges and houses at different times of the year. Houses function not only as
shelter but also as storage facilities for artifacts needed for honey, hunting,
and daily forest life.
In the Okiek case, ceramics are the most useful individual class of material
culture and a powerful tool for identifying delayed-return hunter-gatherers
because they survive well archaeologically and provide evidence of owner­
ship. Large quantities of ceramics suggest investment of labm in making pots,
use of pots for short- and long-term storage, and patterns of accumulation in­
dicative of rights to resources and concepts of ownership, as well as delays in
Other material signatures of the Okiek are consistent with widespread ex­
pectations for hunter-gatherer socioeconomic complexity. The association of
sites with rich and predictable resources, in this case populations of bees and
hives full of honey in forests at a variety of altitudes, is often considered char­
acteristic of inegalitarian hunter-gatherers (see Table 15-2). Tools for special­
ized tasks are another such characteristic. Woodworking tools used for
making Okiek hives are quite specialized, and although unlikely to survive, it
is possible that-in the past-lithic assemblages would have reflected that
Settlement patterns are not, however, good indicators of Okiek social orga­
nization. The Okiek, although delayed-return hunter-gatherers, had a more
residential than logistical pattern of movement. Few traces of permanent
structures would be recovered. Sites are also small but may be quite dense. In
addition, there is little elaboration of material culture. Time is not significantly
invested in any class of material culture except beehives, and they are wood
and not likely to preserve. There are also few prestige or exotic items, and
there is no specialized discard of trash.
However, it is apparent from these findings that identification of groups
such as the Okiek as moderate delayed-return hunter-gatherers, with owner­
ship and small-scale inequality, cannot be accomplished on the basis of the
presence of one or even a few items of material culture. Indicators of delayed­
return hunter-gatherers such as ownership, specialized tools, or the presence
of a rich and predictable resource base must be combined with the absence of
evidence for complex delayed-return hunter-gatherers. Such lack of evidence
includes the absence of large sites, permanent structures, elaborate material
culture or exotic items, and specialized discard of trash. We summarize the
Ownership Model in Table 15-5.
We recognize that this complex of features does not indicate specific social
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers in Africa 1363
Table 15-5. Archaeological Indicators of Moderate Delayed-Return
Hunter-Gatherers: The Ownership Model
Indicators of Ownership
Repeated use of sites
High density of archaeological material
Ceramic storage vessels
Wooden, fiber, or hide storage
containers a
Elaboration of material culhrre
Large quantities of prestige or exotic items
Specialized discard of trash
Elaborate architectural feahrres
Other factors
Rich and predictable resources
Specialized tooL'>, e.g., woodworking
aItems that may not preserve.
institutions held by the Okiek, such as bridewealth or age sets. It does, how­
ever, provide useful indicators of moderate delayed-return hunter-gatherers
with delays in return, ownership, limited sharing, and some inequalities, but
without hierarchy or hereditary differences in status. We expect the precise
configuration of features present and features absent to vary according to the
socioeconomic organization of the moderate delayed-return hunter-gatherers
investigated. In the following section, we apply this model to interpretation of
Kansyore middle Holocene sites in East Africa.
Kansyore Hunter-Gatherers
Later Stone Age hunter-gatherers in East Africa are usually consid­
ered to have been highly mobile groups occupying small sites, using local raw
materials, and hunting a wide variety of mammals (Merrick and Brown 1984;
Phillipson 1977a, 1977b). They are best known from Eburran sites such as
Enkapune Ya Muto in the Central Rift Valley (Figure 15-1; Ambrose 1984,
1998; Marean et al. 1994). The socioeconomic patterns of these hunter­
gatherers most closely resemble those of immediate-return hunter-gatherers.
Less well known in East Africa are the Kansyore, hunter-gatherers who are as­
sociated with large quantities of highly decorated ceramics (for which they are
named), lacustrine and riverine-based subsistence, and relatively intense oc­
cupations. Although the socioeconomic patterns associated with Kansyore
sites contrast starkly with those of other Later Stone Age hunter-gatherers,
there has been little or no discussion of the possible presence of delayed­
return hunter-gatherers in the East African Later Stone Age.
364 ID. Dale, F. Marshall, and T. Pilgram
Background to the Knnsyore
Kansyore hW1ter-gatherers lived over a wide area of East Africa ca.
8,000-3,000 years ago but were loosely concentrated around Lake Victoria
(Figure 15-1). Of the better documented sites, five are rockshelters (Nasera
Mumba-Hohle, Chabula, Nyang'oma, Chole), four are shell middens (Luanda'
Kanjera West, Kanam, White Rock Point), and five are open sites (Kansyor~
Island, Gogo Falls, Ugunja, Siror, Haa; Chapman 1967; Collett and Robert­ shaw 1980; Dale 2000; Karega-Munene 1993; Mehlman 1989; Robertshaw 1991'
Robertshaw et al. 1983; Soper and Golden 1969; Thorp 1992). At all of the sites'
. Kansyore levels are associated with wild faW1a (Robertshaw et al. 1983; Stew~
art 1991; but see Karega-Munene 1993), Later Stone Age lithics, and large
quantities of highly decorated ceramics. They are the earliest ceramics in
western Kenya and the only known sites in East Africa with large quantities of
ceramics prior to the beginnings of food production (ca. 5000-4000 B.P.).
Kansyore pottery was first identified by Chapman (1967) at the type site of
Kansyore Island on the Kagera River, west of Lake Victoria (Figure 15-1). The
pottery is distinctive due to its abundance on East African sites and to the
amoW1t, complexity, and intricate nature of its decoration. Kansyore ceramic
decoration most commonly consists of walked punctates, or comb impres­
sions, in vertical, horizontal, or a combination of vertical and horizontal bands
around the vessel. Wavy-line and zigzag motifs, which are very similar to
those fOW1d on earlier fisher-gatherer pottery from the north (Ambrose 1990;
Chapman 1967; Sutton 1974), are also present among the motifs in Kansyore
assemblages. Common Kansyore vessel forms include open hemispherical
bowls and bowls with inturned rims. Less common forms are platters and
polygonal bowls (Collett and Robertshaw 1980; Robertshaw 1991).
Dates for the Kansyore archaeological entity range from about 8240 to 2640
B.P., suggesting that the Kansyore material culture was long-lived (Robert­
shaw 1991). At sites with appropriate stratigraphy, however, it is clear that
Kansyore levels underlie the first evidence for food production in East Africa.
New Data from Siror (GPJB 16)
Siror, a Kansyore site recently excavated by Dale in western Kenya,
is located on a terrace near rapids of the Nzoia River, approximately 20 km
from Lake Victoria (Figure 15-1). It is one of three sites investigated. Excava­
tions at Siror focused on obtaining well-provenienced, datable material to ad­
dress Kansyore chronological issues and well-contextualized information on
Kansyore socioeconomic practices (Dale 2000).
Siror is an open site extending approximately 100 x 150 m. Although por­
tions of the site are W1der hoe cultivation (the remainder lies fallow or has not
yet been cultivated), surface visibility is good, and an extensive surface collec­
tion was made. Two units, a 1 x 1 m and a 2 x 1 m, were excavated to depths
of 129 cm and 100 cm, respectively. It was originally planned to excavate more
extensively, but the quantity of archaeological material recovered from the
two units made that impracticable. The deposits from both units appeared in­
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers in Africa I 365
tact with little or no apparent disturbance from human or animal activity, or
agents of bioturbation. Following is a summary of the material culture and in­
formation recovered from Siror.
From those small exploratory units 3,155 sherds were recovered.
That number does not include sherds recovered during surface collection of
the site. The quantity of cerarrucs found at Siror is striking and an order of
magnitude higher than was previously expected for East African hunter­
gatherer sites.
Cerarrucs were found throughout the levels in Units 1 and 2 but were con­
centrated in levels that were 15-45 cm below the surface, with an average of
286 sherds per 5-cm spit (50 litres). Unit 1 yielded 1,116 sherds, 327 (29%) of
which were decorated. Unit 2 yielded 2,039 sherds, 682 (33%) of which were
Kansyore sites appear to have much higher densities of ceramics than do
other Later Stone Age sites in East Africa, but within the Kansyore there is
considerable variability. Quantities of cerarrucs sirrular to those found at Siror
have been recovered at the Kansyore rockshelter site of Mumba-Hohle (of the
507 diagnostic sherds recovered 207 are related to Kansyore) and the open site
of Gogo Falls (- 3,000 Kansyore-type sherds; Dale, personal observation 1997).
These quantities contrast with the much smaller amounts of pottery from the
shell-rrudden sites Luanda (- 50)/ Kanjera West (- 10), and White Rock Point
(- 60) and from Nasera (- 21), a rockshelter site.
A wide variety of Kansyore decoration is present at Siror/ including punc­
tate and rocker-stamp motifs (Figure 15-8) as well as sherds exhibiting un­
usual applique and circular motifs (Figure 15-8) similar to those identified by
Robertshaw (Robertshaw et al. 1983:11; Figure 5-8) from the shell rruddens at
Luanda and by Collett and Robertshaw (1980:136; Figure 4a) from Gogo Falls.
Zigzig motifs made by rocker-stamp technique with either a plain comb or
one with a serrated edge account for 75% of the decorated sherds from Unit 2.
That percentage contrasts sharply with decorative patterns from Unit 1 where
sherds with Zigzag motifs account for only 7% of the decorated assemblage.
Sherds with punctate, simple impression, and incision of different kinds make
up 64% of the assemblage.
Vessel reconstruction was hampered to some extent by the sizes of the body
and rim sherds recovered. Based on rim angles and wall inclinations, Dale
thinks the sherds probably came from small- to medium-sized open-mouthed,
herruspherical vessels. This assessment fits with reconstructions for Kansyore
pottery from other sites. Sherds from a polygonal bowl were also recovered at
Bone preservation at Siror is excellent. The faunal remains from
Unit 2, identified by Chester Cain, suggest high species diversity with an em­
phaSis on fish. Non-fish taxa include suids, primates, carnivores, equids,
snakes, birds/ tortoise, and bovids of various size classes.
366 D. Dale, F. Marshall, and T. Pilgram
/~~ .'- 3~~~
~,.< -=::='
;:2:~-' :~~~5
. ..<'
, oox"\l
... _~~r)
. ::Jt~~~'cp i;~~/
Figure 15-8. Kansyore pottery from Siror: (a) punctate sherd, typical of
Kansyore, 5.3 x 5.4 cm; (b) rocker-stamp sherd, typical of Kansyore, 7.5 x
6 cm; (c) circular-motif sherd, 4 x 3 cm; (d) applique-motif sherd, 3.5 x
Terrestrial fauna (all non-fish bone including human, mammal, bird, reptile,
and amphibian) is found throughout the levels in quantities approximating
150-550 g per level. Human bone is often associated with Kansyore sites.
Small numbers of scattered human finger and toe bones throughout Unit 2
may reflect disturbed or secondary burials. An undisturbed human burial was
identified between 70 and 85 cm.
Overall pa ttems of non-fish remains suggest exploitation of a wide range of
species and ungulate sizes in the upper levels. Small to medium and large un­
gulates make up the majority of the faunal remains between 30 and 60 cm, and
large ungulates dominate between 60 and 90 cm. A similar range of bovid taxa
was identified at Kansyore shell midden sites excavated by Robertshaw (Rob­
ertshaw et al. 1983).
Fish bone, found throughout the units, is highly concentrated (~ 200-600 g
per 5-cm level) between 10 and 35 cm in Unit 2 and between 15 and 45 cm in
Unit 1. At least eight fish taxa were identified. The majority of remains are
Cyprinidae. Clarias (mud fish, catfish) is common, but just as at Gogo Falls, Bar­
bus (yellowfish, carp) dominates the fish assemblage. Stewart (1991) has sug­
gested that the abundance of Barbus at Gogo Falls is related to ease of capture
during their spawning season when they congregate at the bottoms of rapids
on rivers tributary to Lake Victoria. This scenario would apply equally to Siror
and to other Kansyore sites in the area, located near rapids of the Nzoia River.
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers in Africa I 367
Lithic Artifacts
The lithic assemblage at Siror, as at other Kansyore sites, is pri­
marily quartz based and nonuniform in character. The most common formal
tools are small quartz crescents and bipolar cores. Obsidian microliths were
found in small quantities in the upper levels. The presence of obsidian at the
site suggests contact with distant sources (Merrick and Brown 1984). Chert,
another nonlocal material, appears to have been used much more frequently
at Siror than at other Kansyore sites. Interestingly, one of the few formal tools
recovered, a chert blade, was found in association with a human burial (7G-85
em, Unit 2).
Dates and Additional Finds
Secure AMS dates from Siror on wood charcoal and fruit seed
range from 6194 ± 47 bp (A0316) to 2889 ± 36 bp (A0318). Additional finds
from Siror and other Kansyore sites are few, but those such as shellfish and
ostrich-eggshell beads, ocher, and engraved bone may be important for
thinking about issues surrounding the socioeconomic organization of the Kan­
Kansyore: Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers?
Many features of the Kansyore archaeological record, such as asso­
ciation with rich and predictable resources, site density, and abundant ce­
ramics, are consistent with general expectations for delayed-return or
inegalitarian hunter-gatherers and the Ownership Model (Table 15-5).
The location of Kansyore sites, like Siror and others in western Kenya, near
rapids that provide good spots for annual fish spawns suggests the possibility
of resource specialization and corresponds with ecological theories that pre­
di ct economic complexity/specialization where resources are rich, predict­
able, and storable. At Siror, the probability of resource specialization is further
supported by the presence of large quantities of Barbus, a fish that congregates
at the bottoms of rapids during the spawning season and is therefore easily
exploited in large numbers (Dale 2000; Stewart 1991).
The very high density of material culture (ceramics, fauna, and lithics) atSi­
ror and other Kansyore sites suggests reuse of specific locations. Sites such as
Siror and Gogo Falls have high frequencies of ceramics, and the human
groups who occupied them were apparently focusing on both fish and terres­
trial mammals. It may be that they fit into a system of land use that incorpo­
rated seasonal exploitation of shellfish at shoreline localities, such as the shell­
Inidden sites (White Rock Point, Luanda, Kanam, and Kanjera West) on the
shores of Lake Victoria. In contrast to Siror and Gogo Falls, the shell-midden
sites have low frequencies of ceramics, a focus on lacustrine resources, and
less evidence of intensive occupation. Mehlman (1989) similarly suggested the
idea of a complementary system of land use for the Kansyore sites of Mumba­
Hohle and Nasera in northern Tanzania. Mumba-Hohle has large quantities of
ceramics and accumulations of shellfish and fish, as well as wide arrays of ter­
3681 D. Dale, F. Marshall, and T. Pilgram
restrial mammals, birds, amphibians, and snakes. Nasera, on the other hand
has small quantities of ceramics, and its location at the foot of a kopje in th:
grasslands, an area with seasonal rainfall, makes it ideal for hunting large un.
The abundance of ceramics at Siror, Gogo Falls, and Mumba-Hohle, to­
gether with a focus on fishing, suggests that pots were used for short- or long­
term storage, possibly in connection with a specialized, seasonal exploitation
of fish. As in the Okiek case, we argue that the storing of resources is indica­
tive of ownership. The highly decorated nature of Kansyore ceramic vessels
also suggests a degree of technical elaboration and labor investment in mate­
rial culture more characteristic of items that are owned than shared (Barnett
and Hoopes 1995; Goodyear 1988; Hayden 1990; Soffer 1989).
Taken together, abundant ceramics, dense accumulations of material cul­
ture, location near rich and predictable resources, and burials associated with
some sites are consistent with general expectations of material culture associ­
ated with delayed-return hunter-gatherers. There is nothing, however, to indi­
cate that the Kansyore were delayed-return hunter-gatherers with a high
degree of inequality. The absence of structures and the low frequency of pres­
tige or exotic goods are consistent with expectations of the Ownership Model
for moderate delayed-return hunter-gatherers.
The Later Stone Age Kansyore, although probably moderate delayed-return
hunter-gatherers, differed from the moderate delayed-return Okiek in inter­
esting ways. They lived at low altitudes in riverine and lacustrine environ­
ments, rather than in high-altitude rain forests. They focused on fish rather
than honey. Significantly, the Kansyore used much larger quantities of, and
much more highly decorated, ceramics than did the Okiek. Whether the Kan­
syore had clan-based systems or bridewealth, we do not know. However, evi­
dence of ownership, resource specialization, storage, and degree of
elaboration of material culture are all suggestive of more elaborate socioeco
nomic organization than previously suggested for Holocene hunter-gatherers
of East Africa.
Binary categories currently used to describe socioeconomic varia­
tion among hunter-gatherers limit understanding of varia tion that may have
existed among past hunter-gatherer societies. We postulate the existence of
moderate delayed-return hunter-gatherers without the hierarchies or class
systems characteristic of elaborate delayed-return systems such as the Calusa
or groups from the Northwest Coast of North America. Such groups are char­
acterized by concepts of ownership, limited sharing, more inequalities, and
more bounded societies than those of immediate-return hunter-gatherers such
as the !Kung.
To recognize moderate delayed-return hunter-gatherers archaeologically,
we have developed a model that fits with and amplifies thinking about widely
Delayed-Return Hunter-Gatherers in Africa I 369
used indicators for prehistoric delayed-return hunter-gatherers. We empha­
size the utility of linking specific material indicators to broader concepts such
as ownership. Moderate delayed-return hunter-gatherers may be recognized
by the presence of ownership indicators, as well as specialized tools and rich
and predictable resource bases. But, the presence of such indicators must be
combined with the absence of evidence for complex delayed-return hunter­
gatherers including large sites, permanent structures, elaborate material­
culture or exotic items, and specialized discard of trash.
Application of these findings to the Later Stone Age Kansyore site of Siror
near Lake Victoria, Kenya, suggests that the Kansyore were moderate de­
layed-return hunter-gatherers. Large quantities of highly decorated ceramics,
their accumulation at high densities indicating redundant use of space, and
probable use of pots for short- and long-term storage support this interpreta­
tion. Locations of sites near rapids and the presence of large quantities of fish
also suggest resource specialization, revisiting of sites as part of a seasonal
round, and the presence of a delayed-return pattern. But the absence of struc­
tures and the low frequency of prestigious or exotic artifact groups fit with a
moderate rather than elaborate delayed-return system. The heavy use of ce­
ramics with a focus on lacustrine resources suggests a hitherto umecognized
East African hunter-gatherer socioeconomic system.
Barich (1998a:49, 52, 1998b:109) has also recently suggested that some form
of delayed-return hunter-gatherers were present in Africa, specifically in the
Libyan Acacus and other Saharan sites. She bases her suggestion on evidence
for semipermanent occupation, probable logistical mobility, storage (pits), and
seasonal use of territory at Ti-n- Torha, ca. 8500 B.P. The presence of delayed­
return hunter-gatherers near Lake Victoria on the equator and in North Africa
(ca. 24° N) in the then-wetter central Sahara suggests that there were forms of
delayed-return hunter-gatherers in both tropical and subtropical regions of
Africa during the mid-Holocene.
We argue that more nuanced archaeological research will reveal consider­
able variation in social organization among delayed-return hunter-gatherers.
In Africa, it is likely that new research will show that there were forms of
delayed-return hunter-gatherers in several different contexts during the mid­
and later Holocene (e.g., the Sudanese Nile, where hunter-gatherer ceramics
are abundant). In many cases recognition of such groups will require new
fieldwork and new, fine-scaled analyses (e.g., of residues and micromorphol­
Africa possesses more tropical land area than all other continents (Goudie
1996). Identification of a range of delayed-return hunter-gatherers there will
refine understanding of delayed-return hunter-gatherer distributions in tropi­
cal environments. Such new data will assist reconsideration of ecological and
social factors, including latitude, resource abundance and distribution, storage
of food, task specialization, and competition or encapsulation in the develop­
ment of a variety of delayed-return hunter-gatherer systems worldwide (Bin­
ford 1980, 2001; Hayden 1990; Keeley 1995; Kelly 1991; Rowley-Conwy 1983;
Woodburn 1982; Zvelebil 1986).
370 D. Dale, F. Marshall, and T. Pilgram
We are grateful to George Crothers for inviting us to Carbondale
and to participants of the conference for their comments and camaraderie. We
thank Patty Jo Watson and three anonymous reviewers for their comments,
which greatly improved this essay. We are grateful to Peter Robertshaw for in­
troducing us to the Kansyore and to Roderick Blackburn for his comments,
Okiek ceramic data, and images. We thank the Kenyan National Museums,
the British Institute in Eastern Africa, and Washington University for sup­
porting this research, and the Kenyan government for research clearance. Our
field research was funded by the Leakey Foundation, Wenner Gren grant
6611, and National Science Foundation grants BSN-8805939 and 9904483. I
(Dale) am especially grateful to the Reverend Emmanuel Jakasewe and Mr.
Michael Odihambo, as well as to the people of Siror and lJ gunja for their assis­
tance with my project. We (Marshall and Pilgram) are indebted to Corinne
Kratz for ceramic data, interviews, genealogies and oral histories in the field
and for introducing us to the Okiek. We owe a particular debt of gratitude to
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