Moijabana Rocks-Pilikwe Pots: The Acceleration of Clay Formation by Potters Employing Simple Mechanical Means

Edwin N. Wilmsen, Anne Griffiths, Phenyo Thebe, David J Killick, Goitseone Molatlhegi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


Throughout the history of potting in Botswana, from about CE200 to the present, potters have used a variety of clays. Alluvial clays are favored by most potters today, but petrographic analyses show that prehistoric potters preferred primary clays directly derived from granite and basalt. Fortunately, a few potters in the region today still use granite-derived clays. We trace the processes by which potters of Pilikwe village mine weathered granite from a source at Moijabana and transform it through a series of crushing, pounding, sifting, and wetting actions into a paste that can be used the following day to form pots. These mechanical operations accelerate natural rock weathering processes that form clays and in a single day achieve what in nature takes thousands of years. Successive stages of clay collection and processing were observed, recorded, and filmed; samples from each stage were subsequently analyzed by thin-section optical petrography. Fabrics of pots made from this processed clay were analyzed by identical means and compared with the raw materials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)137-157
Number of pages21
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2 2016



  • Botswana
  • clay processing
  • ethnoarchaeology
  • petrography
  • pottery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology

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