Field

Iron-smelting and deforestation: an alternative ethnoarchaeological perspective

INTRODUCTION
It has long been assumed that there is a direct relationship between pre-industrial iron-smelting and large-scale deforestation. The general argument is that pre-industrial bloomery iron production depended on the consumption of huge quantities of charcoal, which over several centuries denuded the forest cover and depleted sources of wood for making charcoal. This led to a significant transformation of the landscape, ecology and environment in several regions where iron-smelting was widely prevalent. Iron-smelting was seen as one of the main agents of deforestation, desiccation and environmental change in West Africa (Goucher 1981, Haaland 1985), continental Europe and the British Isles, and recently, India (Sivramkrishna 2009). An overwhelming rate of charcoal consumption by several iron-works was responsible for adversely affecting the forest cover in different parts of pre-revolutionary United States (Muntz 1960). Due to the lack of high-grade coal deposits, charcoal is still widely used in the iron and steel industries of Brazil which is adversely affecting the ecology of the Amazonian region (Kato, Demarini et al. 2005).

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Field, Identity

Mudda Kammari: the homogenization of craft and identity among the iron-smelters of Telangana

I am from Kammari Jati…we were Mudda Kammaris. Now we don’t do that work so we only do Kammar-pani (blacksmithing). We’re also Viswabrahmin caste. we are BCB (Backward Classes Category B)–Kammari, Kanchari (bronzesmith), Ausala (goldsmith/silversmith), wadla (carpenters) and the stone workers.

INTRODUCTION
The above quote by Desaradi Bakkaiah (pseudonym), the son of an iron-smelter-turned-village blacksmith, represents the complex (and often confusing) layers of identity of the iron-workers in present-day northern Telangana. Although the iron-smelters of northern Telangana I met during my Ph.D. fieldwork suggested that they belong to the Kammari (village blacksmith) community, which in-turn was a “sub-caste” of the Viswabrahmin caste, their claims to a mainstream Kammari identity was often disputed by the traditional village blacksmiths of the area.

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Field

The Smelter’s Wife: women in pre-industrial iron-smelting economy in South Asia

INTRODUCTION
Pre-industrial iron-smelting is generally considered to be a craft overwhelmingly, if not entirely practiced by men. A number of ethnographic studies on iron-smelting, a majority of which are based in different parts of Africa, suggest that while adult men actively participated in various aspects of iron-smelting, women were normally prohibited from even visiting the space where smelting was carried out. A majority of these African cases also record sexualized perception of iron-smelting, where the smelters were often considered to be involved in a sexual act with their common wife, the furnace, which ultimately results in the “birth” of the new iron bloom. The exclusion of post-puberty and pre-menopausal women from the space where iron-smelting is conducted has been understood in this context. However, this cultural exclusion of women from iron-smelting in Africa has contributed in a significant way in attributing a passive (or often, non-existent) role to women in iron-smelter households. The women are mostly mentioned while discussing these taboos and prohibitions, but their economic and domestic roles were considered too obvious and therefore, overlooked. In this post, based on ethnoarchaeological research, I explore the economic roles of women in the iron-smelter households, based on two case studies from east-central India- northern Telangana and the Netarhat Plateau in Jharkhand (Fig. 1). Based on these cases I argue that even if women did not participate in iron-smelting directly, they played significant economic roles which contributed in the proper functioning of the household when the adult male members of the family were away for smelting in the forests or selling iron blooms in the faraway markets.

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Ethics, Field

The Dynamics of Power and Ethics: Ethnoarchaeological Fieldwork with a Marginal, Semi-literate community in South Asia

Anthropologists and archaeologists who work closely with the local communities are normally required to submit their research proposal to an institutional ethics committee for review. Although initially this might seem cumbersome, it is a necessary academic ritual that makes the researcher aware of their ethical boundaries and responsibilities in the field while engaging closely with a community in their own cultural contexts. It also seeks to protect the interest of the participating communities by encouraging the researcher to acquire informed consent from their interlocutors. The researcher is normally required to get a “Consent Form” signed by the interlocutors by which they agree to participate in the project as informants. This form, composed in the vernacular of the participants, ideally contain a general outline of the research project, the potential usage of the collected data (including images and video recordings) and an assurance of anonymity of the participants. Although the requirement for written consents works well in the research involving literate communities, it presents a methodological roadblock while studying the non-literate or semi-literate ones.

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