5. The Manufacturing Process

5.1 Stone extraction

Extraction of stone requires open quarry digging, sometimes down to a depth of 5m to find good-quality stone. The quarrying sites were sometimes linked by galleries following the vein but, after many accidents, this technique was abolished.

When there was no work to do in the fields, the people of Hombori would spend anything up to several months on the quarry sites. Each quarry site belonged to, and was the responsibility of, the Hombori village chief, although nowadays craftsmen no longer have to pay him to use the stone. According to Tontoni, up to 400 people worked together on the quarries, which is obviously possible if one considers the extent of the quarries. Wooden crowbars and stone tools used in the past were later replaced by hammers, metal rods and shovels (Fig. 5). Nowadays, craftsmen simply pick up blocks from the quarry site. Tontoni still collects stones from the quarries he and his family exploited in the past.

Figure 5

Figure 5: Photograph of Desplagnes at the quarries (Desplagnes 1907)

Quarry sites are sacred places. People sacrificed chicken and sheep in order to be protected from accidents during the extraction process and to ensure a good-quality stone. This ritual, always executed at the same place, was a way of establishing exploitation rights from the quarries. 'Ce sont des lieux où on cherche son bonheur donc on fait des sacrifices pour n'avoir que des roches comme on veut et ne pas avoir de problème' Trans. 'These are places where we are searching for happiness thus we perform sacrifices to obtain only the stone we want and encounter no problem' (Tiemogo).

5.2 Shaping and perforation of the disc

The first stage of transformation is done at the quarries. The stone is reduced with a hammer to achieve a bifacial disc, 150-200mm in diameter. This shaping allows, in a few seconds, testing of the stone and reduction of the quantity of raw material for later transportation to the workshops. Each worker could bring back up to one hundred discs or roughouts.

The exploitation of the quarry sites was considerable. Everywhere the stone was extracted, flakes cover the ground. Around the quarry sites, temporary camps with roughout fragments from every stage of the fabrication process were found.

Nevertheless, the following stages of the manufacturing process were usually performed away from the quarries: 'là où on enlève les pierres, on ne les travaille pas' Trans. 'There we collect the stones, we do not process them' (Tontoni). Roughouts were transported to the Hombori tableland or to the village of Belia, where craftsmen proceeded with the fabrication.

Figure 6

Figure 6: Photograph of a bracelet broken prior to polishing (picture by A. Garin Carmagnani and Y. Pailler)

A survey of the Hombori tableland allowed identification of working areas. Workshops are easily recognisable from the blue flakes on the red stony ground, and many dozens of them were thus documented on a surface 40 ha in size. All the stages of the chaîne opératoire are represented. Rough discs, discs in the process of perforation, roughouts and nearly finished products were found (Fig. 6). Only polished bracelets and the cherished manufacturing tools are missing because the craftsmen keep them.

Figure 7

Figure 7: Hammer and points (Pailler 2007)

Each stage of the manufacturing process is represented by a special set of tools and technique. The shaping of the bracelet was done with a hammer and a set of ten points, with a rectangular section, especially made by the smith (Fig. 7).

Figure 8

Figure 8: Roughout, boring in process (picture by A. Garin Carmagnani and Y. Pailler)

The craftsman indented the disc by indirect percussion from both faces until a hole was made. The boring process, using longer and thinner points, continued on both faces, the perforation thus being biconical (Figs 8 and 9). A regular and ready-to-polish roughout was then obtained by indirect percussion, removing small flakes with a sharper point.

Figure 9

Figure 9: Roughouts of bracelets (Pailler 2007)

The plan of a well-preserved workshop was also studied. It is sheltered by a pile of rocks and a man-made stone wall. At such a workshop, thousands of flakes and many dozens of roughout fragments were collected, some of which could be fitted together again.

5.3 Bracelet polishing

Once the shaping of the disc was completed, internal edges were polished with long sandstone tools with a more or less fine texture (abrading and cylindrical polishers). The abrading tool was used as a file, smoothing the inner edge, leaving oblique and transverse traces. The other tool, cylindrical in shape, permitted the finishing of the internal edge; it was used with water, its rotary action leaving thin longitudinal marks (Fig. 10).

Figure 10

Figure 10: Sandstone polishers (Pailler 2007)

The sandstone found along the margins of the Hombori tableland provided a suitable material for polishing bracelets (Desplagnes 1907, 37), with many rock outcrops displaying traces of polishing surfaces (Fig. 11). Basin-shaped polishing stones were used to polish the faces, whereas the grooved polishing stones were used to smooth the surface and outer edges of the bracelets.

Figure 11

Figure 11: Bracelet on a grooved polishing surface (picture by A. Garin Carmagnani and Y. Pailler)

This form of manufacture is no longer practised today. Tontoni no longer goes to the mountains but collects stones small enough to carry and polishes the bracelets at home.

The bracelets were polished until their surface was as smooth as glass. In order to make the bracelet more shiny, craftsmen would rub it with a rag covered with cow grease. All craftsmen follow the same chaîne opératoire. However, each one is able to recognise his own products: the handiwork and the finish are like a signature.


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Last updated: Wed Jul 1 2009