The composition and origin of Ghana medicine clays
van Dongen, BE
Anthropology and Medicine
Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Open access article
The mineral, organic and elemental composition of medicine clays from three shrines in the Tong Hills in northern Ghana (Gbankil, Kusanaab, and Yaane) are assessed to ascertain what additives they might contain and the implications for their recognition, for example in archaeological contexts. These are clays that are widely used for healing purposes being perceived efficacious in curing multiple ailments and which are given a divine provenance, but their collection is ascribed human agency. The Yaane clay is also supplied as part of the process of obtaining the right to operate the shrine elsewhere making it widely dispersed. Organic geochemical analyses revealed a predominance of plant-derived material with a substantial contribution of microbial origin. Based on these (supported by elemental and mineral analyses), no unnatural organic material could be detected, making an exogenous contribution to these clays unlikely. The implications are that these are wholly natural medicinal substances with no anthropogenic input into their preparation, as the traditions suggest. The very similar mineralogy of all the clays, including a non-medicine clay sampled, suggests that, unless the geology radically differed, differentiating between them analytically in an archaeological contexts would be doubtful.
The authors are grateful to the Wellcome Trust for funding the research.
This is the final version of the article. Available from Taylor & Francis via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 18 (2), pp. 285 - 302
Place of publication