History of archaeology
The exact origin of the discipline of archaeology is uncertain. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) is given the credit for conducting the first scientific excavation in 1784, when he excavated the Native American burial mound on his property in Virginia. Based on the systematic approach and the logical deduction Jefferson used in this excavation, he is considered to have been ahead of his time.
However, archaeology only became fully established during the 19th century, following the understanding that human evolution dates back over seven million years ‚?? contrary to the biblical notion that the world is only a few thousand years old.
In the African continent, the origins of archaeology can be traced back to the 19th century, which coincides with the scramble for African land. Thus, as Holl (1990: 226) described it, archaeology is the ‚??child of the colonial enterprise‚?Ě.
The development of archaeology in other regions did not follow the same trend, although similarities do exist. Amongst them are the roles played by amateur archaeologists, especially during the colonial era. Furthermore, politics seems to have significantly shaped the development of archaeology.
South Africa has had the most archaeological activity in the southern African sub-continent. In South Africa, archaeology as a profession probably dates back to the early 20th century when Astley John Hilary Goodwin, the first professionally trained archaeologist, was appointed in 1923. Goodwin went on to teach the first archaeology course in the late 1920s at the University of Cape Town. Prior to the election of the National Party into Government in 1948, South African archaeology enjoyed much support from the Government led by General Jan Christian Smuts.
Van Riet Lowe, a civil engineer by training and, at one stage, Secretary of the Historical Monuments Commission, served as the Public Relations Officer for archaeology. He had served with General Jan Christian Smuts during the First World War. As Public Relations Officer for archaeology, Van Riet Lowe ensured that it received support from the highest office in the country.
This special support became evident in 1947 when the South African delegation to the first Pan-African Congress on Prehistory held in Nairobi was flown to the conference on a military aircraft. Around the same time, Goodwin left his mark on the archaeological landscape in South Africa by establishing the South African Archaeological Society (SAAS) in 1945. Today, the SAAS has four chapters within South Africa, with membership drawn from across the globe.
Things changed dramatically when the United South African National Party, led by General Jan Smuts, lost the elections in 1948. The new National Party Government and its apartheid policies limited the interaction of archaeologists in South Africa. They were prevented from either attending international conferences or hosting them.
After Nelson Mandela‚??s release from prison in February 1990, South African archaeologists were only allowed to participate in World Archaeology Congress (WAC) meetings as observers. The ban was formally lifted in 1994 following the first democratic elections.
The lack of support by the Nationalist Government sent a strong message that things had changed for the archaeological discipline. Archaeologists in the country were prevented from hosting the next Pan-African Congress on Prehistory in 1952 as had been planned. The new government did not want archaeologists to produce findings that would compromise their political dominance. Evidence showing that South Africa had been occupied long before the arrival of the European colonists would have threatened the government.
Archaeology in South Africa has always been political. It became a lot more low-profile Due to political meddling and the apartheid policies of South Africa.
Despite these challenges, this period saw not only the appointment of R. R. Inskeep from Cambridge, but also an upsurge in the number of students trained in archaeology. This transformed the archaeological discipline and wrestled it away from so-called ‚??amateur‚?Ě archaeologists ‚?? those who did not necessarily have formal qualifications in archaeology.
Amateur archaeologists published more than 50% of publications in the South African Archaeological Bulletin prior to 1960, but this decreased sharply to about 10% by the 1970s. These publications were mainly on the Stone Age, as Iron Age studies were not yet a priority for political reasons. It was for this reason that South Africa became famous for the discoveries of hominid fossil materials from Taung, Sterkfontein, Mapagansgat and Kroomdraai.
In 1970 a group of archaeologists formed the Southern African Association of Archaeologists (SA3). Their main intention was to create a base of trained archaeologists with the necessary expertise to manage the rich and diverse heritage, while promoting public awareness.
Over the ensuing years the discipline of archaeology grew and became well established in many southern Africa universities and museums. The profile of archaeology in southern Africa has changed over time, and archaeologists now operate in many different sectors ‚?? from the public and educational sector to trade and industry.
SA3 was transformed from a body promoting archaeology into the Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists (ASAPA). The new professional structure aims to protect and serve the interests of archaeologists operating within the research and contract resource management sector, to develop and promote the research and management of archaeological resources and to promote the exchange of archaeological information within southern Africa and abroad.
The lack of transformation in the archaeological discipline is the current challenge within South Africa. It has been described in some circles as the most colonialist archaeology in Africa. There are many theories as to why the situation remains an issue, even though the new political dawn was ushered in in 1994. ASAPA has recognised this problem and, together with its members, has initiated efforts to address this concern. A Transformation Charter has been adopted and a strategic plan to achieve the objectives of the charter is currently being drafted.
The development of archaeology in Botswana took a different course to the rest of the sub-continent. The first known archaeological activity in Botswana was conducted in the 1940s by H. S. Gordon. It involved a surface collection of Stone Age artefacts in the Tati (Francistown) district. These stone artefacts made their way to the Bulawayo museum in Zimbabwe. In the late 1940s, E. J. Wayland followed on from H. S. Gordon by conducting the first systematic study of archaeology.
The lack of archaeological development in Botswana is closely linked to the political environment within South Africa. This is because the British Crown managed the then Bechuanaland Protectorate from an office in Mafikeng on the South African border. No investment in a national museum had ever been envisaged and this discouraged the development of archaeology.
When archaeology finally developed post independence, it seems that it began unsystematically, with influence from beyond its borders. The lack of archaeological activity in Botswana changed completely during the 1970s, and Botswana became one of the archaeological research capitals. During the colonial era, Botswana had been perceived as the peripheral destination, previously unoccupied because of its harsh desert conditions. The advantage of Botswana was that, unlike its neighbouring countries, there were no colonially derived stereotypes about the archaeology of the country.
Archaeology became an academic discipline in the country during the late 1980s, when the University of Botswana initiated an archaeological programme. During this time, research gathered momentum and a number of ethnological studies of hunter-gather communities were conducted. This made the Basarwa (Bushmen, San) ethnography more important in the broader understanding of archaeology in southern Africa.
The Botswana government has expressed concern for what they call an over-researched Basarwa community. This may not be a general concern though, considering the tense social relations between the government and the Basarwa, which have seen the parties going to courts over land rights issues in recent years.
The significant factor in Botswanan archaeology is the transformation the discipline has gone through. There are a number of indigenous Tswana archaeologists in the country who are making their mark in various spheres of the discipline.
Rock art and related studies constitute the traditional area of interest in Namibian archaeology. This is also the field in which former parental colonisers, Germany, have made a significant contribution.
Rock art placed Namibian archaeology on the world map in the late 19th century. The human figure accidentally discovered by Reinhardt Maack in 1917 caused a lot of controversy. Abbe Henri Breuil later named it the White Lady, a misinterpretation of Maack‚??s description, who correctly identified it as a male figure. The parental art excavated from Apollo 11 in the late 1960s has been dated by carbon to about 26 000 Before Present (BP), making it the oldest art in the subcontinent. Twyfelfontein is one of the greatest tourism destinations in Namibia and was inscribed into the lists of World Heritage Sites in 2007 ‚?? a testimony to the significance of rock art in the country.
Archaeology in Mozambique began in the early 18th century, focusing mainly on the Stone Age period with isolated reference to rock paintings. The country has not had a long history of archaeological activity compared to its immediate geographic neighbours. The Department of Archaeology and Anthropology was established at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo in 1980. The involvement of the University of Bergen and its partners, such as the Rock Art Research Institute, has increased interest in the archaeology of Mozambique.
Unlike other countries that prioritised Stone Age research, Zimbabwean archaeology focused mainly on the study of the Iron Age period. The origins of the stone-walled monuments, particularly Great Zimbabwe, caused a lot of controversy.
Cecil John Rhodes realised that portraying Great Zimbabwe as having a foreign origin would give him legitimacy to rule over the country. During Ian Smith‚??s rule over Rhodesia, Smith controlled and censored all archaeological writings which were to be made accessible to the public. Research into recent periods was significantly discouraged as it could have provided liberation struggle fighters with cultural pride and political consciousness and thus be an even greater threat to the Rhodesian Front Regime.
As a direct result of this political interference, similar to that of the Nationalist Government in South Africa, Stone Age studies became part of archaeological research in Rhodesia. Independence in 1980 not only encouraged the development of archaeology, but the transformation of the discipline. The new crop of African archaeologists focused mainly on the recent pre-colonial past, while, in contrast, their white counterparts focused on Stone Age studies.