Last week everyone dispersed after the SAfA conference to go back to their North American, European and African homes (and Perth!). Everyone seemed agreed it was a good meeting which ran smoothly, and SAfA an organisation on the up if recruitment figures are any index.
Cultural heritage management (including ‘salvage archaeology’ projects funded by organisations such as mining companies) and GIS seemed to occupy a growing portion of the programme, which is to be welcome. Developers and researchers may have different priorities in unearthing the archaeological past, and ‘salvage archaeology’ (where you might work really fast ahead of the earth-moving machinery – came across a nice picture here) is quite a unique beast, so there is a fine line to tread: that generated some discussion. The relationship between archaeologists and other ‘stakeholders’ of the African past was in fact a recurring theme at the conference – be those stakeholders disinterested undergraduates or artefact looters.
Cultural heritage management is something we in the Crossroads project tried to apply to our work on the dyeing pits at Karimama, and ultimately we hope to preserve part of the site at Birnin Lafiya. As far as GIS are concerned, we are delighted that we will be joined in September by a project PhD student, Nadia, who will consider just this. I attended the GIS session at SAfA and very much enjoyed it. Many of the technical aspects of the hard-core GIS papers went well over my head, while other presentations didn’t seem to concern GIS so much as anything computer-based generally. The key message was that one can do powerful, low-cost, investigations, and one can also tie in on a broad regional scale data and ideas which small archaeological trenches are otherwise simply unable to address.
The ‘Ceramic traditions from the Bend of the Niger to the Black Volta‘ session had a wonderful internal coherence. There were contradictions in some of the specifics of presenters’ points (e.g. whether a particular pottery-shaping technique was used in one or the other region), but in terms of theoretical background and aims the presenters all sung from the same hymn sheet… communities of practice and the way people learn to do, and do, things.
We shall all meet again in Johannesburg in July 2014.