African archeology association finally comes to South Africa after being shunned by Apartheid government

new image pan africa

Nearly 500 delegates were hosted by Wits University for the 14th congress of the Pan-African Archeological Association this week. Photo: Anazi Zote.

 It’s been over 60 years since the Pan African Archeological Association and Related Studies (PAA) lost its bid to come to South Africa for its second congress. In 1948, the nationalist government  withdrew its support for the congress and delegates made their way to Algiers in 1951.

This week, Wits University, initially intended as the 1951 venue, hosted PAA members from all corners of the continent at the 14th installation of their congress.

One of the conference organisers, Dr Karim Sadar, who lectures archaeology at Wits University, said the conference was a landmark event. 

Sadar explained that the apartheid government did not want to associate with other African countries because it believed in racial segregation.

President of the association, Benjamin Smith, a former Wits professor, described the congress as the biggest gathering of PAA members so far with almost 500 participants: “We have delegates coming from across Africa and this is the largest Pan African congress we have ever held,” he said.

Delegates were treated to oral and poster presentations around the theme: ‘African Archeology without frontiers.”

 Speaking at the opening of the congress on Monday this week,  deputy director general in the Department of Science and Technology, Professor Yonah Seleti praised the work of the PAA and its members.

“The work that you do contributes not only to the scientific knowledge around origins, but also contributes to our social cohesion and cultural identity, and much more, it carves a path to modernity which is Africa, Seleti said. 












National Science Week: Be an archaeologist at Wits for a day

DIG IN: Andrew van der Heever shows a student how to excavate. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

DIG IN: Andrew van der Heever shows Wits Vuvuzela journalist Liesl Frankson how to excavate an archeological site. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Ever dreamt of being Indiana Jones?

 As part of National Science Week, The Wits Origins Centre offers children and students the chance to be an archaeologist for a day as part of their “Discovering the Past” exhibition.

ROCK ON: Andrew van der Heever   . Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

ROCK ON: Van der Heever  explains the process involved in finding objects. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Kids and adults of all ages have the chance to spend time at “The Dig” in the South African Rock Museum where they can dig through different layers of earth to uncover different, but genuine artefacts in the simulated digs. More than 150 people  have already visited the centre since the exhibition opened on Saturday. During the course of National Science Week visitors can also tour the museum for free.
Andrew van der Heever, MA in Archaeology, and collection manager of about one million artifacts in the museum,  guides school pupils and students to dig, stop, map and screen their archaeological finds.
According to van der Heever, archaeologists cannot just take the objects out of the dig before mapping it. “Context is the most important, how the artifact formed how it fell into place. the environment also gives context,” he said.
One of the aims of the project is to attract children and students of all ages. Van der Heever said not many people know about archaeology, as it is not taught in schools. “The idea is to get youngsters involved. If you get more people into archaeology, you can get more funding.”
Although sciences such as Engineering, Biology and Physics receive the bulk of funding and interest, the Archaeology third years are very passionate about the profession.
Archaeology forms part of van der Heever’s love of history. Monica Gumede, 3rd year Archaeology, fell in love with archaeology after she met the archaeological legends at Wits such as David Lewis-Williams, went to the veld schools and got first hand experience of archaeology and digs. Now she has never been as passionate about anything else.