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date: 08 December 2023

The Archaeology of Missions in Southern Africalocked

The Archaeology of Missions in Southern Africalocked

  • Natalie SwanepoelNatalie SwanepoelUniversity of South Africa College of Human Sciences


The late 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe and the United States saw a wave of evangelical revivalism and hence the establishment of a large number of missionary societies who dispersed missionaries throughout the globe. Southern Africa was viewed as a potentially fruitful mission field and, as a result, a large number of mission stations were established in the region during the 19th century under the auspices of a wide array of missionary societies, although there are some examples of missionization prior to this. Missionary activity in southern Africa has long been the topic of academic investigation by historians and others but was only sporadically so by archaeologists until the second decade of the 21st century, when a critical mass of mission archaeology projects was ongoing to the extent that there was collaboration and discussion among the scholars concerned. As a result, in the early 21st century, it became an acknowledged focus of southern African historical archaeology. In their study of missions, missionaries, and missionization, archaeologists draw on a diverse toolkit of methodologies, including mapping, landscape survey, geophysical survey, excavation, artifact analysis, rock art analysis, museum collections analysis, and the comparative study of documents, pictorial records, and the archaeological record. Archaeologists have contributed by placing mission sites into their wider landscapes; exploring changing material practices in architecture, clothing, household goods, and burial practices; and studying missionary activity and mission sites in diachronic perspective.


  • Archaeology

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