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date: 02 April 2023

The Legal Frameworks of Protecting Archaeology in Africalocked

The Legal Frameworks of Protecting Archaeology in Africalocked

  • Ancila KatsamudangaAncila KatsamudangaUniversity of Zimbabwe


Archaeological heritage is fragile and nonrenewable. In Africa, it is vulnerable to developmental projects in construction, mining, and agriculture as well as intentional and unintentional vandalism through everyday use and tourism. Looting, illegal trade of antiquities, and terrorism have also emerged as other significant threats to archaeological heritage in Africa. Looting and vandalism of sites and objects result from lax monitoring mechanisms and a general lack of awareness of archaeological matters among the public. Although most African countries have the legal protection of archaeological heritage, the effectiveness of these has been under question. African heritage legislations have been criticized for the lack of predevelopment assessments that would ensure the protection of recorded and unrecorded archaeological heritage. They have also been censured for protecting just the physical aspects of archaeological heritage, leaving out the intangible aspects that actually give the heritage value, especially among African communities. Another challenge was the exclusion of local communities and customary management systems in the protection of archaeological heritage. Provisions for counteracting looting and illegal trade in antiquities, coming especially from archaeological sites, were also considered weak and requiring improvements.

The response to the debate on the effectiveness of the legal protection of heritage has been varied across the continent. Some African countries have responded by writing new laws, amending old ones, or providing other supporting legal provisions such as national cultural policies or regulations. Countries that have instituted new legal provisions include Namibia, Botswana, Kenya, Mali, Egypt, Mauritania, and the Republic of the Congo. Those who reworked their protective mechanisms have attempted to address many of the issues raised. Countries such as Namibia, Botswana, and Mali have included clearly defined provisions for predevelopment assessments. Others such as Liberia included archaeological heritage in their environmental protection laws. Although fewer countries have had legislation to protect intangible aspects, supporting legal provisions such as national cultural policies have helped in this regard. However, very little has been done on the inclusion of customary laws and systems of archaeological protection. Going forward, African nations have to quickly consider emerging issues such as digital manipulation, heritage-based product development, increased need for intervention conservation, and sustainable economic utilization of heritage for the development of individuals, communities, and nations. The legislative process in Africa has to be expedited to quickly and efficiently deal with these issues before they cause harm to the archaeological heritage.


  • Archaeology

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