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Archaeology in Sudan: A Sudanese Perspective  

Ahmed Adam and Shadia Taha

Sudan is a vast country marked by heterogeneity, dissimilarities, and diversities in its climates, topography, natural features, cultures, and people. Sudan’s multiplicity of cultures and communities is steeped in history and heritage as remarkable as anywhere else in the ancient world and the rest of Africa. Despite this, Africa’s heritage has been overlooked for centuries as a result of prejudice and stereotyping. The 19th and 20th centuries were characterized by supposition and fixation on an external origin of African civilizations, a focus that was based on European ethnocentrism and a sense of racial superiority. In common with the rest of Africa, archaeology was founded during the colonial period and, to a large extent, remained unchanged, retaining past management and interpretative approaches and influencing current practices and planning policies. Sudan’s rich and outstanding heritage, the home of the first great civilizations in Sub-Saharan Africa, was frequently overlooked. When discussing the civilizations of the Nile Valley, many historians and archaeologists focus entirely on the role of Egypt. Ancient civilizations in Sudan were constantly interpreted as the work of colonizers and were believed to be less advanced than Egyptian civilizations. The building of the Aswan High Dam threatened the lives of Nubians and their heritage. It necessitated the forced displacement of Nubian and Bushareen nomadic tribes from their homelands and submerged considerable heritage. Nonetheless, this was the first time an organized survey was undertaken in Sudanese Nubia. The rescue campaign provided archaeological evidence and replaced ethnic prehistory with new theories. Archaeology in Sudan underwent a dreadful experience throughout the thirty years it was under the governance of the ousted dictatorial regime. The government in power in 1989–2019, an autocratic rule with a different political ideology, took control over Sudan’s heritage. Along with an oil boom, fast modernization, urbanization, and unrest in the country, all these factors had a tremendous impact on archaeology and heritage and on the operation of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM). Moreover, the military forces, which used archaeological sites as military bases, took control over and demolished significant heritage and disconnected local communities from their heritage. From the 1980s, the number of native archaeologists and departments of archaeology increased. This period witnessed an expansion in research projects, themes, topics, periods, methods, and regions explored by Sudanese and foreign teams. There is a move away from focusing on single sites to understanding and exploring past environments and landscapes using new scientific methods of investigation. There are multiple challenges ahead, including climate change (flooding, destratification, shifting sands), globalization, mega-developments, lack of sufficient funding and resources, and, most recently, Covid-19. These are complex issues to deal with, especially for poor counties. Development and unrest in Sudan continue to force communities to move from their homelands and threaten the loss of traditional knowledge, diversity of culture, and connectedness with the land.


Ethnoarchaeology of Cattle in Zimbabwe and Surrounds  

Plan Shenjere-Nyabezi

Iron Age archaeological research in Zimbabwe and surrounds has shifted from traditional concerns with culture histories and reconstruction of the sociopolitical and economic organization. Archaeologists have become concerned with a wider range of issues such as ritual, the meanings of material culture as well as the ideological backgrounds and contexts within which societies produced and reproduced themselves, and how archaeological invisibles may inform different aspects of the organization and development of past cultures. The quest to read more into the material remains from the past in context, beyond their materiality, was the inspiration behind the development of ethnoarchaeology. It is against this backdrop that the study of faunal remains from Iron Age sites in southern Africa, particularly those of cattle, has been shifting from analysis and interpretation of the bones, from a subsistence-economic-organization point of view, to attempts to read more from this class of archaeological data. Here, the contemporary Bantu cattle-keeping societies have been the subject of studies aimed at gathering data that may be usable in engaging with the bone remains from archaeological sites. The ethnoarchaeological approaches have initiated a new methodological dimension to the study of faunal remains. Gender studies have been one of the most important areas of concern in archaeology over the past five decades. In this regard, cattle-based ethnoarchaeological studies in southern Africa have opened opportunities for alternative ways of thinking about cattle ownership and sociopolitical organization and development in the past. Here, the traditional perceptions and interpretations of cattle as an exclusively male domain have been questioned as it has emerged that women would in fact have been active players in the cattle world. Within the context of the archaeological interest in ritual, ethnoarchaeological studies have also been informative from various dimensions where indications are that the cattle-bone remains that are recovered from archaeological sites could have resulted from a variety of ritual activities, rather than food alone. Ultimately, such ethnoarchaeological studies in the region have persuaded archaeologists to begin to think about cattle bones beyond the obvious.


Gender in African Metallurgy  

Louise Iles

Gender is frequently invoked as a core explanatory factor for many aspects of past African metallurgy, including conceptualizations of the technological process by its practitioners, the organization of—and participation in—metallurgical production activity, and the acquisition of power and wealth that is associated with it. If a study of technology is to contribute to our understanding of the African past, an exploration of the socioeconomic framework of a production activity is as important as understanding the materiality of a technology; gender is an essential part of that framework. Ethnographies offer an unparalleled opportunity to consider concepts such as technological style, symbolic expression, and gender in relation to technological activity and materiality—structuring principles that can be of limited visibility in the archaeological record. It is through ethnographic and historical documentation that gender has been made highly and dramatically visible in African smelting and metalworking processes. A stark focus has tended to rest on the cosmologies of fertility and human reproduction that permeate many (though certainly not all) iron smelting technologies across the continent. Metal production is positioned as a form of social reproduction, enabling the continuation of cultural activity through technological production. Metaphors of transformation are reproduced through the design and decoration of technological artifacts, through taboos and prohibitions, and through the symbolic songs, words, and actions of the metal workers, and have been closely tied with narratives of female exclusion from (and conversely male access to) metallurgical activities. Insights from the ethnographic and historical records of sub-Saharan Africa have been used to inform archaeological interpretations, both implicitly and explicitly, within and far beyond the continent. Yet the insights they provide need to be tempered by a critical evaluation of the ways in which such analogies are selected from a vast bank of historic and ethnographic data and how they can be most appropriately utilized. Importantly, the variability that is present within the ethnographic record cautions against the construction and promulgation of overgeneralizations, and strongly suggests that gender and gendered work roles within African metallurgy, past and present, are not yet fully understood.


Heritage, Archaeology, and Local Communities in Sudan  

Rebecca Bradshaw and Geoff Emberling

As a discipline with colonial origins, archaeology is increasingly addressing ways in which it has supported historical and current inequalities. One essential aspect of this work is engaging in conversations and collaborations with local communities, particularly to understand varying conceptions of heritage. Another is through attention to the benefits that derive from archaeological research—does fieldwork primarily support (foreign) archaeologists and their careers, or do local communities and professional colleagues also benefit? These issues have been developing particularly rapidly in Sudan, where development and international funding have supported a number of fieldwork projects in various forms of community engagement.


Heritage Management in West Africa  

Caleb Folorunso

The definition of heritage in West Africa must adopt a wider perspective of incorporating tangible and intangible heritage as recognized and defined by UNESCO. Generally, the West African region does not feature monumental heritage as in Europe and the Americas. The few monumental heritage properties belong to the historic period and are located in the Sahel zone (Mali in particular), while the coastal regions possess monumental heritage properties that were essentially relics of the period of European contact and colonialism (Benin Republic, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal). Heritage resources in West Africa are therefore essentially discrete and nondiscrete prehistoric and historic archaeological sites which include rock shelters, relics of ancient settlements, mounds, earthworks, industrial relics such as furnaces and surface finds, isolated historic buildings and spaces, and tangible (traditional architecture and artifacts) and intangible (language, poetry, songs, dances, festivals, beliefs, and value systems) ethnographic resources. Some studies in the 2010s have included heritage resources of all archival materials such as recorded audiovisuals of events and entertainments of the colonial and early postcolonial periods. Heritage management in the West African region has been problematic due to various factors that could be both historical and attitudinal, which include colonialism, intrusion of foreign religions and ideologies, economic and social conditions, insufficient and noneffective legal and policy frameworks for protection and conservation of heritage resources, and a general lack of awareness and interest in matters of heritage by the populace. In spite of these factors, some efforts have been made toward managing heritage in ways that can be interrogated. Government efforts at promoting heritage are more evident in the areas of cultural festivals, dance, and music with the establishment of cultural troupes at various political and administrative levels, thus creating the impression that heritage is limited to intangible cultural resources. Museums are few and far in between, priceless artifacts are still looted and illegally exported to foreign museums to join those looted during the colonial era, and facilities are limited and not standard, while the staff is poorly trained and unmotivated. In the face of expanding infrastructural developments and urbanization, the most appropriate management strategy and practice would be conservation through recording archaeological sites and historic properties.


Managing Heritage Sites and the Politics of Cultural Continuity in Mesoamerica  

Fernando Armstrong-Fumero

The dynamic between indigenous descendant communities, archaeologists, and other heritage professionals in Mexico and Central America embodies a distinct regional history of relations between native peoples and the state. In contrast to the United States and other regions, where indigenous polities have a history of legal sovereignty, the legacy of Spanish colonialism has created few parallel avenues for native Mesoamericans. Linguistic, cosmological, and social continuities between living and ancient indigenous populations have long been an emphasis of Mesoamericanist anthropology. Nevertheless, laws for the management of heritage in those countries often marginalize descendant communities from the use and stewardship of the material traces left behind by their ancestors. The ethical dimensions of this dynamic are further complicated by the fact that many activities that are criminalized by existing heritage laws are, in fact, consistent with long-standing traditions of landscape use and material recycling in these societies. Lacking the sovereignty principle that shapes interactions between indigenous communities and archaeologists in the United States, a more inclusive practice of heritage in Mesoamerica involves new kinds of pragmatic dialogue and accommodation.


Maritime Archaeological Research in Sub-Saharan Africa  

Bruno E.J.S. Werz

Maritime archaeology in sub-Saharan Africa is still in its early development stage. An extensive literature survey indicated that relatively few projects of this nature have been undertaken in these parts. Even fewer warrant the adjective “scientific,” based on the dearth of peer-reviewed academic publications that have appeared to date. Based on the survey, it seems that most research is undertaken in South Africa, Kenya, and Namibia, and the emphasis therefore lies with these countries.


Musical Bows in the Rock Art of Southern Africa  

Joshua Kumbani and Oliver Vogels

Rock art is ubiquitous in southern Africa. It can be assumed that playing musical bows was a similarly widespread cultural tradition in prehistoric southern Africa. But discerning musical performances from other uses of the bow in the rock art is not trivial. Qualified arguments for musical performances therefore rest on the ethnographic record. Depictions of musical bows have been identified only in two rock art collections from South Africa and Namibia. In South Africa musical bows are known from the Maloti Drakensberg mountains in the KwaZulu-Natal Province, and Maclear District in the Eastern Cape Province. In Namibia, the musical bows have been identified mainly in the mountainous massif called Dâureb (its local Damara name) or Brandberg (its foreign Afrikaans name) and the surrounding region in northwestern central Namibia. The occurrence of musical bows in the rock art sheds light on some of the musical instruments that were used in the past and their playing techniques. This is important in music archeological studies, which involve the analysis of music-related artifacts or sound-producing artifacts and their cultural background from the archeological record, or the investigation of the effects of sound in past societies. Rock art is an important source that can be used in music archeological studies. Ethnographic information also gives another depth in describing musical bows and allows one to differentiate contemporary music cultures from the past. There are some notable similarities and differences between the musical bows from South Africa and Namibia. These similarities and differences come in the form of the technical aspects of how sound is produced (organology) by the musical bows and playing techniques, exhibiting distinct music cultures. What stands out is that in most cases the string is turned away from the player, which is different when a bow is used for shooting, as well as the use of a tapping stick to play the bow. The musical bow depictions in Namibia do not have resonators, whereas most of those depicted in South Africa do. However, the musical bows in Namibia are braced or have a string that divides the bow string into two sections (tuning noose), whereas none have been recorded in South Africa.


Ochre Use in the Middle Stone Age  

Tammy Hodgskiss

The term “ochre” has many meanings: a colored stone, a pigment, sunscreen, a curiosity item, a mustard hue, or even an object used for ritual. Ochre found at archaeological sites is described as a range of earthy, ferruginous rocks with red–yellow–purple streaks. The use of ochre in the past has proven valuable for interpreting not only cognitive capabilities of its users but also for its potential to shed light on behavioral and social factors. The late Pleistocene, and specifically the Middle Stone Age in southern Africa, is a time of significant behavioral and cognitive advances for Homo sapiens—this coincides with the habitual use of ochre. By looking at the collection and use of ochre in the African Middle Stone Age, placed within a global and temporal context, important behavioral conclusions can be made. Ochre has many potential uses, making interpretations of ochre use in the past complicated. Ethnographic and modern analogies are considered as well as the experimental work that has been produced by numerous researchers. All accounts have deepened our understanding of the many ways that ochre may have been used in the distant past. It is likely that both its color and mineralogical content dictated its use in the past.


People, Plants, Animals, and Formlings in the Rock Art of Zimbabwe  

Ancila Nhamo

In Zimbabwe, the term “rock art” refers mainly to prehistoric engravings and paintings that were executed on the walls of shallow caves, rock shelters, or faces of boulders across the country. Rock paintings were executed using pigments in a variety of colors and textures while engravings were etched into the rock using incisions, polishing, or pecking methods. The paintings dominate the corpus of rock art in the country. They are found within the granitic boulders that cover much of the country while rock engravings are confined to narrow belts in the eastern, southern, and southwestern parts where the sandstone is found. The spatial distribution of rock art in Zimbabwe helps to show that geology was the influential factor in choosing whether to paint or to engrave. In terms of subject matter, the rock art of Zimbabwe is mostly dominated by what is known as hunter-gatherer art, with a few sites having what has been termed “farmer art.” There is a possibility of some of the art having been made by herders but this requires further research and conformation. The hunter-gatherer art is made up of mostly animals and humans. Nevertheless, the occurrence of plants and geometric figures, especially the “formlings,” sets the rock art of Zimbabwe apart from that of other areas in southern Africa. Farmer art has animal and human figures, mostly in white kaolin and usually found superpositioned on top of the hunter-gatherer images. The color and superpositions led the art to be termed the Late Whites. The possibility of herder art has been raised due to the occurrence of depictions such as handprints and finger-painted dots. These images are associated with herders in neighboring countries such as South Africa and Botswana. Research in Zimbabwe has tended to favor the dominant aspects of rock art. As such, rock paintings have been extensively investigated at the expense of engravings. In the same vein, hunter-gatherer research art has been preponderant as compared to the study of farmer and possibly herder art. Nevertheless, it is important to note that although a lot of strides have been made in rock art research, fewer researchers, especially among the indigenous, have had an interest in these aspects of the Zimbabwean past. Rock art is often overshadowed by the archaeology of the farming communities, which has Zimbabwe culture and particularly Great Zimbabwe as its hallmark. However, it is encouraging to note that there has been an upsurge in students working on projects concerning rock art, which foretells good prospects for the uptake of rock art research in the future



Manuel Will

The Sibudan is a technocomplex within the cultural stratigraphy of the southern African Middle Stone Age (MSA), first formulated in 2012. The term was introduced as a working concept to organize the spatio-temporal variability in material culture among the archaeological record following the Howiesons Poort during Marine Isotope Stage 3 (MIS 3; ~59–24 ka). In contrast to the more widely used name “post-Howiesons Poort” (“post-HP”)—an umbrella term resting primarily upon temporal aspects—the Sibudan possesses a formal definition based on characteristic elements of its lithic technology. The site of Sibudu, located in the eastern part of southern Africa (KwaZulu-Natal), serves as type locality since it has yielded a rich and high-resolution record of modern human occupations during MIS 3. The Sibudan type sequence at Sibudu, dated to ~58 ka and encompassing twenty-three layers, features both characteristic traits and diachronic variability. The consistent techno-typological elements include predominantly local raw material procurement, concomitant use of multiple core reduction methods (Levallois, discoid, platform, and bipolar), manufacture of flake and blade assemblages, as well as soft stone hammer percussion for blades. Temporal variability exists in the proportions and morphologies of tools and unifacial points in particular—including Tongati, Ndwedwe, and asymmetric convergent tools—the presence of bifacial points, as well as the frequency of blank types and different core reduction methods. Comparative studies since 2014 suggest a spatio-temporal extension of the Sibudan in the eastern part of southern Africa during early MIS 3 (~58–50 ka), with marked differences to assemblages of similar ages along the southern coast and Western Cape. The concept is thus not a direct substitute or congruent with the “post-HP” and “Sibudu technocomplex.” On a more interpretive level, the Sibudan has featured in discussions on the trajectory of cultural evolution among early modern humans, the scale and mechanisms of behavioral change during the MSA, and theoretical debate on the relevance of technocomplexes.


Water and Materiality  

Franz Krause

Water is key to human life, both biophysically and socioculturally. Having long been regarded in anthropology as a circumstantial backdrop to human society and culture, water—alongside other nonhuman substances and beings—has received growing attention as a material with specific potentials and histories in the 21st century. This research explores the fundamental connectivity and relationality of water, through which social relations and hydrological flows are often two sides of the same coin, shaping and transforming each other. Watery materiality is frequently characterized by movement and instability, defying control but also intersecting with other social and material processes to create ever new arrangements. Water practices, infrastructures, and experiences participate in the formation and transformation of spaces and landscapes, and may inspire novel theoretical insights on meaning-making, kinship, learning, and space, among other topics. Water’s valuation and the tensions that arise regarding how to govern it emerge in part from its material properties. Ongoing discussions explore the links between these properties, water infrastructures, unequal distribution, and political power. Watery materiality is not a single thing, but has multiple manifestations, including saltwater, ice, and humidity. Some scholars therefore propose studying water and materiality in terms of various forms of wetness or amphibious processes. Research into water and materiality suggests that the material world consists of open processes rather than of fixed objects, and that water’s multiple manifestations and flows actively participate in shaping human lives.


Water and Religion  

Terje Oestigaard

There are many different and distinct types of religious waters: holy, sacred, neutral, and even evil. The ways various divinities invest waters with specific qualities and capacities depend upon a wide range of ecological, theological, and eschatological factors; some are shaped by the environment while others are purely ontological and concerned with otherworldly realms, and often there is an intimate relation between the mundane and the divine. Rivers, rain, lakes, springs, and waterfalls are some specific forms of religious water, which also relate to seasonality and changing hydrological cycles. All these variations create different dependencies not only to ecological factors but more importantly to divine actors. Religious water may heal and bless individuals and be a communal source for fertility and plentiful harvests, but may also work as a penalty, wreaking havoc on society as floods or the absence of the life-giving rains in agricultural communities. Given the great variation of religious waters throughout history where even the same water may attain different qualities and divine embodiments, divine waters define structuring practices and principles in ecology and cosmology.