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date: 07 July 2020

Communities and Archaeology in Africa

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article.

The dichotomy between communities and archaeology (as a scientific discipline and practice) draws on the colonial experience in Africa. However, due to these colonial conditions, there has been a recurring false dichotomy between communities and the protection of their heritage (archaeological material). Since pre-colonial times in Africa, communities, especially at local grass-roots levels, have devised safeguarding measures to protect their valuable heritage (both cultural and natural), their so-called material culture and archaeological material. For many African communities, heritage resources are not mute but inscribed and imbued with meaning, symbolism, and interpretation that entrench local community claims to heritage and further underpin their experiences in protection and conservation management. This validates the indivisible but dynamic relationship between communities and archaeology, where communities have the opportunity to claim, engage, and interact with their heritage, even though issues of public access to “Protected Areas” is still problematic.

On the contrary, disruptions by the colonial project in Africa sought to privilege and impose Eurocentric practices in the name of science through archaeology, among other disciplines that have since become dominant fixtures for interpretation and protection of heritage still featuring prominently in the post-colonial context. The popularization of the decolonization project in Africa has witnessed attempts to foreground communities as custodians and as main participants (beneficiaries) in archaeological practices in conservation management.