Will Historical Archaeology Escape Its Western Prejudices to Become Relevant to Africa?



A major problem facing North American approaches to historical archaeology is the exclusionary manner in which the discipline is defined. By confining historical archaeology to the era of capitalism and colonialism, we declare that the indigenous histories of many areas of the globe are of no interest to such an intellectual agenda. If we practice an historical archaeology that only valorizes the colonial experience, then what happens to history making that engaged cultures in the pre-capitalist and pre-modern era? Such approaches separate the histories of people in Africa from those of the West, and, is in effect, academic apartheid. To remedy this disjuncture, we interrogate how historical archaeology may escape the bounds of implicit racism in its denial of historicity before literacy. We suggest that breaking the chains of exclusion is the only way to realize an inclusive archaeology sensitive to all history making projects.

Key Words

Historical archaeology in Africa Society of Historical Archaeology Ethnocentrism Post-medieval archaeology Misrepresentation Archaeological imperialism Archaeology of the modern era Precolonial history of Africa Archaeology of colonialism 


Les approches nord-américaines à l’archéologie historique font face à un problème majeur, soit la base d’exclusion sur laquelle la discipline est définie. En confinant l’archéologie historique aux ères du capitalisme et du colonialisme, nous déclarons que l’histoire autochtone de plusieurs régions du monde ne suscite aucunement l’intérêt d’un tel programme intellectuel. Si nous exerçons une archéologie historique qui ne valorise que l’expérience coloniale, qu’advient-il des événements historiques ayant mobilisé les cultures des ères précapitaliste et prémoderne? Lesdites approches excluent l’histoire des peuples d’Afrique de celle des peuples occidentaux, devenant pour cause un modèle d’apartheid académique. Pour colmater cette brèche, nous nous demandons comment l’archéologie historique peut se sortir du joug du racisme implicite et de son déni de l’historicité préalable à l’alphabétisation. Nous suggérons que le seul moyen de donner naissance à une archéologie sensible à tous les projets marquants de l’histoire est de briser les chaînes de l’exclusion.


Un problema muy grave que enfrentan los enfoques norteamericanos a la arqueología histórica es la manera excluyente en que se define la disciplina. Al confinar a la arqueología histórica a la era del capitalismo y del colonialismo, declaramos que las historias indígenas de muchas áreas del mundo no le interesan a dicha agenda intelectual. Si practicamos una arqueología histórica que s lo valoriza la experiencia colonial, entonces, ¿qué ocurre con la historia hecha por las culturas que participaron en la era precapitalista y premoderna? Tales enfoques separan las historias de los pueblos de África de las del Occidente y, de hecho, es un apartheid académico. Para remediar esta coyuntura, interrogamos cómo la arqueología histórica puede escapar a los límites del racismo implícito en su negación de la autenticidad histórica antes de la alfabetización. Sugerimos que la única manera de realizar una arqueología inclusiva, sensible a todos los proyectos de hacer historia, es romper las cadenas de la exclusión.


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Anthropology and ArchaeologyUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa

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