Raymond Dart and the Danger of Mentors

By Derricourt, Robin | Antiquity, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Raymond Dart and the Danger of Mentors


Derricourt, Robin, Antiquity


Archaeology, like all scientific and scholarly disciplines, requires the transmission of knowledge and ideas. This commonly involves the influence of mentors and role models: figures who can at times take on the role of gurus. But adherence to mentors has its dangers. That is shown in the career of Raymond Dart, whose professional work was deeply flawed by the adherence he paid to his mentor Grafton Elliot Smith. His status has been maintained by his dedicated disciple, the great physical anthropologist Phillip Tobias, but critical assessment of the corpus of Dart's work (Dubow 1996; Derricourt 2009) contrasts with his selective reputation.

In the first part of 1925, Dart--then a youthful professor of anatomy in Johannesburg--published in quick succession two papers in the pre-eminent British science journal Nature. One (on the discovery of Australopithecus with the announcement and interpretation of the Taung fossil cranium) would become a landmark document in the history of palaeoanthropology and prehistory (Dart 1925a). The other is a classic example of the approaches which would later be seen as belonging in the lunatic fringe of archaeology. Dart would continue publishing on both themes throughout his long and productive life (from his birth in Australia in 1893 to death in Johannesburg in 1988).

The paper entitled 'The historical succession of cultural impacts upon South Africa' (Dart 1925b) presented a framework for African prehistory that stood quite at odds with emerging scientific knowledge. Only two years later Cambridge archaeologist Miles Burkitt would travel through South Africa and publish a summary of the scientific understanding of the region's prehistory (Burkitt 1928), followed by a detailed survey from South Africa's own pioneer prehistorians (Goodwin & van Riet Lowe 1929). By contrast, Dart's study of southern Africa was of 'untold numbers of invaders at successive historical epochs' (Dart 1925b: 429). He argued that "the whole of the eastern portion of the African continent ... was exploited by the old colonists [who] visited these territories and carried off their denizens, particularly their women, but also ... settled down among them' and that there was 'unassailable evidence of the impact of ancient civilisatiom of the Eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamian areas upon a Bushman South Africa' (Dart 1925b: 426). Those whose culture impacted on Southern and Central African prehistory included Phoenicians, Sabaeans, Phrygians, Indians, Chinese, early Europeans, Babylonians and ancient Egyptians. The selective evidence for these external influences included stone monuments, phallic objects, rock paintings of people wearing strange cloaks, Egyptian style headdress worn by a Zulu woman, an 'ancient galley' near Cape Town, wild occurrence of Asian cultivars, Chinese pottery, chance finds of ancient coins, Semitic facial characteristics, and African place names resembling those of the Semitic Middle East, India or even Japan.

Such an approach was not a one-off aberration of a distinguished scholar writing outside his expert field (in Dart's case human anatomy). Dart would go on to write scores of papers (M. Dart 1968), and give numerous lectures, pursuing the vision of the exotic invaders from the ancient world or the distant north or east. His enthusiasm led to claims for ancient--even very ancient--mining by alien peoples visiting Southern Africa, in papers from the 1920s to the early 1970s.

Dart's professional shift from medicai interests to those of physical anthropology led him to claim evidence from this sub-field to support his archaeological arguments. If archaeology was a small professional field in Southern Africa, physical anthropology was smaller still: this left Dart with few peers against whom to test his ideas and few to criticise them openly. Trained in a period that emphasised the categorisation of mankind into pure races, Dart then struggled to fit the anatomical evidence into this model. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Raymond Dart and the Danger of Mentors
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.