Editorial

By Carver, Martin | Antiquity, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Editorial


Carver, Martin, Antiquity


The city of Dakar in Senegal was the venue late last year for the epoch-making joint meeting of the Pan-African Archaeological Association (PAA) and the Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAFA). In case you are confused, the first holds a series of conferences for archaeologists based in Africa, and meets in Africa about every five years and the second is for archaeologists working on Africa, whose conferences are held biennially in the USA and Europe. Together the participants made as friendly and enlightening a gathering of heroic researchers as you would ever wish to meet. Africa is not an easy terrain--that must be the understatement of the year--and participants related how they had wrestled with opaque soils and relentless vegetation to win some remarkable new history, some of which we will hope to feature in future issues.

As a general impression from an outsider, the research profession is thriving, with foreign and African terms increasingly working together and pursuing common agendas. The mitigation scene gives greater cause for concern. Some are struggling against impossible odds--like Jim Denbow evaluating 168 000 acres in advance of eucalyptus planting in the Congo. Others feature western archaeology firms parachuting in to perform professional mitigation services for other western firms, as Jeff Altschul and Gerry Wait in advance of gold mining in the Sabodala on the upper Senegal River. If this is to be the prescription, it is only the beginning: it might be observed that motorway building has hardly commenced.

Of course, Europeans and Americans can be forgiven for thinking that Senegal is the garden of Eden and no more needs a motorway than Adam and Eve did. But after being thrown about in a bus for five hours en route to The Gambia, maybe those long smooth surfaces do have a purpose. The field trip in question took us to rich, beautiful sites: a shell midden in the Saloum Islands about the size of a gasometer with mature baobab trees growing on it; and the stone circles at the Wanar World Heritage site, stately rings of upright ironstone monoliths which appear to have been added round earlier burials. The clever work of Luc Laporte of the University of Rennes and his team is establishing the date and function of these intriguing monuments of the first millennium AD. And not the least interesting aspect of the campaign is the discovery of the quarries from which the monoliths were cut, on the surface a few hundred metres away.

The organisers of PANAF are to be congratulated on providing an unforgettable and instructive experience; no-one who was there could remain indifferent to the attractions of Africa's archaeology and its considerable challenges. For its part, Antiquity was proud to be able to support the travel of 11 African students to the Congress: Kolawole Adekola, Bandama Foreman, Pascal Nlend Nlend, and Clement Bakinde from other African countries, and Jean-Marie Djoussou, Bienvenue Gouem Gouem, Dibie Charles Kpra, Alice Mezop, Marie-France Ould-Issa, Abubakar Sule and Ndukukakhe Ndlovu from outside the continent. SAfA also held an essay competition for students who were there, and we are pleased to announce that the four prize-winning essays by Ashley N. Coutu, Jean-Marie Datouang Djoussou, Cameron D. Gokee and Justin Pargeter, have been accepted for the project gallery (q.v.).

Much anxiety in British universities about the latest round of government tinkering, which proposed raising fees for students and drove large numbers of them onto the streets. In the London Review of Books Stefan Collini helpfully explained that increasing fees is neither a new policy nor the important one. 'The scale of the report's dismantling of the public character of higher education is breathtaking' he says, 'and yet scarcely surprising'. The mission to privatise the universities has been enthusiastically pursued since 1981 by governments of all colours. By stops and starts it has reduced public maintenance grants and increased student contributions to arrive finally at the prescriptions of the Browne Report (Lord, not Gordon) in 2010. …

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