HARP members attended ASAPA 2024 in Lesotho

Some members from Team HARP have just returned from the Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists meeting in Roma, Lesotho, held at the National University of Lesotho. The conference took place in the final week of June and around 200 archaeologists and heritage practitioners met for a fairly chilly week that was countered with rich conversations about the discipline, robust engagements between colleagues, and a broad exposé of archaeological work. It was the first in-person meeting since 2019.

Tim Forssman presented a poster on the start of a new study, linked to the work in the Mapungubwe area, about work that is being planned at and around Thulamela, a mid-second millennium AD precolonial capital. The poster summarised the importance of such a study, arguing that since relatively little had been done in the past, we in fact know very little about the capital and landscape. The aim of the study is to re-engage and ensure the preservation of Thulamela, examine Thulamela’s role in regional networks, and develop a new approach to understanding Thulamela. The poster states: “This limited set of cultural remains formed the foundation of Thulamela’s historical narrative and cultural characterisation, which is derivative of other studies such as those at Great Zimbabwe. As such, it assumes a broad commonality between sites without adequate focus on their differing historical contexts. This is a major omission.”

Justine van Heerden’s travelling museum was on show in a poster but not in person. Her results from around 100 questionnaires and interviews were presented and the benefits and limitations of such a travelling initiative were argued. The poster showed some wonderful images of the museum and how it was presented to the public. Justine is in the final throws of her Masters and will be submitting her final thesis in the coming weeks. We hope that it is well received and will go on to inform other community outreach initiatives that use travelling initiatives.

Chante Barnard presented her Masters research. Her poster, titled “Little Muck Shelter: forager participation in, and contribution to, farmer economies in central southern Africa” investigated the appearance, change, and density of ‘farmer’ material culture at Little Muck to examine exchange and trade patterns between foragers and farmers. Her work has been able to strongly associate changes in forager activities at the site with the appearance of trade wealth. At the moment, her work is being reviewed and we hope for a positive outcome.

Tim also presented a talk in the session titled “Hunter-gatherer archaeology [still] matters: a session in honour of Peter Mutchell”. His talk was titled: “Twenty years on and still at risk: reflections on Peter Mitchell’s renaissance and renewal, and why Later Stone Age archaeology still matters”. Tim’s talk summarised Peter’s 2005 paper, which was a twenty year review of Later Stone Age archaeology, and then asked ‘have we renewed?’ and appraised our attempts to push the field forward. To finish off, Tim considered ‘then, now… next?’ and suggested some worthwhile considerations, from his perspective, that included the issue of parachute science, infrastructural growth, student support, and thematic trends within the field. He ended by saying: “For now, I think it is fair to conclude that the LSA still matters, that hasn’t gone away, but neither has its risk of marginalisation, and if anything, that has worsened”.

Perhaps most special about this conference was spending time with Peter Mitchell. Peter supervised Tim and the two of them along with Chante and Justine drove from Mbombela to Roma together. The time spent, conversations had, and evening discussions were incredible and an absolute privilege. Peter’s contribution to archaeology is immense; it was an inspirational few days of spending quality time together. On our final night, in Clarens after a disastrous attempt at leaving Lesotho on time, we bumped into Brian Stewart, Charlie Arthur, and Sam Challis, all students of Peter’s, and took an academic, cross-generational photograph together.

Thank you to the LOC, the National University of Lesotho, and the nation of Lesotho for hosting us in this brilliant academic meeting. We are very pleased to end this off by announcing that the next ASAPA meeting will be hosted at the University of Mpumalanga, and we are all excited to begin organising the conference.