Vision and Goals
The Department of Archaeology investigates how people have changed through time, in order to gain insight into why we are the way we are today. We study the cultural and biological records of the past and present in order to do this. South Africa is endowed with a rich and unique archaeological, fossil and ethnographic record, giving us considerable advantage in this respect. Within this broad theme, our researchers are especially interested in the dynamics of human change over the Quaternary Period, and indeed change, process, innovation, complexity, and adaptation are core ideas that thread throughout all of our work. This time period spans a large part of our evolutionary history, and incorporates the record of early ape-like hominids, the first members of our genus Homo, modern human origins, hunter-gatherer societies, farming communities, and colonists. Our specific areas of focus include but are not limited to: technological change and innovation; study of past diets and environments; understanding and reconstructing palaeoecology, the dynamics of complex social landscapes; evolutionary process and the shaping of diversity.
We collect information in the field through survey, recording, and excavation of archaeological and fossil remains. Subsequent to this, a large portion of our research focuses on laboratory approaches designed to extract maximum information from these remains. These include materials analysis, isotopic studies, genetics, lithic analysis, morphometrics, quantitative evolutionary theory, historical artefact studies, and others. We continually strive to understand this information in the context of broader theoretical frameworks for human cultural and biological evolution. Because our study of humans is deeply entrenched in the context of South Africa – who we are, how we arose, how our ancestors interacted – our research directly informs our understanding of modern South Africa, in all its cultural and biological diversity. Additionally, our research goes hand in hand with our responsibilities to communicate results and interpretations to a broader community, as well as to manage the record on which we rely.
With these foci in mind, our goal as a department in the next five years is primarily to continue to build upon these strengths. We intend to capitalise on the Science Faculty research focus on Human Evolution and Quaternary Science in order to grow this research agenda in the Faculty. We have a strong record of housing visiting researchers in our department, due to natural and departmental resources (both material and intellectual). We intend to grow this programme, and use visiting researchers to further build connections among us and between us and other departments and faculties. We will begin this with the newly appointed Faculty Distinguished Visitor to the Archaeology Department, Prof Mark Collard, who exemplifies an interdisciplinary approach to human evolution and whom we envisage will help us to extend the reach of our collaborations. We also intend to re-consider and re-align our teaching content and approach to better integrate our research strengths with our teaching, and to further integrate post-graduate students into our research to build a sustainable human resource and research capacity. Finally, we intend to ultimately use our strengths in the field of human cultural and biological evolution to develop a bid for (and hopefully succeed in securing) one of UCTs newly established institutes – the Human Evolution Research Institute.