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Anthropology and Archaeology


Why Study Archaeology?

How can we ever know the truth about the past? … time wrecks everything. But if you're careful, boy, if you're methodical, if you measure and record and look for the…boring little details, like potsherds, and learn what they mean---you can get the dead to speak again, out of their ashes. That's worth more than all the gold and amulets in the world, that's the work of my life. That's what I was born for.

(Kage Baker: 2002 The Queen in Yellow
Black Projects, White Knights: The Company Dossiers
Golden Gryphon Press, Urbana, Illinois)

Archaeology is the study of our human past through the recording and analysis of the material culture that people in the past left behind. This material culture includes everything from the stone tools discarded three million years ago to the rubbish deposited into the landfill yesterday. Some of this material culture – such as the structures that past peoples occupied - is on the surface and easily recorded but much of what we study lies undiscovered in the ground beneath our feet. This is why one of the key methodologies that archaeologists use is the careful excavation and recording of the layers of material deposited over millennia. Our approach is methodical and scientific and while we often employ high-tech methods the goal is to reach a greater understanding of how people lived in the world – their settlement patterns, religion, economic activities, foodways and how political formations developed.

Archaeology is both a humanity and a science and may thus be paired with a variety of other disciplines including Anthropology, History, Geography, Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Museum and Heritage Studies, Botany, Zoology, Chemistry and Geology. Archaeologists work in a variety of contexts and generally find employment in universities, museums, government agencies, as impact consultants, the tourism industry and other parts of the private sector.

[The past] represents the cultural heritage of everyone who has ever lived on Earth or will live on it in the future. Archaeology puts all human societies on an equal footing.

(Brian Fagan 1996
Introduction to the Oxford Companion
to Archaeology Oxford University Press,
New York)

Why study Archaeology at the University of South Africa (UNISA)?

UNISA is one of only four Universities in South Africa which offer Archaeology as a subject. As a long-distance education institution UNISA affords you the opportunity to study the discipline full- or part-time and long distance, from anywhere in the world!

Besides our normal course material we offer

  • an annual field school, where you can learn to survey and excavate
  • workshops that provide focused training in specialised areas of study, such as faunal analysis or development of a heritage management plan
  • regular seminars with local and international speakers
  • an occasional film series

Our archaeology lecturers collectively have over 60 years experience in various fields of the subject, and offer Honours, Master’s and Ph.D. supervision in:

  • The Middle and Later Stone Age
  • The Iron Age/Farmer Period of southern Africa
  • Historical Archaeology, with a focus on Southern and West Africa
  • The comparative use of written, oral and archaeological sources
  • Colonial frontiers and culture contact studies
  • 19th- and 20th-century material culture studies
  • Archaeologies of slavery and the slave trade
  • Archaeologies of identity
  • Archaeologies of conflict
  • Landscape archaeology

Staff members regularly present at conferences and publish their research findings in international and local, accredited journals.

The various fields of Archaeology covered in our study material include:

  • Human evolution
  • Hunter-gatherers and herders
  • African farming communities
  • Historical and colonial period sites
  • Rock Art

The Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, which is found in the department, contains a vast collection of archaeological and anthropological objects, which come from various fascinating collections. These collections are open for viewing, study and research.

We have a number of postgraduate students studying a variety of archaeological sites across the Southern African region, building on our knowledge of this area and also developing new strategies for conservation. By working with our students we are expanding our knowledge, and developing new strategies for understanding and conserving our archaeological past.