Written by Kenneth Aitchison,
Archaeological remains in Africa are being damaged or destroyed without being adequately investigated, preserved, conserved or understood.
The reasons for this are rooted in a combination of global demand for minerals, rapid urbanization and the pressures of conflict and climate change, compounded by colonial histories, weak legislation, confused cultural attitudes to heritage and lack of investment in archaeological organisations.
We are now in a situation where “… sites that have been destroyed without having received any archaeological impact assessment prior to construction, vastly outnumber the ones that have been assessed and mitigated” (Arazi 2009, 97-98). Many sites are being looted with the ultimate resale value of stolen antiquities on the international art markets far exceeding the amount that is spent on systematic archaeological investigation (Ndoro 1997).
In the last two decades the sector has not kept pace with developing and ongoing threats to archaeological heritage from mineral extraction and infrastructure projects across the continent, together with the threats posed by conflict, looting, climate change and its economic consequences. Opportunities have been lost to create jobs, to add to knowledge and understanding, to stop looting and to protect African heritage for future generations.
The deeply rooted causes mean that these issues can’t be easily resolved, but a first step would be to ensure that people with the right skills, matched to needs, are working to address the pressures on archaeology.
There are Shortages of Professional Archaeologists in Many African Countries
The widely held, axiomatic, view is that there just aren’t enough archaeological experts in Africa to carry out the work needed in projects, both large and small, that are affecting African cultural heritage and landscapes.
And this view –– is relevant, and important, and true – but it is often anecdotal rather than evidence-based. The first step in building capacity is to measure current capacity, getting the evidence that can then be used to identify what is needed and then how to move towards supporting a sustainable workforce.
To protect heritage needs skilled, trained staff, and to set a baseline we first need to know how many archaeologists there are in Africa, and what their capabilities are.
Learning from previous work in Europe (the Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe project, where partners from 21 countries worked together to map professional archaeology in Europe, it would be possible to look at how many people work in archaeology across Africa (in all work situations – academia, private companies, governmental, NGOs), what they do, what their skills, qualifications, ages, genders and cultural backgrounds are, and how archaeology “operates” in each country.
Landward Research Ltd and the Heritage Management Organization are building up a network of partners in Africa who want to share methodologies and results to support African archaeology today and to plan for its development tomorrow, creating opportunities for employment, to contribute to knowledge and for heritage protection.
Knowing about the professionals who identify, interpret, curate and manage the physical remains of the human past allows those professionals to be supported, their needs to be identified and nurtured to lead to better heritage protection in the future.
The value in doing this is not just in counting archaeologists – it is in mapping out the current situation in order to then develop professional capacity that will better protect African cultural heritage. Archaeologists need to understand what is important, why it is important and to be able to explain and use it to tell a story that people will understand and value.
 Landward Research Ltd is a global labour market intelligence, skills development and monitoring & evaluation consultancy. We identify and deliver ways to measure and strengthen the skills, competencies and capabilities of individuals, organisations, professions and communities around the world. We have worked to undertake capacity measurement in professional archaeology for the European Commission, heritage agencies in the UK and the Society for American Archaeology.
 The Heritage Management Organization (HERITAGE) was established in November 2008 with the goal of enabling key heritage managers, through targeted training, to independently transform heritage assets from decaying objects of study to dynamic sources of learning, community identity and economic development.
The Heritage Management Organization trains professionals in the management of heritage sites, independently of project specifics. Training practitioners in the essential skills and best practices which define heritage management is at the heart of the HERITAGE mission.
The Heritage Management Organization is delighted to announce that Dr Kenneth Aitchison is joining the Organization as Head of Capability Mapping.
Kenneth is the Executive Director of Landward Research Ltd, and was formerly Head of Projects and Professional Development at the UK Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. He was awarded his PhD by the University of Edinburgh in 2012 for his work on three labour market intelligence projects (Profiling the Profession) studying professional archaeology in the UK which he led between 1997-98 and 2007-08. He has also led two pan-European Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe projects, with the Heritage Management Organization participating in the second of these.
He is now working to develop an HMO-led project looking at professional capabilities in archaeology in Africa, thinking about how to use this information to support capacity building for African archaeology. He presented a poster at HerMA 2017 and then spoke at the ICAHM conference in Tanzania, and is currently recruiting partners and participants for that initiative.