Anthropology, Department of



Clea Koff

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Published in Nebraska Anthropologist Vol. 14 (1997-1999). Copyright © Clea Koff; published by The University of Nebraska-Lincoln AnthroGroup.


This paper examines the role of archaeology in the political agendas of both colonial and post-colonial African governments. Both forms of government have utilized selective interpretations of the archaeological record to further their political goals. The marriage between archaeologists and colonial administrations is examined in light of the temporal coincidence between the international rise of professional archaeology in the 18908 and the zenith of colonial occupation in sub-Saharan Africa. The concurrent nature of these two phenomena resulted in employment within colonial administrations for the majority of professional archaeologists. The archaeology of the post-independenoe era reflects a shift in paradigm, as evident in the kinds of
questions asked by archaeologists. Interpretation of the archaeological record, however, has often remained within the service of government agendas.

In some African countries, archaeology is now heralded as a lubricant for extra-ethnic national unity. Meanwhile, the governments of other countries have suppressed archaeology, while they weigh its potential for fueling ethnic struggles as peoples gain 'evidence' for their ancient origins and subsequent rights to land. Examples of the role of archaeology in Africa are provided from various sites in the eastern, western, and southern regions of the continent.

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