ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE PUBLIC IN SENEGAL: REFLECTIONS ON DOING FIELDWORK AT HOME

In: Journal of African Archaeology
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  • 1 Laboratoire de Préhistoire

In contrast to the practice of history that is deeply rooted in African societies in the form of oral traditions, to many Senegalese, archaeological inquiry is rather a strange and mysterious endeavor. Both text and speech are based on language and thus permit historians to draw correlations between documentary and oral based histories. For archaeologists however, the difficulty of finding a local intellectual endeavor that matches what they do remains a tedious task. They dig up dirt, collect useless discarded sherds and stones from ancient sites and garbage dumps, and open up other people’s graves. What archaeologists do is locally associated with people suffering mental disability, thus putting a tremendous social pressure on local archaeologists. Recent interests in historical archaeology permitted us to distinguish two different attitudes of the public with respect to the archaeological past: a prehistoric past that is unclaimed and uncontested; and a recent historic past that is claimed and contested. While the history of archaeology in Senegal explains these public attitudes toward the archaeological past, the implications are extremely broad and pose problems of public outreach affecting the management of cultural resources, museums’ exhibits, etc.

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