The MEMSAP Backlog: Archaeology Day

by Andrew Zipkin (Doctoral Candidate, The George Washington University)

As most detailed plans tend to go during field work in Africa, the daily updates previously promised have not occurred quite on schedule.  About 6 hours after the last post to the MEMSAP blog, the electricity went out.  Not in Karonga as a whole but quite specifically at the MEMSAP house due to a blown transformer down the road.  5 or so days later we are back online.

When last we left off; Archaeology Day, MEMSAP’s major public outreach activity for this field season, was about to be elaborated upon.  One week ago today, the Cultural and Museum Center Karonga was full of invited guests (primarily local school teachers, traditional leaders, and notable Karonga residents) for a presentation on MEMSAP research by Dr. Jessica Thompson.  Ideally, Archaeology Day would draw a large number of ordinary citizens brought by their own interest but one of the key lessons to be learned when planning a public event in Malawi, and especially Karonga, is that things tend to work in a top down fashion.  By inviting respected members of  the community, especially educators and traditional leaders (the Paramount Kyungu, the Senior Chief, Village Headmen) this year, future public outreach events are more likely to draw a broader audience.

Despite a few minor hiccups (no power or water at the museum) Archaeology Day went off without any major deviations from the planned events.  After the brief lecture about MEMSAP activities in the Karonga area, students and staff hosted four demonstrations outside of the museum to illustrate aspects of archaeological field and lab work, as well as Stone Age technologies like stone knapping and ochre pigment heat treatment.  Next, Dr. Thompson announced the donation of a resin cast of the famous Taung Child fossil to the Karonga Museum from the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa.  The cast will join the paleontological displays that visitors can vew inside the museum.  In addition, University of Queensland staff member (and field school student) Tony Miscamble joined me in announcing the opening of the new science reading room at the Karonga Musuem, as well as the donation of children’s books to every primary school in Ipyana District (the town centre of Karonga).  After the donations, our guests joined MEMSAP staff at the Karonga airport cafe for lunch, which was accompanied by entertainment from a local traditional dance troupe (vidoes to follow after the field season when we have access to high speed internet).

During the afternoon session, MEMSAP and guests proceeded to the archaeological site at Mwanganda Village where a new cultural heritage sign, designed by MEMSAP staff and painted by City University of New York doctoral candidate Sheila Nightingale, had just been cemented in place.  The sign at Mwanganda Village feature dual language descriptions (in English and Chitumbuka) of what has been found at the site and who has worked there over the years. Mwanganda Village has a nearly 50 year history of archaeological research beginning with J. Desmond Clark and colleagues work during the early 1960s; MEMSAP continues to work there today with the help and support of local residents from Mwanganda village itself.  Given the success of Archaeology Day this year, next year we hope to expand the event to a bigger audience and include local Karonga secondary school students among the guests so that they can experience first hand the opportunities for archaeological and paleontological research that are available in their own backyard.

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