It’s that time of year when I write something on my “to do” list just in time to cross it off and add two more things in its place. You know that feeling you get when you travel, that you are certain you must have forgotten something important but can’t remember what it is? That’s what it’s like to prepare for fieldwork, except that you have that feeling every day for about six months.
Hopefully, though, the fact that fieldwork is looming means that the blogs will once again start rolling. We will try to keep people appraised of what we are doing this year from the planning stages all the way through to the end, and hopefully I can coerce several people to contribute so that we get a variety of perspectives. This year is particularly busy for preparation because I have moved to Emory University since the last field season in Malawi and I did not have access to any of the same equipment that I used to enjoy at UQ. Thus, I have spent most of the last year and a half seeking funding and building a new equipment store so that the next time we are in the field we can continue to collect the same quality of data that we have previously done.
This year we will be working mainly in southern Karonga, near the village of Ngara. This area will provide the complementary data to what we have obtained from the Chitimwe Bed deposits around the town of Karonga itself over the past five years. We suspect that patterns in precipitation, topography, and raw material abundance structured the ways that MSA people moved around on the Karonga landscape. Therefore, we expect to see some differences in how stone tools were made and curated when we compare the northern to the southern areas.
There are also some interesting deposits near Ngara that are somewhat isolated from other remnants of the Chitimwe Beds. These were surveyed in a preliminary way in 2014 and in one case there was evidence of intact knapping floors. Since these deposits are being rapidly eroded by natural processes, we want to maximize our data collection there. We will also be doing test-pitting, in the same way we did in 2012 and 2014, as that has given us so much information about the sub-surface distributions of artifacts and geological processes. We will be taking a new version of FAIMS Android-based recording system into the field, and we have a new drone that (unlike our last one) is not known for crashing randomly into mango trees.
While this work is ongoing in southern Karonga, a small group of us will split off and do some survey and possibly some very small test excavations on the Nyika Plateau and in the Mzimba District. These regions are likely to have mostly Later Stone Age materials preserved in rock shelters, and over the last year we have been developing some new lines of research to explore this time period. It is an incredibly interesting time, because it represents the lifeways of the last hunter-gatherers who lived in the area before they were either replaced or incorporated into incoming iron-working populations. There are still rich oral histories in the region that tell about these people, often referred to as the “Akafula”, and so there is a rare opportunity to link hunter-gatherer archaeology to other sources of information. This season will hopefully provide the pilot data we need to refine these ideas and write a competitive proposal for future work in the area. Thus, the months of July and August are shaping up to be very busy indeed – both because of wrapping up our work in Karonga and also planning our way forward for the future.
Hopefully we will be able to post some updates as we draw nearer to July, and you can continue to follow what we are doing all the way until the middle of August. Until then, and out of pure nostalgia, I am posting a copy of the “Sangalala” T-shirt logo that the legendary 2012 field school students created after that experience. Many of those students and the Antiquities representatives with whom we worked that year are now moving on into post-graduate work, have completed graduate work, or are working as professional archaeologists. I am always so happy that MEMSAP was able to be a part of their training! I am very grateful to the people and government of Malawi for their continued support of our research, and I am looking forward to seeing many dear friends and colleagues again this summer!
Dr. Jessica Thompson