I came into archaeology by accident. While an archaeological essence had seeped into my mind through exposure to numerous site visits during a Central African upbringing, I was fixed on other things. This changed early in my UCT undergraduate career when a filler credit in archaeology rapidly morphed into a major with the realisation that the discipline embraced my fractured ability in both the social and hard sciences.
During Masters research at Wits in the late 1970s and early '80s on the 'Iron Age' sequence of the Waterberg (Limpopo), I stumbled across significant 'Tswana' settlements dating to the 1870s, the result of major diasporas away from Pretoria and the clutches of ZAR control. This colonial period archaeology fell outside my immediate research commitments, but after ten years at the Albany Museum in Grahamstown and doctorial research back in the 'Stone Age', I returned to the Waterberg in the early 1990s.
Multi-disciplinary work at these 19th century 'Tswana' settlements, using oral and written source, pulled material culture to centre stage as a critical commentary on the nature of 'Tswana' and colonial entanglement.
I extended this multi-disciplinary approach into the precolonial archaeology of 'Tswana'-speakers that had been big on the interpretation of cultural structure. An increasing, if somewhat naïve use of oral records, sought to assert event and agency into a more contextual reading of the archaeology. Thickening the history challenged, in particular, the broad and ahistorical scale in which identity had been archaeologically imagined and I am currently continue to nudge the material culture of identity towards a scale that reflects the realities of identity politics so clearly evident in ethnographic and historical sources.
I now fully occupy this multi-disciplinary space and the APC provides an intellectual crossroad that has significantly contributed to my current focus, which is a book length project on the making of 'Tswana' identity.
Dr Simon Hall was an Andrew W Mellon Research Fellow with the Archive and Public Culture research initiative in 2011.