Thomas Niel Huffman
17 July 1944 – 30 March 2022
Thomas (Tom) Huffman, professor emeritus of archaeology at Wits University, died yesterday at home in Johannesburg. He had been struggling for several months with cancer and various related ailments. Tom was born in the United States. Fascinated by Native American artifacts as a child, he took anthropology (including archaeology) at university, first at Denver, then Illinois. His PhD was based on the Leopard’s Kopje pottery sequence in Zimbabwe and involved both excavations and museum-based work there in the late 1960s. Tom took up the position of Inspector of Monuments in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1969, and was made responsible for Mashonaland in 1970. He moved to Johannesburg in 1977 to become head of archaeology at Wits University, where he stayed until he formally retired in 2009. Retirement simply gave him more time for archaeology.
Tom revolutionized the study of the southern African farming past. He introduced new kinds of analyses and interpretations to the discipline that helped transform it from somewhat dry description into richly textured, peopled and meaning-filled accounts. In recent years he took ideas developed and honed here and applied them to American sites he’d worked on as a student. His extraordinary energy, right until the end, generated a publication list of such length and breadth that it will rarely be bettered. It is heavy on the academic side, of course, but he was committed to public education too. He wrote guidebooks on Great Zimbabwe and Mapungubwe and contributed to museum and other exhibitions, including at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum. We look forward to the sadly posthumous publication of his book on the archaeology of Great Zimbabwe. Hambe kahle Ngqalabutho. Uyibekile induku ebandla!