Just out: the book Archives of Times Past
A book titled Archives of Times Past: conversations about South Africa’s deep history, edited by Cynthia Kros, John Wright, Mbongiseni Buthelezi and Helen Ludlow was recently published (Johannesburg: Wits University Press 2022), with contributions from two members of the Department of Human Sciences.
In the chapter ‘Storm Shelter: Rediscovering an archive of rock art’, Dr Geoff Blundell explains how he used evidence from nineteenth-century colonial documents to interpret rock paintings at a major rock art site in the Maclear area of the Eastern Cape discovered in 1992. The brilliantly coloured imagery may have been made by Bushman communities in their final years of existence in the southern uKhahlamba mountains, and so shed light on hunter-gatherer resistance in the face of the encroaching colonial world.
In the chapter ‘A lion’s life: tracking the biography of an archaeological artefact’, Dr Justine Wintjes tells how she restored the provenance of a rock painting from uMhwabane (eBusingatha) rock shelter in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg mountains of KwaZulu-Natal using archival sources in South Africa and Germany. The life-like lion image was painted there centuries ago by a hunter-gatherer artist and the link to the site was lost after its removal in the 1940s. The image opens a window into a time when lions still roamed freely in the mountains and relationships between animals and humans were fundamentally different.
The final chapter of the book is a visual essay also by Dr Justine Wintjes. It conveys the great variety and excitement of working with archives, but also the frustrations and silences of sources, which only ever contain small and partial traces of the past.