Here’s why we need more African archaeologists

The form that archaeology has taken in Europe doesn’t apply everywhere. Better knowledge of local cultures is vital

The Egyptian minister of tourism and antiquities, Khaled Al-Anani (wearing glasses), opens a sarcophagus excavated this month by the Egyptian archaeological mission working at the Saqqara necropolis. Photograph: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Cultural heritage is a basic human need. Yes – humans don’t only need food and shelter, culture is required for them to survive and thrive. Our cultural values glue us to one another and help us create security and a community. I believe that cultural and archaeological sites can be part of that basic human need, too. Cemeteries and sacred places form part of our identity. Often these places are even more critical in times of crises as people search for solace and answers.

History keeps us in touch with this identity and sense of community, yet in Africa it has been the preserve of the white investigators. In colonial Africa, archaeology evolved in a different manner to the archaeology of Britain and France, the colonial powers. In Britain, it started as a grassroots project in the 18th century, run by regional societies in the shires, which formed clubs and built collections and libraries. It went from focusing on religious art and ruined monasteries to the Roman era and antiquities, before later becoming more democratic and common in the 20th century.

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