African Archaeological Review

, Volume 24, Issue 1–2, pp 35–40 | Cite as

Historical Archaeology in Africa: An Appropriate Concept?

  • Graham Connah
Original Article


The term ‘ historical archaeology’ originated in the United States and was subsequently adopted in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, all places subjected to European colonization during the last few centuries. The idea of historical archaeology has had relatively little application in Europe, birthplace of the antithetical idea of prehistory. In Africa, other than at the southern tip of the continent, the practice of what is called historical archaeology has developed only recently and the relevance of the concept in Africa might be questioned. There are chronological problems in its application: not only are the interfaces between preliterate and literate societies spread over thousands of years in different areas but they can at times be regressive. The matter is further complicated if the term historical archaeology is used for societies whose history is oral not written. However, there is an ambiguity in this concept that also has methodological and other connotations. In these respects the idea of historical archaeology does perhaps have a place in Africa as a whole, but it represents a compartmentalization of our discipline still inadequately defined.


Concepts Historical archaeology Africa Prehistoric archaeology 


Le concept d’« archéologie historique » a pour origine les États-Unis et a ensuite été adopté au Canada, en Australie, en Nouvelle Zélande et en Afrique du Sud. Autrement dit, dans tous les pays qui ont fait l’objet d’une colonisation lors des siècles derniers. L’idée d’archéologie historique est peu répandue en Europe où prévaut la notion antithétique de préhistoire. En Afrique, mise à part l’extrémité sud du continent, la pratique de ce que l’on appelle l’archéologie historique s’est développée uniquement récemment ; aussi la pertinence de ce concept pourrait être remise en cause. Il existe des problèmes chronologiques qui ont une incidence sur son application : non seulement les interfaces entre les sociétés pré-alphabétisées et alphabétisées s’étendent dans différentes zones sur plusieurs milliers d’années, mais elles peuvent parfois être régressives. Le sujet se complique davantage si le concept d’archéologie historique est utilisé pour des sociétés dont l’histoire est orale et non écrite. Il existe alors une ambiguïté qui a des incidences méthodologiques et autres. Sous ce rapport, l’idée d’archéologie historique a sans doute une raison d’être en Afrique dans son ensemble, mais représente une compartimentalisation encore inadéquatement définie de notre discipline.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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