Conclusion: reframing archaeology

I had to think carefully about reproducing some of the images here, especially those from Oakhurst Cave and the Rosebank Showgrounds. In an earlier account of Goodwin's encounter with the Bushmen from Tweerivieren at the Rosebank Showgrounds (Shepherd 2012), I wrote as follows:


There is an ambiguous play of showing and not showing, exhibiting and withholding, which is deeply a part of the events around the Tweerivieren Bushmen. Dart's report on the University of the Witwatersrand Expedition published in Bantu Studies includes over ninety plates made up of van Buskirk's photographs. A small number of these, the ones dealing with male and female genitalia and steatopygia, were withheld from general circulation, and made available in loose leaf only to scientists and research libraries. Reprinted editions of the journal include some but not all of these plates. Rassool and Hayes write of their own struggle to evolve critically accountable forms of practice in relation to the images of /Khanako. When they first presented their paper at a "Gender and Colonialism" conference at the University of the Western Cape in 1997, they made the decision not to show the images.1 In the resultant debate over "censorship", some of their colleagues argued that the sources should be "quoted", so that the readers/ audiences could "judge for themselves". In the published version of the paper they include some of the images of /Khanako, writing "we must take full responsibility for the new circuits of representation which we have generated in our own academic genre" (Rassool and Hayes 2002: 154).

The South African archaeologist AJH "John" Goodwin and an unnamed assistant, Oakhurst Cave, southern Cape coast, 1932-1935. BC290/39

In that case – a short essay focused on questions of archaeology and imagination – I chose not to reproduce the images. Here my decision has been different. I have wanted to draw on the rhetorical power of these images, their ability to shock and confront, to support a larger argument that I am making about archaeology and ways of knowing. One of the possibilities opened up by the kind of close focus on the photographic image that I have attempted here is the potential for a shift in perspective, one that reframes our understanding of the nature, meaning and implications of archaeology as a knowledge project set in modern/colonial worlds of practice. Many of the photographs from the Grand Tour and from the section headed "Picnic in a cave" have a quirky charm. They speak of something brave and pioneering, and of a kind of colonial fortitude. They also speak of a kind of high seriousness to the archaeological endeavor that it would be difficult to reproduce now without a layer of bathos or irony. Much of the charm of the images comes from the contrast between the carefully dressed figures and the rough countryside in which they are posed, but also from the sheer unlikelihood of what they are attempting.

The photographs of stone implements have a formal beauty that speaks to the aesthetics of archaeology. They also speak to the care with which such implements are collected, catalogued, arranged and photographed. The photographs of black co-workers speak of hidden histories and the limitations of the colonial archive. They also draw attention to notions of descendency and affiliation, to the ways in which John Goodwin and Adam Windwaai are differently related to the remains in the ground, and to what archaeology looks like this side and that side of the colonial difference. The photographs from Oakhurst Cave and the Rosebank Showgrounds are challenging and confronting in different ways. They direct us to think about the nature of the knowledge enterprise in archaeology, and the forms of violence associated with these ways of knowing. They also direct us to think about the centrality of bodies – especially black bodies – as objects of exhumation and speculation. More specifically, I want to suggest that they challenge us to rethink and reframe our understanding of the meaning and implications of archaeology as a knowledge project set in modern/colonial worlds of practice, and that they do so in three directions. The first of these is a conception of archaeology as a form of racial science. The second is a notion of archaeology as a disciplinary practice based on forms of epistemic violence. The third is a notion of the entanglements that bind the kinds of historical contexts examined here to contemporary worlds of practice.

A first point of departure is a conception of archaeology as a form of racial science. By this I mean to indicate more than a form of science practiced in and on the radicalised landscapes of colonialism and apartheid; I mean a form of disciplinary practice for which race has been an organising idea. For at least half of archaeology's career in South Africa, significant energies were directed towards evolving and elaborating typologies of race. A premium was placed on locating and collecting human remains. A standard approach to excavating cave sites with deep deposits was to deep-trench the back of the cave, the likely site of human burials. Along with formal stone-tool types, human skeletal remains, especially crania, were regarded as a key category of evidence. Excavations that yielded large numbers of human skeletal remains, like John Goodwin's excavations at Oakhurst Cave between 1932 and 1935, were widely perceived as successful. Conversely, his excavation of the Forest Hall site in 1939, where he dug down 29 feet but found few formal stone tools and only two human burials, was described by his co-excavator as "boring" and "a waste of time" (Malan in Wilson 1988).

In South Africa, the unfolding of archaeology as racial science took place in relation to a number of overlapping discourses and areas of practice. The first of these was an evolutionary narrative set in deep time, evidenced in fossil hominid remains. Attention was focused on the genus Australopithecus, following Raymond Dart's naming of the genus in 1925. It was also focused on spectacular discoveries and individual finds, often named for their location (like "Rhodesian Man", and "Fish Hoek Man"). A second framing discourse and area of practice took the form of a speculative interest in populations of living persons described as Bushman (later as San) and Hottentot (Khoikhoi or Khoekhoen). These were widely figured as ancestral human types, "living fossils" marooned in the present by an evolutionary oversight. This discourse on Bushmanness turns on the ontological instability produced by running together categories of past and present, and of life and death: an effect that I have called "death-in-life" (Shepherd 2012). As a result, practice in relation to the Bushmen generally took (and takes) the form of a kind of rescue anthropology. It has also resulted in substantial overlap between the disciplines of anthropology and archaeology. Archaeologists like Goodwin would see their hominid remains animated "in life" in displays of living Bushmen (as he did at the Rosebank Showgrounds in 1937). More generally, the status of death-in-life made the Bushmen available for forms of extreme practice carried out in the name of science: de-fleshing, body casting, the collection of trophy heads and other body parts, and a project of photography focused on male and female genitalia. Many of these practices operated in like form on the bodies of the living and the dead. This uncanny doubling between living and dead Bushmen was captured in an exemplary moment: in an event choreographed for the press, Bushmen from Donald Bain's display at the 1936 Empire Exhibition were brought face to face with their own "life casts" in the South African Museum, as a means of demonstrating the life-like qualities of the casts (Rassool and Hayes 2002).

The discourse on Bushmanness is a paradigmatic instance of the convergence of colonial biopolitics and a notion of archaeology as science. Standard histories of the discipline present the entanglements of racial science and the discourse on Bushmanness as things of the past, a now-closed chapter in the development of the discipline. But things are not so simple. Rather, I want to propose that such ideas and practices continue to exist as forms of deep inscription, as sets of framing ideas, and as practices on the body. Often these recapitulate historical ideas and practices in new formats and contemporary disguises. The contemporary, intense interest in genomics research, much of it focussed on persons described as San/Bushman and Khoekhoen, is the latest form of a crudely materialist conception of the human, in which the study of genotypes is translated into - and narrativised as - a discourse on "identity".

The second broad conceptual shift that I am proposing here is a notion of archaeology as a form of disciplinary practice founded on forms of epistemic violence. By epistemic violence, I mean the violence associated with particular knowledge practices and ways of knowing. Michel Foucault describes discourse itself as "a violence that we do to things" (Foucault 1972). Gayatri Spivak develops a notion of epistemic violence to refer to the forced reframing of phenomena in an alien and unsympathetic episteme (Spivak 1988). My own use shifts the weight of attention from a notion of discourse to a notion of discipline, and to some of its practices, procedures and protocols. As a first pass at addressing the topic of archaeology and epistemic violence, I propose that the forms of epistemic violence associated with the discipline are of three types: a violence of objectification, a violence of excision (or cutting), and a violence of alienation. In the first type, an epistemic object is singled out, isolated, removed from a surrounding set of connections and interrelations. This frequently involves the invention of categories (like the Bushmen, the Bantu, the Stone Ages). It also involves the naming of sites on the landscape, and the identification of nodes of significance. Within a generalised discourse on Bushmanness, female and male genitalia are singled out as one such node of significance. This sectioning off, or singling out, of phenomena removes them from an interconnecting web of relations. It also creates, or invents, a coherence. It makes objects available for intense forms of scrutiny and "hyperfocalisation". It also fosters the notion that such disciplinary objects can be studied in their own right, without reference to related phenomena. In its reductive logic, this practice of objectification is akin to the binary logic of modernity itself, a conceptual architecture that reduces the complexity and variousness of histories and ways of life to a set of simple, oppositional categories.

A second form of epistemic violence is the violence of excision, or cutting. This is the process whereby phenomena are excised from one context and set of relations, and emplaced in another (different, competing) set of relations. In archaeology, the act of excision typically begins with the laying of a grid. This establishes a new set of time/space relations, the "inside" world of the excavation. These new relations are expressed through sets of coordinates and the details of stratigraphy. In the hand of the archaeologist, the trowel becomes an instrument of excision, dissecting and dividing the deposit as the archaeologist undertakes the complex task of disentangling processes of site formation. The violence of excision is best illustrated with reference to the fate of the buried dead. At Oakhurst Cave, many of the dead were covered in ochre and buried with grave goods. They lay flexed on beds of sea-grass, so that the world of the dead mirrored that of the living whose sleeping hollows lay above them. Their passage from one context and regime of care to another was achieved through the act of excavation. The dead were exposed, mapped, photographed, numbered, bagged, boxed, analysed, curated, and stored. The image of the grid is recapitulated in the stacked boxes of remains on the shelves of the museum store. The dead enter a new context and set of relations, governed by principles of objectification and typological boxing, and by the disciplinary regime of the museum and archive.


The third, and most encompassing, form of epistemic violence is the violence of alienation. This severs phenomena from embedded claims and local histories, and claims them for universal history and knowledge. In this sense, archaeology acts as a form of universal discourse, translating local logics and regimes of care into the terms of the discipline. It also claims epistemic priority. To know something is to know it in the terms of the discipline. In its practical aspect it operates as a form of entitlement that lays claim to ways of life and sites on the landscape, and requires that they yield to the claims of science. This is true even – or especially – in the face of competing claims. In colonial and former colonial contexts, the assertion of such claims has been disruptive of burial sites and sacred places. This is particularly the case where local ways of life are vested in claims to territory and a notion of the co-presence of the dead as ancestors. Typically, such claims are vested (or materialised) in burial sites and sacred places. The material presence of the dead in the ground acts as a literal and metaphorical guarantee of rights to territory and the continuity of ways of life. In such contexts, the material contribution of a disciplinary project in archaeology to a colonial project of expropriation is quite specific. It consists in the epistemic capture of sites, material cultures and human remains whose meanings and implications in life extend well beyond a relationship of knowledge (and even more narrowly, of disciplinary knowledge). It also consists in the substitution of one kind of claim for another: a claim to scientific knowledge exerted over and against a claim to territory and the sovereignty of ways of life (Haber 2009, Shepherd and Haber 2011).

I want to make it clear that my intention is not to set up a position from which to make a moral argument about or against archaeology. Nor is it my intention to argue for a form of disciplinary practice that is free of epistemic violence. To the extent that any act of knowledge requires a degree of objectification, it seems clear that it involves a form of epistemic violence (this is Foucault's point in describing discourse as "a violence that we do to things"). Any claim to knowledge is always exactly that: a claim exerted over or against someone or some thing. Rather, I want to use this discussion to make a number of uncontroversial points. The first, historical point concerns the extreme nature of the forms of epistemic violence carried out in the name of science in this part of the world. The result was a set of encounters and a body of methods that I have called "savage science" (Shepherd 2009). A second point concerns the embedding of such practices as forms of disciplinary entitlement. While particular practices may be denounced, fall out of fashion, or appear in new disguises, the forms of entitlement that underlie and enable them tend to endure. We are closest to Goodwin not when we follow his methods, which now seem antiquated, but when we operate under the same forms of entitlement, the same expectations around access to sites and remains. Third, I would argue that a notion of thoughtful practice demands that we engage with such histories of practice, with the aim of modifying and mitigating the forms of epistemic violence in our own work. This requires a kind of epistemic openness, a willingness to think inside and outside of disciplinary frameworks, and an ability to open out to other logics and regimes of care.

What I have been suggesting here is that the coloniality of archaeology exists as a form of deep inscription. At the same time, I hope that I have done enough to show the complexly entangled nature of this legacy, and the ambivalent nature of my own response. As practitioners working in the wake of colonial violence we do not have the luxury of uncritical modes of discipline. We are called on to articulate the implications of our own practices. Finally, this book is an attempt to do just that.

I sit at my desk in the house in Kalk Bay. The mountain rises sheer before me. The sea is at my back. I hear the waves beating on the reef. My desk light burns steady in the early hours of the morning. With each click a new image appears on my screen. A new life, a second life, for these interesting, surprising photographs, and fresh paths of signification. I see the discipline of which I am a part. I see myself. There is no easy "outside". I need to take some bearings. I pick up my pen and write a set of headings: "Picnic in a cave", "When the hand that holds the trowel is black", "The Grand Tour". A closing image. It comes to us without contextual information. The site is likely to be Oakhurst Cave, which places it in the early 1930s. I like its gentleness. From left: Adam Windwaai, Berrie Malan, Jimmy Tayor, and the archaeologist John Goodwin.