Shadreck Chirikure is a Professor of Archaeology, Director of the Archaeological Materials Laboratory, Director of the African Heritage Hub and Research Centre, and a former Head of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cape Town. He holds a British Academy Global Professorship within the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford.

Professor Chiruke's keynote speech will question whether the resilience of past communities contributes towards risks management in the present and the future.

Since professionalisation as a discipline, archaeology continues to play vital roles on the African continent. During the struggle for self-determination, the discipline’s ability to write longer-term histories gave it broader appeal to nationalist movements. However, this changed after independence. A gap between the concerns of the discipline and those of the new elites who had previously patronised it kept widening. In contemporary times, the general feeling remains that the interests of archaeology are narrow and divorced from everyday challenges.

Some versions of archaeology make it difficult to help communities cope with disasters caused by persistent floods and incessant conflict. The precarity caused by the frequency of life-threatening challenges with diseases, and hunger makes archaeology, especially that preoccupied with culture histories an undesirable luxury. What opportunities are available in Africa for an archaeology that builds on the resilience of past communities to contribute towards minimising the impact of natural and human-made disasters?  

Using examples at the intersection between natural, social and historical sciences, this contribution proffers some suggestions for problem-solving archaeology with potential to convert risks into opportunities. It argues that a ‘business as usual approach to archaeology is likely to alienate African communities further from the discipline. This motivates a robust theoretical and methodological refurbishment to create ‘a new archaeology’ that is solutions-oriented and uses the resilience of past cultures to inform the present and future.

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