‘Where angels fear to tread’: ethics, commercial archaeology, and extractive industries in southern Africa

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‘Where angels fear to tread’: ethics, commercial archaeology, and extractive industries in southern Africa

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Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa


Chirikure, Shadreck

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Taylor & Francis Online




Themed Issue: The ethics of archaeological practice in Africa

Abstract: This paper draws from two main examples of commercial archaeology, one in South Africa and the other in Namibia, associated with large-scale mining in southern Africa and interrogates the associated ethical issues. It argues that while continuous talk is made about the arrogance of miners, archaeologists must put their house in order by practising good ethics, minimising politics between themselves and being prepared to accept compromises with development to secure a more positive heritage future. Indeed, the issue of ethics has dogged the relationship between archaeology and extractive industries in southern Africa since the late nineteenth century. The power of the mining industry nevertheless meant that southern African mining legislation continued to supersede antiquities laws throughout the twentieth century. However, the emergence of developer-funded environmental impact assessments (EIAs) in the 1970s led to greater demands for accountability and by the 1990s extractive industries were obliged by law in most southern African countries to carry out EIAs throughout the mining process, which spawned a boom in commercial archaeology. Today, as Africa experiences sustained economic growth fuelled by extractive industries, ethical questions continue to be raised regarding the mining industry's commitment to heritage protection. Few, however, seem aware that extractive industries can bestow significant favours upon archaeology, particularly in the areas of site discovery, conservation, training and the funding of basic research.

Additional tags: commercial archaeology; South Africa; Namibia; development; extractive industry; environmental impact assessment; heritage protection


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