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  • Finding Bosutswe: Archeological Encounters with the Past1
  • James Denbow, Morongwa Mosothwane, and Assisted by Nonofho Mathibidi Ndobochani

Two Worlds

Bi-lingual, Bi-cultural able to slip from “How’s life” to M’estan volviendo loca, able to sit in a paneled office drafting memos in smooth English, able to order in fluent Spanish at a Mexican restaurant, American but hyphenated, viewed by Anglos as perhaps exotic, perhaps inferior, definitely different, [End Page 145] viewed by Mexicans as alien (their eyes say, “You may speak Spanish but you’re not like me”) an American to Mexicans a Mexican to Americans a handy token sliding back and forth between the fringes of both worlds by smiling by masking the discomfort of being pre-judged Bi-laterally.2


This paper presents a micro-scale examination of archeological field praxis and its impact on archeologists, students (foreign and indigenous), and the local communities that both host and labor for them. It is a reflexive journey that attempts to bring coherence to the multiple and changing registers of meaning, contradiction, and transformation that have taken place during excavations at Bosutswe in “post-colonial” Botswana. We discuss our interactions with one another and our encounters with “the past” as we sought to validate, transform, or escape the contemporary entanglements of multilateral “pre-judgments” that have their roots deep in the soil of colonial encounter.


Pat Mora in her short poem, Two Worlds, captures some of the contradictions inherent in a post-modern, post-colonial, transnational world, where one is sometimes offered the possibility of inhabiting multiple universes, with multiple cultural and linguistic positionalities, and sometimes even trans-ethnic or transnational identities as possible choices. Enmeshed in such a bewildering variety of “posts-,” our diverse theoretical and interpretive paradigms are often constructed in vague relation with, or in contradiction to, academic modes of understanding and interpretation that include Marxism and the dialectics of power, gender, feminism, ageism, constructions of memory and forgetting, the need for reflexivity, and the fourfold hermeneutic involved in interpreting the past from the present, and the past in its own terms. Discussions of post-colonial archeology reflect these [End Page 146] diverse approaches, as well as the many different scales of analysis and theoretical perspective that are possible.

Rather than focus on southern African archeology on a regional scale, we will turn our attention to a micro-scale examination of the archeological process in the field and its impact on archeologists, students (foreign and indigenous), and the local communities that both host and labor for them. This is a reflexive memory journey as we try to bring some sense of coherence to the multiple registers of meaning, power, contradiction, and transformation that have taken place during the course of our work together in Botswana. The discussion centers on the rediscovery and excavation of a site known as Bosutswe in the eastern Kalahari. Denbow’s initial interactions with the site, and subsequent excavations there, span more than two decades. His early work begins the discussion. Later sections are followed by interjections from Morongwa Mosothwane, currently a PhD student in archeology at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, and Nonofho Ndobochani, a Senior Curator at the National Museum of Botswana, as they react to the text. Both are Batswana archeologists who participated in the Bosutswe excavations in 2001 and 2002.3 Their voices, which are set in italics, provide additional breadth and depth to the account. While we concentrate on a microcosm, we hope to reveal some of the larger and more diachronic issues of archeological praxis in the post-colonial period–its changing contexts, assumptions, contradictions, multiple dialectics, and lived conditions and transformations.

In the context of a post-colonial Africa, the sense of Mora’s poem is repeated in multiple circumstances and registers: the slide between rural and urban settings that indigenous archeologists and students make as they shift from the office or classroom to the field; the multiple positionalities of foreign and indigenous researchers who introduce new constructions and contestations of race, gender, power, and identity into the communities around the sites they excavate, sometimes in spite of their best intentions; the multiple levels of confrontation with...


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pp. 145-190
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