Communities, Coastlines and Collaborations at the African Archaeology Research Day (AARD)

AARD Annalisa presentation
Dr Annalisa Christie presents on the challenges and opportunities of maritime archaeology

Last Saturday the annual African Archaeology Research Day (AARD) was held in Cambridge at the McDonald Institute and I went along to find out about the latest research on the African continent and catching up with the work of old and new friends. It turned out that the Friday evening before the conference was already inspiring; Dr Kristina Douglass of PennState University gave an extremely interesting lecture on Human-Environment Dynamics in Madagascar Archaeology while looking through the lens of her work on the south-east coast of the island. What struck me most was the direct impact archaeological research into human-environment relations has on the narrative present in Madagascar that emphasises the damaging effects of humans on the environment, affecting current conservation efforts of the island’s unique ecosystems and the ways in which these efforts affect people’s lives. In addition, her description of collaborative research with communities living around her archaeological sites and the citizen science they are carrying out together provides a great example of how archaeology (and related fields) can generate knowledge and create sustainable impacts for people’s lives and livelihoods (her research is featured in this article on collaborative research: ). Examples of research like this is what Rising from the Depths aims to promote through its funding calls and I believe collaborating with those who live in maritime heritage landscapes is the way forward to ensure research leads to benefits for communities.

After this prelude, the Communities & Heritage panel at the start of the Saturday demonstrated that there is still a long way to go before participatory research methods will become the norm. Traditional archaeological research is still often about communities but not necessarily co-created with communities, although different presenters showed that more research is now concerned with understanding concepts such as identity, indigeneity and the preservation of heritage for present communities. There is certainly scope for Rising from the Depths and other projects to further explore and promote co-produced research in order to ensure that knowledge is not restricted to academic journals but reaches further to the general public and the involved communities in particular. Another highlight of the day, for a post-doc looking at maritime heritage, was obviously the Seas & Coasts panel where Dr Annalisa Christie gave a clear and accessible overview on the current challenges and opportunities of maritime archaeology that was right up RftD’s street. The panel’s examples of research taking place on all coastlines of the African continent confirmed that the interest in African maritime archaeology is growing steadily. But considering the challenges highlighted by Christie, such as erosion, sedimentation, lack of legislation and large industrial developments, it would be great if this field could be further expanded. As always, ideas and suggestions for research and network connections are welcome here at Rising from the Depths!

At the end of the long and thought-provoking day, Dr Timothy Clack and Dr Marcus Brittain presented their edited book The River: Peoples and Histories of the Omo-Turkana Area. Highlighting the immense cultural and natural diversity of this region but also its vulnerability due to rapid change, the authors choose to make this publication open access (link: As they state: ‘In face of new and compelling challenges, the need to engage with and gain an understanding of the wealth of heritage, culture and humanity in this unique location is imperative.’ (2018, X). Overall, a great conference to have been part of with much to consider for future pathways of Rising from the Depths.

Thank you for reading,


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