Useable Past: What Can African Archaeology Tell Us About the Present?

Introducing a new forum in

African Archaeological Review

 Africa holds the material records of the oldest and longest human memory, from the foundations of human origins to the momentous cultural transformations of the past 10,000 years. Archaeology has privileged access to this deep history of Africa. It is therefore uniquely positioned to provide fodder for contemplation about what the African past might mean for the present. The myriad challenges and opportunities that are arising in the twenty-first century have provided the impetus for the callout asking scholars and policymakers to pay attention to the past in order to better understand how the present came into being. This understanding of the past, it is argued, is necessary for designing sustainable solutions to the challenges of the present, and to making sustainable use of the present opportunities. No doubt, the epistemological dislocations and the truncation/homogenization of the ways of being on the continent, due to the legacies of colonialism, slowed down the quest to facilitate a critical use of the past for contemplating an understanding of the present in more deliberate and direct ways. For example, the racist and imperialist misuse of Africa's archaeological heritage to create the ideology of white domination on the continent is still within living memory and the ghost of that ideology is not yet fully exorcized from our literature and psyche. 

Nevertheless, new generations of archaeologists have redoubled their efforts to create new bodies of knowledge about Africa's deep past that are as close as possible to the lived experiences of African ancestors. Many of these scholars have also raised questions on what this growing archaeological knowledge could mean and do for present African peoples. Moreover, there is now a convergence of interests by national governments, policy makers, local communities, and funding agencies seeking to mobilize archaeological knowledge for finding solutions to contemporary challenges and issues on the continent.

 In response to this momentum, the African Archaeological Review will launch a forum titled "Useable Past: What Can African Archaeology Tell Us About the Present?" in 2019. The goal of the forum is to provide space for 4-6 archaeologists to use archaeological knowledge to reflect on a topic of contemporary relevance. These will be critical essays (not more than 1500 words each) that make use of any aspect of archaeological knowledge to address a common topic. The topics may include civic community, regional integration, heritage management, hunger and food security, sustainability and resource allocation, social justice, community building, environment, indigenous knowledge, conflict and peace, power, exclusion and inclusion, and different facets of human rights, among others. Invited contributors will be asked to write on the lessons that policymakers and the public can learn from products of archaeological research. We want this forum to serve as a space to explore how African ancestors dealt with the problems and challenges of their time, and what the contemporary world can learn from the past. Contributors will be given a broad latitude to write from the perspectives of their expertise and positionality, but the essays will be peer-reviewed. These writings will be geared towards the general public and the final product will be available as an open source. The editors and editorial board members of the African Archaeological Review will disseminate these write-ups widely, including to African institutions, government agencies, and non-government organizations.    

 Anyone can propose a theme in form of a title and a 150-word abstract that outlines the broad relevance of the forum. It is optional to nominate potential contributors. When doing so, the full name, institutional affiliation, and email address of the nominees should be included. Africa-based scholars and policymakers are especially encouraged to propose themes. The goal is to publish at least one forum per year in an issue of the African Archaeological Review.

To submit proposals for the "Useable Past" forum, please contact Akin Ogundiran at and Cameron Gokee at