Two steps forward one step …

Arriving in Zambia at the start of a two day public holiday (Monday for Heroes, Tuesday for Unity) had felt like poor timing, but turned out to be a great chance for me to acclimatise.

Settled into my lodgings at Fawlty Towers (yes, really), all the safely-arrived-kit checked, I contacted the new volunteers coming from Lusaka, renewed contact with familiar faces from my trip in May – and felt the excitement rising.

Preparations of a material nature. One of the interesting things about working in Zambia is you can have things made for you – like buckets – which is what is happening here (no, not the things with holes! Those are ‘mbaulas’ – brilliantly effective charcoal braziers  in the making)

I definitely respect these men’s job – hard work for relatively little recompense

But with excitement, always, apprehension. Especially as the work began in earnest and we headed back down to the Maramba River.

I was last here in mid-May, with Maggie Katongo from the Museum here in Livingstone and Dave Thomas from Oxford, as we searched for a site found in 1938 by Desmond Clark.*

The site we sought was called ‘MA.38’ (MA being the designation for Maramba) described by Desmond as having superbly made handaxes of the late Archeulean, carefully thinned and smaller than my hand (early Acheulean handaxes here are much longer and thicker).

The boxes of finds from MA.38 in the Livingstone Museum also contain artefacts that look very different in size, shape and colour.  They’re smaller, blade-shaped, chalky-white and reflect a change in ways of thinking about and making tools – just what this project is about.

Back in May we resigned ourselves to MA.38 having been lost to the spread of suburbs. This time, our strategy was to get as close as possible to the locality, among the few remaining farms along the Maramba, in the hope that some scraps of the archaeological sequence might survive.

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Back in May, local children bemused by our interest in stones and Maggie Katongo from Livingstone Museum holding a stone age pick found in the foundations of the house, destined to be a rubbish pit. This area of new suburbs completely covers a terrace of the Maramba where Desmond excavated an important transitional sequence of technologies. Abandon hope!

Desmond left a detailed record of the local geology, but no coordinates to guide us to the sites, just their numbers on the map. But the city of Livingstone has grown since his day and many reference points, such as, ‘Schenks brickworks,’ are long gone.

And so began the first season of the Deep Roots projects – with low expectations.

Making the best of the situation, I decided the Maramba phase of survey and excavation would be useful for training my new colleagues from Livingstone Museum and the National Heritage Conservation Commission. Beginning with learning how to recognise stone tools by making some basic forms.

The river bed provided all the raw materials needed.

Knapping – the best way to learn about stone tools and how to recognise them. Here I am with Maggie (front left) Elise and Joseph, a farm hand who is helping us

And a chance for us all to become familiar with the new kit I had brought from Liverpool.

The fancy GPS device promised remarkable precision in recording altitude- just 10 cm – compared with the 3 m or more offered by my old GPS.  The all-singing Total Station for surveying would enable us to record with great accuracy the location of artefacts and sites.  We’d put them to good use at the local golf course and secondary school where patches of open ground remained for us to investigate.

I’m learning too! We’re all picking it up quickly though, here I’m with Maggie and Elise

But first, a memory from May itched – and needed scratching.  As we had looked for MA.38 on a low terrace of the Maramba, I’d noticed a house built on a small flat-topped hill straddling two perennial streams.  Next to it was a farm with a pack of snarling dogs that had prevented us accessing fragments of the terrace west of MA.38 back in May.

Desmond had described the terrace as fragmented.

I needed to go back to that house on the mound.

We went back for a quick look before starting the planned schedule of work.

Just beyond the house was another mound – and on it stone artefacts.  Upslope we found more artefacts, including pieces of handaxes and distinctive Middle Stone Age tools.

The location was just about right for MA.38 in terms of its nearness to and height above the river.

The site now designated MC1 and the terrace mound

We asked the local landowner for permission to excavate – and so began the first day’s excavation of a promising site.

Ken helping to clear MC1 before we lay out the excavation area

Using old-fashioned, tried and tested techniques works – with Maggie laying out square 3 for excavation

That fancy GPS, by the way seems to be blocked from picking any altitude readings. We are close to the airport and an international border, which may be the cause. But at least we have the site coordinates and can calculate its height above the Maramba using the all-singing – and nearly dancing – surveying kit.

Two steps forward and one step back – well, it’s better than the other way around!


*Desmond was a man I got to know well in his later years. The grand old man of archaeology in these parts of Africa – and many other places – he had started out as a colonial civil servant in Zambia where he founded the Livingstone Museum. In later life he became a Professor at the University of Berkeley California

8 thoughts on “Two steps forward one step …

  1. Prof Larry,
    So happy to see you in action with your new project. Never before have we been able to follow your work as it happens. In the past you’ve been out of internet reach. Best of luck!


    1. Hi Beth, nice to hear from you and it’s a treat to be able to be in touch with everyone (even if the connection is limited – a baboon caused a blackout in Livingstone last Sunday by pulling on the power lines – it survive!)


  2. You’ve left us on tenterhooks. Looking forward to the next instalment. Could we have a map or plan showing us where MC1 is in relation to the city proper?


  3. Good progress Larry, and in this environment, probably any progress is good! Your determination is unwavering, and is admirable.
    I hope that while you are there, you will go to the market and get some native shirts. African prints are fantastic, I think they would be a big hit if exported to other countries. I’m surprised that no one has started a business of producing fabrics with native African prints, ethic prints are the rage which will continue with globalization.

    Sistah Gail


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About Larry Barham

My name is Larry (Lawrence if I’m feeling formal) Barham and I'm a Professor of African Archaeology at the University of Liverpool, England, teaching evolutionary anthropology at undergraduate and postgraduate level.