“You are required … To Wind up and Leave”

Harsh words?  Depends on your circumstances. In my case, these words on my temporary visa are a welcome relief. It’s definitely time to wind up and leave.

The digging is over; everyone’s gone except me and Chris (my PhD student).  We’re doing essential end of project work.  Washing, labelling, and listing artefacts for the export permit.  There’s cleaning of equipment – even Damien had a brush up.  A tetchy, unreliable piece of kit right to the end.

The ‘to do’ list includes finding a clearing agent to get the paperwork together for exporting all the material we collected, including sands and rocks for dating.  Heavy load in the making.

Andy breaking rocks2

Andy Hein (University of Edinburgh) collecting rock samples for dating the formation of the gorges below Victoria Falls  (photo Chris Scott).  He’s using cosmogenic nuclide dating to measure how long the rocks have been exposed by the downcutting of the Zambezi River.

There’s an added wrinkle of stress this week.  My visa expired, and renewal has been anything but straightforward.  Archaeologists and other researcher must enter on a business visa valid for 30 days after which a temporary employment permit is required.  That means forms and extra passport photos or the employee – me – and employer. Even for just a few more days as in my case – and it’s not cheap.  There’s the rub.  I’m not employed in Zambia.  I’m doing research. And giving time freely to train local staff and students.  Some business model, but them’s the rules.

It’s sorted now.  Extension granted for the remaining days but at a cost of time and frustration.  Many calls, meetings; hours spent sitting in Immigration.  Surreal on one occasion with a young man in handcuffs to my right, an older man in pain with a swollen face to my left, and at the end of the row a mother and daughter hawking skimpy nylon knickers.  Uneasy smiles all ‘round.

The added time meant missing an opportunity to explore a site where fossil elephant remains were found in the 1930s. Next time.

Could have paid the fee and been done with it, but research deserves its own visa category.  Note to self: “Write letter to Director of Immigration on return or face the same ordeal next year”.  And next year we move to Kalambo Falls far to the north; far from an immigration office.

Despite the many hassles from the start, this season has been immensely satisfying.  Great team and fascinating finds.  Three highlights come to mind.

First, the unexpected “My Goat’s Called Ian” assemblage (‘Magosian’) in the sands at Songwe Gorge (see earlier blog post).   I haven’t seen anything like it in Zambia.  The blend of Middle and Later Stone technologies has me thinking about the process of technological change more generally.  And can’t wait to find out its age.

Which leads neatly to the second highlight.  A team of dating specialists joined us in the final week of fieldwork.  Geoff, Sumiko, Marcus and Andy: each offering a different approach to modelling the age of the sites (see first blog of the season).

Dating team

Dating team, standing from left to right: Geoff Duller (in full flow), Sumiko Tsukamoto, Andy Hein and Marcus Richter [Chris and Maggie listening attentively]

The results will trickle out over the next year, but we have “very preliminary” (Geoff cautions) dating results from sands sampled in 2017.  And that’s the second highlight: the sands in the Mosi oa Tunya National Park are old.  At the base of the sand scarp they’re ~400,000 years old.  Midway upslope they are ~170,000 years old.  Music to my ears.

We’d speculated at the start of the project that the transition from the Early to Middle Stone Age would be underway by 400,000 years ago here in south-central Africa.  Still early days yet with the dating, but at least we’re in the right ball park. That’s a big relief.  We’ve also found the first artefacts in context – not just on the surface.  And in the last hour on the final day of digging we discovered an area with well-made, thin hand-axes from the very end of the Early Stone Age. Just what we’ve been looking for.


Small thin hand axe, one of several from this site at the base of the sands

This one’s definitely on the excavate ‘to do’ list; it’s pencilled in for 2020.

But the third highlight has been the experimental side of the project.  Karl Lee, working with Chris, opened our eyes to the effectiveness of hafted core-axes (adzes, really – see earlier blog).  These tools appear in the local archaeological record during the Early to Middle Stone Age transition.  We don’t know yet if they are the earliest hafted tools regionally, but boy are they effective at chopping wood (see video of Chris shakin’ his adze).

The experimental work shifts now to Belgium where Chris will join the Traceolab at the University of Liège for the next few months. He’ll learn methods for interpreting wear on stone tools including traces from handles.  It will be slow going, but it’s a critical skill for this project.

Time to wind and up and leave Livingstone with a store of good memories, and a crate of artefacts. We’ll be busy for months to come.

3 thoughts on ““You are required … To Wind up and Leave”

  1. Wind up and leave? Blimey, they don’t mince words do they? Great video, worth the time spent putting it in! A really productive season, well done team Deep Roots! Travel well later this week. x


    1. You know where you stand with those words! Thanks for the thumbs up on the season. It was good. L

      Professor L Barham Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology University of Liverpool 14 Abercromby Square Liverpool L69 3ZX UK

      PI on the AHRC funded ‘Deep Roots’ project – http://www.liverpool.ac.uk/archaeology-classics-and-egyptology/research/projects/deep-roots/ Follow my blog from the field: http://www.deeprootsafrica.blog/

      Author of From Hand to Handle: The First Industrial Revolution, Oxford University Press, 2013 Oxford University Press


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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.