What happens to technological knowledge and daily practice in times of turbulence, social stress and extraordinary mobility? Are craftspeople and their network connections challenged, or is their creativity rather nourished by turbulence? ARCREATE is driven by a deep discomfort with archaeology’s grand narratives of migration, particularly of the expansions of Bantu-speaking groups from central and southern Africa since the first millennium BC. Such narratives largely exclude the creative knowledge of the technologists and artisans who made the various artefacts and proxies that archaeologists use to construct their accounts. This means that the narratives also neglect the widely different social and natural environments the artisans used daily.
ARCREATE aims to provide a synthesis of two African regions: a millennium in central Africa (AD 500-1500) and a century in southern Africa (AD 1700-1830). Although distant, the regions are historically related through migrations. The project employs a new long-term approach to technological and social change. ARCREATE combines archaeological, archaeometallurgical, historical and linguistic evidence in order to understand the role of the mineral world in various landscapes. To achieve this, the team has developed a new cross-disciplinary fieldwork methodology that allows ARCREATE to identify and interpret changes in creative knowledge in contexts of mobility and turbulence.
ARCREATE strives for symmetric collaboration with local African stakeholder communities. The project challenges preconceived modernist notions about mobility, migration, creativity, and transmission of knowledge in African societies. By its focus on skilled craft networks dominated by women, ARCREATE will provide a critical ground-up corrective to traditional top-down grand narratives that trace the movements and interactions of (male) elites.
ARCREATE offers a novel approach to understanding technological and social change during turbulent times in central and southern Africa. Archaeology’s grand narratives about Bantu migrations, largely derived from studies of ceramics, ignore the creative knowledges of the artisans who made the ceramic objects that the archaeologists studied. ARCREATE will work closely with local stakeholders to excavate these technological and sensorial knowledges and the networks that transmitted them across space and time. Cognisant of recent re-thinking about mobility, creativity, learning and households, ARCREATE highlights local agency in its emic investigation of technological knowledge, seeking to understand the social, conceptual, ecological and mineralogical factors that guided craftspeople's choices of specific materials and techniques.
ARCREATE is ground-breaking in its integration of archaeological and linguistic data and in its research design, which connects micro-scale dynamics, such as gendered cross-craft interaction, and supra-regional processes. It combines comparative geochemical and statistical analysis with micro- and meso-scale studies of single households and communities in two case studies with different temporal trajectories – a millennium (in current-day Zambia, an under-researched part of central Africa) and a century (in what is now South Africa and Botswana). As such, ARCREATE is able both to explore the pace of change and to overcome the difficulty of developing archaeological, anthropological and linguistic datasets on commensurable scales. Reconstructing learning networks and sensory modalities through Africans’ own words and gestures, the project will offer new narratives of technological inventions and related social changes in a long durée synthesis.