Archaeology is Cool

I spend my summers homeless and sneaking from one spot on campus to another to avoid security. This will be my last year as undergraduate but, if my luck holds on just a little longer, I will be able to graduate with no debt. What I have done this summer to pass the time that is not spent working or doing homework is begin a little pet research project that has been a long time coming.

Do you all remember that movie The Gods Must be Crazy? Me neither, but I hear it was a big hit. It was about a “Bushman” from the Kalahari region who encounters a Coke bottle falling from sky and gets caught up in the nasty war between SWAPO and South Africa. Anyway, the portrayal of the “Bushman” caught a lot of flack from anthropologists in some quarters. There is good reason for this flack, and I can assure you that it is not just another attempt to force Political Correctness onto everybody. Land policies and other government programs have removed many “Bushmen” from their homes, and the justifications for such policies is often that the “Bushmen” have no concept of private property rights, or that they have no conception of history. They are the Indians of the New World. Anyway, a lot of new archaeological evidence has lent credence to the anthropologists who have claimed that the image of the “Bushman” as a primitive hunter-gatherer is a myth created by anthropologists themselves. Robert Gordon writes the following:

The old notion of [Bushman] as passive victims of European invasion and Bantu expansion is challenged […] Instead of toppling helplessly from foraging to begging, they emerge as hotshot traders in the mercantile world market for ivory and skins.  Rather than being victims of pastoralists and traders who depleted game, they appear as one of many willing agents of this commercial depletion, operating as brokers between competing forces as hired shots.  Instead of being ignorant of metals, true men of the Stone Age who knew nothing of iron, they were fierce defenders of rich copper mines that they worked for trade and profit.

Gordon and other ethnologists have been digging up the historical archives on these people and complementing their findings with new archaeological evidence that suggests the “Bushmen” have well-defined territorial and property rights and were active and willing participants in the global economy. I find this important for two big reasons:

1. Property rights are important for preventing government atrocities.

2. Property rights are also universal, and the willingness to participate in trade is not due to cultural attributes.

As I have been digging further and further into this vase study it has become apparent that the argument between Western observers of whether or not the “Bushmen” have conceptions of property has been going on since Europeans first began to settle on the Cape (in the 17th century). One one side are people who have argued that the “Bushmen” have well-defined property and territorial rights, and other the hand you have people who say that the “Bushmen” have no such thing. The justifications for their arguments matter less than you think. It really has been just a case of bloated egos, I think. The more things change…

PS here is a good article on why I’d rather go homeless in the summer than take out loans to pay for summer classes. I have a scholarship that gets me by with the bare essentials and my job helps pay the rent in the Fall/Winter/Spring quarters, but my scholarship doesn’t cover summer school so I just pay it out of pocket (and start all over again)!

The weather in LA is nice enough, and my school is in a great neighborhood (which sucks when it comes time to pay the rent), so I don’t have to worry about anybody bothering me except for the (unionized) thugs with silly badges walking around pretending to be relevant.

6 thoughts on “Archaeology is Cool

  1. Excellent blog post, as always. If you can rent or borrow a copy of “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” I highly recommend it – it’s hysterically funny!

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