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32 Travel Zambia November 2007 Every July and August you will find American archaeologist Professor Larry Barham, together with his Zambian colleagues and students from Liverpool University, digging small holes in the Luangwa Valley. It is gruelling, painstaking work. But each season adds more pieces to the jigsaw of Zambia’s ancient past. The team is based at Wildlife Camp (, where Larry took time out to talk to Mike Unwin. How did you become an archaeologist? By the age of three I was already collecting rocks and broken pottery. Then, aged ten, I found an ancient food dump in the woods near my family’s home in New England, which had been left by the area’s indigenous hunter-gatherer people. This sealed it: I was hooked on the human past. National Geographic magazine later introduced me to the great discoveries being made in East Africa. So by the time I went to university I was torn between my love of the American past and the lure of Africa. Africa won: I started fieldwork in Swaziland in 1983, which eventually led to a PhD, and have been working in Zambia since 1993. What first brought you to Zambia? A serendipitous mistake! In 1992 I was living in London with my English wife Mary, who had long shared my interests, and wondering how to kick-start my career. A well-known archaeologist, whom I happened to meet at a conference, recommended exploring a particular site in East Africa – but I misheard him, and instead of going to Mumba Cave in Tanzania I ended up at Mumbwa Caves in Zambia. What a difference that little letter ‘w’ has made to my life! What did you find at Mumbwa Caves? Researchers in the 1920s had already discovered human remains and stone tools there. But the site was overgrown and neglected when I first visited in 1993, and I knew I had to rescue it from obscurity. With funding from the Leakey Foundation, plus support from Zambia’s National Heritage Conservation Commission and the Livingstone Museum, we undertook a first season of research. This proved a great success: we relocated the original digs, and – on the last day – recovered fragmentary human remains. Further funding followed, and our research continued until 1999. Were the Mumbwa finds important? Mumbwa Caves gave us the first archaeological and environmental sequence for south-central Africa that spanned the last 200,000 years – a period critical in the evolution of our species. Our work there, and at an even older cave site called Twin Rivers, re-awakened interest in the prehistory of central Africa. It placed Zambia at the forefront of discussions about the origins of modern humans. By the time I went to university I was torn between my love of the American past and the lure of Africa. Africa won. Professor Larry Barham: Digging deep Interview Professor Larry Barham enjoys a typical day at the office. MARY EARNSHAW

November 2007 Travel Zambia 33 So why move to the Luangwa Valley? Serendipity again. In 2001, Mary and I took a brief holiday in South Luangwa National Park. I had already suspected that the valley, with its abundant game and water, might once have been an important refuge for humans when climate change had made life hard elsewhere. I had also wondered whether its natural corridor had enabled early humans to move between eastern Africa and southern central Africa. So I guessed the area potentially harboured ancient human remains. What I hadn’t expected was to find the evidence while on holiday. What exactly did you find? We were staying at a lodge in the far south of the Park. On the first morning we took a guided walk that led to a ridge overlooking a large lagoon. To our astonishment, we found large stone artefacts lying there. These were Oldowan tools – a type very familiar to archaeologists working in East Africa. How old were they? Well, given the dates of 2.6–1.8 million years for similar tools in East Africa, we knew they had to be pretty old. But surface finds on their own reveal little; we needed to find tools in a context that would allow us to date them and to reconstruct the habitats in which people had lived. And that’s the essence of the Luangwa Valley project today: we’re looking at where and how people lived since the first toolmakers arrived, against a backdrop of changing climate. Our oldest well-dated site is 1.1 million years old, but there are probably even earlier ones. It is just a matter of time and planning to locate them. How long will your project continue? We are now in our fifth year. It’s a big job, with years of fieldwork and lab analysis ahead. Many disciplines are involved: we have specialists in dating and environmental reconstruction, plus colleagues from the National Heritage Conservation Commission, ZAWA and students from Liverpool University. We also have geneticists looking for evidence of intermarriage between prehistoric hunter-gatherers and early farmers, and we’re collecting information from elders of the Kunda and Bisa, who safeguard generations of oral history and traditions. It’s amazing that such a big place had never previously been explored by archaeologists – and this makes our work a challenge, a responsibility and a privilege. This season we’ve been concentrating on more recent prehistory: I now have the satisfaction of knowing that what we’re finding is of direct relevance to the local community – it’s their history, not that of some distant stone age past. How important is Zambia’s prehistory in relation to Africa’s as a whole? Ask me again in ten years’ time. Zambia lies at the junction of so many regions central to the evolution of humans that it is bound to be a critical part of the overall human story. But it is still early days. What does an average day involve? I’m up at 6am finishing off notes from the day before. Then we head out after breakfast, collecting an armed scout from ZAWA on the way. Our journey to the site sometimes involves crossing the Luangwa by pontoon. Upon arrival, we check the excavation squares for snakes It’s amazing that such a big place had never previously been explored by archaeologists – and this makes our work a challenge, a responsibility and a privilege. The dig at Kalambo attracts a local audience. MARY EARNSHAW Back at camp each piece is meticulously cleaned, before being logged and stored for later analysis. MIKE UNWIN