November 2007 Travel Zambia 35 Interview and other unwelcome visitors, then set up the equipment and sun shade. Before digging, the students get a briefing from me on the goals of the day. Any geographers or other specialists may also explain their plans: the students are there to learn, not just dig. There is no tea break, just a quick mid-morning stretch, a 30-minute lunch, and then we work through until about 4.30 – packing up in time to drop the scout back before dark. Back at camp we grab showers and maybe a sundowner at the bar. After dinner, when the students are entertaining themselves, I write up my notes. Bedtime looms at 9-ish. The students, of course, carry on entertaining themselves. What challenges do you encounter? You name it: tsetse flies, local politics, punctures – and don’t even ask about the student food fads! Elephants, especially, keep us on our toes; these monsters are terrifying and fascinating in equal measure, and I have great respect for the local community who have to live alongside them. What do you most enjoy about your work? People, mostly: especially working with students and colleagues, and explaining our work to local people. Archaeology is ultimately about people, and that’s something too often forgotten in the excitement of the next ‘great find’. Also, problem-solving: each day brings the unexpected, and draws on my mental and physical reserves in ways I’d rarely find behind a university desk. How do you see the future of archaeology in Zambia? Archaeological research in Zambia is still in its infancy. But interest and expertise are growing: Zambia’s National Heritage Conservation Commission now oversees all our work; and its head, Donald Chikumbi, worked with me at Mumbwa Caves and has a Cambridge MA in archaeology. The University of Zambia doesn’t yet offer archaeology as a degree, but it is integrated into the teaching of history and I’m hopeful that a new generation of Zambian archaeologists will emerge to take things forward. Why do Zambians need to know about their prehistory? I was at the bottom of a trench this season when a man appeared from the woods and asked me what I was up to. I clambered up, dusted myself down, introduced the crew, and then explained that we were excavating an old village site, perhaps 2,000 years old. ‘We need to know about this,’ he beamed, ‘it is our history.’ I explained that farming people had once lived here alongside hunter-gatherers – either descendants of Bushmen or Pygmies. ‘That is a wonderful story,’ he mused, ‘people living in harmony.’ He then asked where our artefacts would be on display, because he and his family would like to see them and learn from them. What more can I say? How are you getting your message across? I have been on Zambian television and given local talks, but these things only reach a few people. I’m now working on a general book about the prehistory of the country, which I hope will be accessible to everyone, from school children to tourists. I’m also working to raise the $500,000 needed to build a heritage centre in the Luangwa Valley, which will be a resource for the local community as well as for visitors. This is a priority for me: to give something back to the local community who have allowed me, literally, to dig into their past. What next? Climate change is a big issue facing us all. I’m now thinking about how understanding the past can help future generations plan for changes to come. With the help of my geographer colleagues I’d like to develop a detailed record of environmental change over the past 20,000 years or so and look at how people have responded – particularly in northern Zambia, which receives the highest rainfall in the country and could play a critical future role in supplying water and food to other areas. The past and the present are inextricably linked and we should be bold in drawing the two together. To me archaeology isn’t a luxury, but an essential part in our knowledge of how we came to be and of our place in Nature. We can choose to use this knowledge or ignore it. 1900: hunter-gatherers assimilated/disappear from Luangwa Valley 1600-1800AD: Bisa and Kunda peoples arrive in Luangwa Valley; modern chiefdoms formed 1100AD: Later Iron Age; development of chiefdoms; trade contacts with Indian Ocean 100–200AD: Early Iron Age, first farmers arrive in Luangwa Valley 25,000 years ago to 1900 AD: Later Stone Age hunter-gatherers; rock art 300,000–25,000 years ago: Middle Stone Age; evolution of Homo sapiens ~2 million years ago: Early Stone Age; first stone tools in Luangwa Valley; early human ancestors Zambia’s prehistory in brief MIKE UNWIN A shallow dig in the Luangwa soil reveals the outline of an iron-age cooking pot. All the soil removed from the dig is carefully sifted to check for shell beads and other telltale fragments. MIKE UNWIN
The quavering whistle of a mountain nightjar drifts across the hillside as I pick my way down towards the forest. Once inside, the dark tangle of undergrowth closes overhead and the gurgle of a stream beckons me forward. After a few cautious metres I’m standing beside a terraced chain of pools. It’s magical, mysterious – more Narnia than Africa. Slipping off clothes and boots, and draping my towel on an overhanging root, I ease into the nearest pool, scattering shards of moonlight across the surface. The bracing water is delicious relief after a sweaty day of high-altitude exertion. But it is hard to believe that I’m bathing in the Luangwa. Like every river, of course, the Luangwa has a source. And it is in the remote Mafinga Mountains of northeast Zambia, at least 300km from the South Park and a challenging 1,500m above it, that this great waterway is born. Here the muscular landscape is a far cry from the flat dusty bush of the distant valley. It has also long been off the tourist compass – until now. The new tour on which I find myself, dubbed the ‘Source Safari’, is the combined brainchild of John Coppinger of Remote Africa Safaris and David Foot of Nyika Safaris in Malawi. Coppinger knows the river as well as anybody, but had never been able to reach its remote source from the Zambian side. Thus the two men had pioneered a route from the more accessible Malawian side, and were now sharing their experience with adventurous guests. Our trip had started over the border on Malawi’s Nyika Plateau. Here we had been able to acclimatise to the altitude, while also enjoying some of the unexpected treasures of this elevated world. Nyika comprises more than 3,000 square kilometres of undulating hills that loom high above the hot, dry bush of northern Malawi and extend for a short distance into Zambia. Three days on the plateau had given us a chance to get into mountain mode in preparation for the Mafingas. Chelinda Safari Lodge, our base, was 36 Travel Zambia November 2007 To safari buffs the name ‘Luangwa’ evokes an instantly recognisable landscape, one of sandbanks, meander loops and heaving pods of hippos. These images, of course, encapsulate the world-famous South Luangwa National Park. Yet, over its twisting 800km length, this great river encounters many very different Zambian landscapes – and none more so than the remote mountains where it rises. Mike Unwin joined a new tour that aimed to track the Luangwa to its source. In search of the source Heading into the heart of the Mafingas. ALL PHOTOS MIKE UNWIN More than 200 species of orchid flourish on the Nyika Plateau.