Making a Collection an Iconic Object: Klasies River Mouth

A Blurb For AAA 2014's Archiving Anthropos Roundtable (4 December 2014)

Excerpt(ish) from "Life Histories and Dynamic Objects: The Klasies River Mouth Collection" in Curator 57 (2): 189-198

 Boxed collections from Klasies River Mouth, housed in the Iziko South African Museum, Cape Town. (Photo: L. Pyne)

Boxed collections from Klasies River Mouth, housed in the Iziko South African Museum, Cape Town. (Photo: L. Pyne)

Klasies River Mouth is iconic in Pleistocene archaeology.  Excavations began at the South African site in 1967-1968 and for more than forty years, the site's collection of artifacts function as a cultural yardstick; a metric of sorts for researchers to measure the robustness of explanations and to weigh validity of methodologies.  For a variety of reasons -- archaeological, historical, and cultural -- the Klasies collection underlays a great deal of Middle Stone Age archaeology in South Africa. 

But this begs the question:  How does a collection gain such cachet?  And how does the "life history" of such a collection -- a meta-artifact of its own -- contribute to the collection's iconic status?

A collection can serve as a temporal placeholder for different epistemologies, paradigms, methods, and manner of explanations.  The history of a collection can show particular cultural cachets as a dynamic, vibrant object, long after the collection is first curated.  In the late twentieth-century history of archaeology, the Klasies River Mouth is an example of an entity with an interesting and rich life history that provides us with insights about the original excavation and curating processes, but also about the changing paradigms of archaeological thought and theory. 

For more? Check out "Archiving Anthropos" in print here or at the AAA Roundtable 4 December!