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Wilfrid Laurier University Communications, Public Affairs & Marketing
December 9, 2016
Canadian Excellence


Gary Warrick, Faculty

The idea for a research project doesn’t always begin in the library or the lab, or while sitting at the computer.

Laurier Brantford contemporary studies and indigenous studies professor Dr. Gary Warrick’s current indigenous archaeology project in the Drakensberg (Dragon Mountains) of South Africa had its start during a holiday at a community-run backpackers’ hostel in the Mnweni Valley. With a Laurier internal travel grant, he went back last summer with the intent of setting up a research program to look into the 19th century legacy of British colonialism in the area.

Warrick’s Mnweni Valley research involves Zulu-speaking farmers (amaNgwane and amaZizi) and some of their ancestors who intermarried with the survivors of the San hunter-gatherers in the late 19th century.

The overall goal of the work is to document the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the San from the Mnweni Valley region.

His specific research plan is threefold. First, Warrick will do an analytical study of the rock art that still survives in the rock shelters in the valley.

He will also include an oral history component, interviewing descendants of the 19th-century residents — the community has a strong oral tradition and stories of that period have survived. Finally, he will conduct community archaeological research on the rock shelter sites in the area where the San, the indigenous people in the Mnweni Valley, lived.

Warrick has been welcomed and had much of his project approved by local authorities in part because he plans to involve the community.

Living in a marginalized rural area, he says the Mnweni Valley people voice a common refrain: “If only we could keep our young people here.” The area is off the beaten track, near the Lesotho border. Warrick’s project would, among other things, include local young people, offering them training and skills in archaeology that could be useful in other situations.

Adding to the local tourism economy and providing resources for the documentation of local history, Warrick is looking forward not only to investigating an important gap in archaeological knowledge but doing so side-by-side with the descendants of the people who created the artifacts he will be studying.