Page 36 - UCT Research Report 2011

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Dr David Braun
: Researching
the origins of technology
Archaeologist Dr Braun’s research interests
centre on the basic question of how our
earliest ancestors made a living using stone
artifacts to gain access to resources. He
studies the ways in which biological and
cultural evolutionary forces have shaped
our past. Much of his research is focused
in Eastern Africa (Kenya and Ethiopia),
although he also directs excavations in the
Western Cape, at a site called Elandsfontein.
His research includes using inter-disciplinary
methods of accessing information about our
deep ancestry (1–3 million years ago).
In recent years, Dr Braun’s research team has
uncovered evidence of changes in human bipedalism
(in the form of preserved ancient footprints), as
well as very early evidence of human access to
aquatic resources. In addition, Dr Braun has worked
with colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for
Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, to
capture three-dimensional models of stone artefacts.
Dr Braun actively collaborates with colleagues on the
geochemical and engineering properties of stone
used by ancient humans to make artefacts. This
research involves new excavations and discoveries
and it is driven by a central theme of how and
why behaviours vary through time and space. In
particular, Dr Braun is interested in how this variation
reflects the selective pressures on human evolution.
Dr Shadreck Chirikure
: Digging
beneath the surface of Africa’s
pre-colonial heritage
Dr Chirikure’s research focuses on tech-
nological and social issues associated with
pre-colonial mining and metal-working, as
well as heritage management in Africa. His
research therefore deals with the interface
between the hard sciences and the
humanities. At the heart of it is the desire to
understand indigenous mining and metal-
working technologies used in pre-colonial
sub-Saharan Africa.
The main focus here has been on reconstructing the
technology and anthropology of these processes,
highlighting the point that academic reconstructions
cannot be divorced from their social contexts. As such,
in the early twentieth century, when social evolutionism
still held sway, Africa’s technological pursuits were not
highly regarded. In fact, technologies such as mining
and metal-working were homogenised across the entire