Racism is behind outlandish theories about Africa’s ancient architecture

By: Julien Benoit- theconversation.com

Some of the most impressive buildings and cities ever made by humans can be found in Africa: the ruined city of Great Zimbabwe, Mapungubwein South Africa, Kenya’s Gedi Ruins and Meroe in Sudan. Perhaps the most awe-inspiring of these are the last remaining of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Great Pyramid of Giza, in Egypt….

The pyramids of Giza on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt.
Credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Africa has an extensive archaeological record, extending as far back as 3.3 million years ago when the first-ever stone tool was made in what is today Kenya. The continent’s cultural complexity and diversity is well established; it is home to the world’s oldest-known pieces of art. And, of course, it is the birth place of modern humans’ ancient ancestors, Homo sapiens.

Despite all this evidence, some people still refuse to believe that anyone from Africa…could possibly have created and constructed the Giza pyramids or other ancient masterpieces. Instead, they credit ancient astronauts, extraterrestrials or time travellers as the real builders….

Actually, there is great harm: firstly, these people try to prove their theories by travelling the world and desecrating ancient artefacts. Secondly, they perpetuate and give air to the racist notion that only Europeans – white people – ever were and ever will be capable of such architectural feats.

A threat to world heritage

In 2014 two German pseudo-scientists set out to “prove” that academics were concealing the Giza pyramids’ “real” origin. To do so, they chiselled off a piece of one of the pyramids – of course, without authorisation, so they could “analyse” it.

And earlier in 2017 scientists from the World Congress on Mummy Studies in South America published a communique on their Facebook page to draw attention to the raiding of Nazca graves for a pseudo-scientific research programme called the Alien project. It insists that aliens rather than ancient Peruvians were responsible for the famous geoglyphs called the Nazca Lines, despite all the evidence to the contrary….

Racism and colonial attitudes

A series of stone circles in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province provides an excellent example of the other problem with pseudo-archaeologists. Some people genuinely believe that these structures were designed by aliens. They scoff at scientific research that proves the stone circles were made by the Koni people using ropes, sticks and wood. They will not even entertain the notion that ancient African tribes could be responsible.

But the same people have no problem believing that medieval Europeans built the continent’s magnificent cathedrals using only ropes, sticks and wood. They dismiss scientific research that overwhelmingly provesancient Africans’ prowess,…

Why is it so hard for some to acknowledge that ancient non-European civilisations like the Aztecs, people from Easter Island, ancient Egyptians or Bantu-speakers from southern Africa could create intricate structures?

The answer is unfortunately as simple as it seems: it boils down to profound racism and a feeling of white superiority that emanates from the rotting corpse of colonialism…

The ancient city of Meroe.
Credit: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters

They try to make others believe that scientists are hiding “the truth” about ancient monuments…. There is a risk that they will drown out quality knowledge and science with their colourful, outlandish theories.

At the same time, these theories can prevent awareness about Africa’s rich heritage from developing. The heirs of the real builders may never learn about their ancestors’ remarkable achievements.

Scientists have a crucial role to play in turning the tide on such harmful theories. Those of us who are doing ongoing research around the continent’s architectural and fossil record should be sharing our findings in a way that engages ordinary people.

We must show them just how awe-inspiring structures like Great Zimbabwe, Meroe and the Giza Pyramids are – not because they were created by some alien race, but because they are living proof of ancient societies’ ingenuity.

 

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South Africans Battle To Overturn Apartheid Evictions

By: Sofie Ribstein, BBC News

Lily Lawrence and her children have fond memories of their old home. The Red Hill ruins are a daily reminder of The Group Areas Act passed in 1950.

Lily Lawrence and her children have fond memories of their old home. The Red Hill ruins are a daily reminder of The Group Areas Act passed in 1950.

At the far end of the African continent, Redhill was once a village, home to more than 70 predominantly mixed-race (or coloured, as they are referred to in South Africa) families.

But stone walls are still standing, reminders of a precious past for those who were forcibly removed in the late 1960s by South Africa’s white minority regime.

“Here was the lounge and this used to be the kitchen with a fireplace and the small bedroom at the back,” says 78-year-old Lily Lawrence, walking through the old stones which were once her home.

The Group Areas Act, passed in 1950, was a pillar of the brutal apartheid regime.

Among other things, it led to the removal of non-whites from real estate considered desirable by the government. Over the following decades, thousands of families were forced to leave their homes and relocate to barren land.

The effects of this policy have yet to be reversed. Even in post-apartheid South Africa, much of the most fertile territory is still in the hands of a few thousand white commercial farmers.

President Jacob Zuma has given people an opportunity to lodge land claims

President Jacob Zuma has given people an opportunity to lodge land claims.

Just after his re-election to a second term in office in May, South African President Jacob Zuma announced the creation of another window for lodging claims for the restitution of land.

Under the 1950 law, Mrs Lawrence, her husband and their four children had no other choice but to leave their land.

“It was so heartbreaking, tears, tears and tears,” says Mrs Lawrence, recalling the day they left. She says the family had to leave much of their furniture behind – including heirlooms – as it could not be taken up the stairs of the flat they were moving to.

Today, two of her children, Margaret and George, are doing everything possible for this past not to be forgotten. They were only eight and 13 years old when they left Redhill.

But the trauma of the forced removal remains. Margaret is an archivist at the Simon’s Town Museum. She collects pictures, texts, memories from the coloured community and tries to piece together their history.

Margaret (centre) was 13 years old when they were forced out of their home.

Margaret (centre) was 13 years old when they were forced out of their home.

She invites her mother to the museum to talk to schoolchildren. Twenty years after the end of apartheid, she wants the new generation to know what happened.

George, her brother, has embarked on a legal journey, trying to get the land back from the South African state. He says he registered the first land claim in 1998 – but since then, has only been to meetings and offered excuses for inaction.

“The only thing I want in my life is to come back to my land. I was born here, my roots are here. It is not so difficult, the government just has to sign the papers.”

Since President Zuma announced another window for the restitution, another 12,500 new claims have been lodged, according to the government-backed Land Claims Commission.

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