Frequently Asked Questions
- Do I have to be an archaeologist to become a member of ArchSoc?
- I want to be an archaeologist. What subjects should I study for matric?
- Can I make a collection of archaeological artefacts?
- What job opportunities are there for archaeologists in South Africa?
- What is the difference between archaeology and palaeontology?
- What is palaeoanthropology?
- Can I attend lectures and join excursions if I am not a member?
- How do I become a member of a branch?
- Why do I have to pay a higher subscription if I live outside South Africa?
- Is there a reduced ArchSoc membership rate for pensioners?
Do I have to be an archaeologist to become a member of ArchSoc?
No. Everyone is welcome to join.
I want to be an archaeologist. What subjects should I study for matric?
Archaeology is such a wide field that you could choose almost any matric subjects, depending on your interests. As long as you get a matric exemption, you can register at a university that offers Archaeology as a major subject.
Some universities, such as Cape Town and the University of the Witwatersrand, place Archaeology in the Science faculty, whereas at the universities of Pretoria, Venda and Unisa it is in the Arts/Humanties faculty. Whatever the faculty, a wide range of archaeological training opportunities will be open to you. It is a good idea to look at the websites of each university to see the specific options available. Students at all universities rate archaeology among the most interesting of the many subjects offered by the university.
Taking Archaeology along with scientific subjects such as Zoology, Botany, Anatomy, Chemistry and Physics will give you the knowledge to study aspects such as:
The analysis of the bones of animals that people hunted in the past;
Plant remains to work out what plants people used and for what purposes;
Pollens to find out how climate has changed and what vegetation existed in the past;
Evolution of humans from the bones of fossil hominids;
Isotopes from bones that can tell you what people ate thousands of years ago;
Fossil DNA that can tell you how people in the past are related to us; and
Methods for dating archaeological materials such as charcoal, shell and bones.
Taking Archaeology along with arts subjects such as History, Anthropology, Political Studies, Philosophy and Human Geography will give you the knowledge to study aspects such as:
Anthropology to reconstruct the social organisation of people who lived a long time ago;
Historical archaeology to find clues that will help you to understand what took place at historical sites;
Geography to analyse where people lived in the past, and why they chose those places; and
Art to analyse and interpret rock paintings and engravings.
For more information on careers in Archaeology in South Africa, see the website of the Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists (ASAPA).
Can I make a collection of archaeological artefacts?
The short answer is, “No, not without a permit”.
Artefacts are things made by people. In South Africa they are generally made from stone because this is the material that lasts the longest, but you can also find artefacts made from bone, shell, ostrich eggshell, metal such as iron or copper, wood, plant fibre, leather and pottery. They include rock paintings and rock engravings.
According to the National Heritage Resources Act (Act 25 of 1999), all artefacts that have been abandoned for more than 100 years ago are the property of the State and may not be removed from their place of origin without a permit from the provincial heritage resources authority or from the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). You can be fined up to R100 000 for collecting artefacts without a permit.
The reason for the permit system is that whenever you take artefacts away from their original place, you destroy the evidence and can never reconstruct the details that might tell you how old they are, who made them, what they were made for, and what they are associated with. When archaeologists make collections or do excavations, they take lots of notes, just like detectives do at the scene of a crime. These records help to answer the questions that we want to answer about the people who lived there thousand of years ago.
If you find artefacts while hiking, have a look at them, but put them back where you found them. If you are afraid that someone else will come and take them away, hide them under a stone or a bush, or cover them lightly with sand.
If you already have a collection of artefacts and do not want to be fined, you can register them at SAHRA. In the registration process you are requested to name an institution that you will approach to accept your collection when you no longer want it or when you die so that it does not get thrown away.
What job opportunities are there for archaeologists in South Africa?
There are about 100 full-time jobs for archaeologists in South Africa at universities, museums and provincial and national heritage resources authorities, and in private companies that specialise in archaeological impact assessments and contract work. The number of archaeologists is expanding in southern Africa, particularly in the heritage and resource management sector. Whether or not you are considering a career in archaeology, an archaeological degree will be useful to you because this degree contains a mixture of science and humanities skills and it can therefore provide you with a good launching pad for many careers.
Archaeology is currently being listed by the South African government as a scarce and critical skill. The starting salary for someone with an Honours degree (four years’ study) at a museum or heritage resources authority is usually in the region of R120 000 to R150 000 a year. Entry level university jobs are in a similar income bracket or higher.
What is the difference between archaeology and palaeontology?
Archaeology is a method for the study of the things left behind and abandoned by people who lived a long time ago. In South Africa the National Heritage Resources Act defines this as more than 100 years ago. Archaeological objects and structures can include stone and bone tools, rock art, food remains such as bones and shells, pottery, metal working and parts of buildings. Archaeologists only work with evidence that is less than 3-million years old because before that time our ancestors did not make tools and are therefore defined as not “human”.
Palaeontology is the study of the bones or plants that lived a long time ago and became fossilised in rocks as the result of natural processes (i.e. with no input or interference from people). Palaeontological remains can be hundreds or even thousands of millions of years old.
What is palaeoanthropology?
Palaeoanthropology is the study of the fossilised remains of humans and their immediate ancestors, so it can include pre-human bones that are older than 3-million years. Palaeoanthropologists are mostly interested in the physical anatomy (bones) of people to discover where they may have originated and how they might be related to different human populations or extinct species. They also study ancient DNA and can sometimes determine the cause of death and what diseases individuals may have suffered from during their lifespan.
Can I attend lectures and join excursions if I am not a member?
Yes you can attend, but branches may charge a fee for non-members.
How do I become a member of a branch?
You will automatically become a branch member if you live in the vicinity of Johannesburg/Pretoria (Northern Branch), Cape Town (Western Cape Branch), Durban/Pietermaritzburg (KwaZulu-Natal Branch), or Kimberley/Bloemfontein (Trans-!Garib Branch). There is no extra charge to join a branch.
Why do I have to pay a higher subscription if I live outside South Africa?
Unfortunately we have to charge more for membership outside South Africa because of higher postage rates and bank charges on foreign exchange. Sadly, there is nothing we can do to reduce these extra costs.
Is there a reduced ArchSoc membership rate for pensioners?
There is no reduced membership rate for pensioners because postage costs, one of our major expenses, are the same for everyone.