The Frobenius Archives in the Southern African Landscape

The Frobenius Archives in the Southern African Landscape

In 2014, Dr Justine Wintjes was awarded a three-year Thuthuka grant by the NRF for her project entitled, Archaeology and Visuality, Imaging as Recording: Returning the Frobenius Archives to the Landscape.

Materials generated in the course of archaeological fieldwork – texts, pictures, objects – are typically disaggregated from their site contexts and fractured into archives; only a small sample ends up in publications. But something from these archives can be pieced together – images / image fragments / images as fragments of a larger whole – to reveal a wealth of information about the sites in their original configuration on the one hand, and about different ways of seeing and representing on the other.

In my doctoral thesis I explored a methodology of collating archival materials, thereby returning them to their site contexts using visual and spatial principles, in relation to the recording histories of two severely damaged rock-painting sites in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg. In the present project, I aim to develop this methodology further and apply it more systematically to a greater number of sites. I will deal with nine other rock art sites in KwaZulu-Natal, and eleven in Lesotho. Furthermore, I will apply this methodology to a different kind of site: Great Zimbabwe. All these sites lend themselves well to my archival restoration approach because of the depth of their research histories and the changes they have experienced over time. My doctoral research was confined to two-dimensional reconstructions, and in this Project I propose to explore the applicability of the methodology to a 3D realm.

Another key thread by which I have designed this project – that connects all of these sites together – is a rich yet under-researched archive housed at the Frobenius Institute in Frankfurt, the result of a German regional ethnographic and archaeological expedition to southern Africa led by Leo Frobenius (1928-1930). The archive comprises numerous hand-written documents, photographs, sketches and painted copies that I will arrange into site-specific archives, interpret and re-contextualize.

Find out more about bursaries available under this project.