Original Research

Dispute resolution – an archaeological perspective with case studies from the South African Stone Age and San ethnography

David Morris
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 10, No 4 | a92 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v10i4.92 | © 2014 David Morris | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 February 2016 | Published: 30 December 2014

About the author(s)

David Morris, Head of Archaeology at the McGregor Museum Kimberley and affiliated with the Department of Heritage Studies, Sol Plaatje University, South Africa

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This paper presents an archaeological perspective on dispute resolution. Being a discipline based primarily on tangible material remains, archaeology may be hard put to draw firm conclusions on a phenomenon whose expression is usually intangible. It nevertheless takes up the challenge to consider whether there are traces suggesting the successful avoidance of conflict in the past. Drawing insights from South African Stone Age archaeology and San ethnography, the evidence of unperturbed continuance of a given cultural tradition is considered, as are indications of hxaro-like gift-giving mechanisms known to reduce tension in ethnographic instances of the recent past. Findings based on such indicators may be ambiguous. Evidence of negative outcomes in terms of conflict and homicide would be more obvious and pertinent to dispute resolution, specifically its failure. The role of “othering” in oral literature is referred to for situations where external social distance is emphasised or where regulation of inappropriate behaviour within a group is hinted at. The paper touches on the history of colonial encroachment and genocide in the Karoo, and finally, on the role of heritage itself as it becomes a locus of dispute in the present.


dispute resolution; archaeology; hxaro; conflict; heritage; San


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