Lucy, African heritage, and ‘Paleodoms’

Session Date: 
Apr 6, 2024

Since the discovery of Lucy in 1974, African Heritage management and African paleoscientific research has undergone significant developments, reflecting changing priorities, challenges, and approaches to the promotion of research and preservation and conservation of archaeological and paleontological assets. African countries have engaged in partnerships with international organizations, governments, and NGOs to support heritage management efforts. Paleoscientific research in Africa has flourished, with numerous discoveries, advancements, and interdisciplinary collaborations shedding light on the continent's rich prehistoric past. However, while these gains are commendable, there is growing risk of heritage management collapse emanating specifically from foreign research groups and foreign individual researchers. In many of the African institutions involved in paleoscientific research and heritage management, efficiency in carrying out these activities have been hampered by foreign researchers’ restrictions on access to artifacts, fossils, and sites where such heritage is derived. Some researchers have created ‘Paleodoms’ that are only a preserve of themselves and their friends. These ‘Paleodoms’ have restricted availability of data, hindered innovation in paleontological and archaeological research, inhibited collaboration, impeded learning and skill development, delayed scientific progress, promoted underrepresentation and lack of diversity, and limited opportunities for public engagement and outreach activities centered around fossil and artefact discoveries.

While in some cases these restrictions are necessary, there is a dire need for researchers to strike a balance of the need for access restrictions with the principles of scientific openness, integrity, and responsible stewardship of heritage resources.