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Origin Story

Inspired by archaeological legacies: the birth of the Student Development Workshop


Tim Forssman and Matt Lotter

Tim Forssman








The Student Development Workshop was inspired by the legacies left behind by two exceptional archaeologists. At the Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologist’s meeting in Swaziland, in 2013, Tim Maggs and Tom Huffman were retiring, and the community was recognising their stellar contributions to the field. On numerous occasions, speakers referenced their legacies and what they had done for archaeology during their careers. Listening to all of this, it struck us that one’s legacy does not begin at the end of their career, but it is something that you must consciously work towards. This led us to ask, what do we want to leave behind one day? How can we create something that would make a difference and hopefully create positive change within our industry?

We considered a number of possibilities, but we found, as students, that we kept circling around a single issue -- student growth, but with a particular emphasis on transferrable skills development, transformation, and networking. We thought about what we would have wanted to learn about during our earlier student careers, what might have made our journey easier, and what would give us an edge when entering the professional workspace. For us, entering a postgraduate degree and having to apply for funds, run your own fieldwork, write and publish scientific papers, give seminars, and more practically work in the bush with potentially dangerous animals or drive a four-wheel drive vehicle, was tricky. Through our own personal experiences, it was a very steep learning curve, and we felt we could further upskill students beyond the content that was being covered at university. We had learnt many lessons the hard way, by jumping in and getting to it, but was that the best way for students to go about learning about our field and how to be successful within it?


To not take skills development for granted, we came up with the Student Development Workshop. The intention was to revisit some of the most basic skills we thought were necessary to be successful and to create authentic learning experiences for student participants. We also thought it best to be taught by those who knew better, and so the workshop hinged on the kind contributions made by various specialists, without whom the workshops would not have been possible. One of our most important criteria when designing the event was to have it away from the university context. We drafted a concept note and approached the Association with the idea, which was eagerly supported. However, the next step was to raise funds, and this became a serious challenge.


We approached several organisations and eventually were awarded support from the Palaeontological Scientific Trust, who continued to provide grants for the workshop over the coming years. The first workshop was hosted in 2013 in the Vredefort Dome and it went very well, despite the incredible difficulties we experienced as organisers to get everything to run smoothly, and this laid the foundation for the workshops that came afterwards. Most notably, with the election of a representative group of students to form the first ASAPA Student Council (later renamed to the Southern African Archaeology Student Council [SAASC]).

The workshop has now been running for 11 years, coordinated each year by the current Council members. Over the years, its members collectively represent a range of universities and SADC countries. While the workshop is the main calendar event of the year for Council, they continually create spaces where students can network beyond the annual events, facilitating the growth of a close-knit community. 

We hope the workshop creates a legacy that those that came before us, that inspired us to do more and do better, look back upon proudly.

 Matt Lotter
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