Scientific facts and oral traditions in Oldupai Gorge, Tanzania: symmetrically analysing palaeoanthropological and Maasai black boxes.

Reminiscent of past colonial practices, contemporary archaeological research in Africa is still often governed and carried out by foreign entities that move Africans aside from their pasts and their countries’ archaeological heritage. Oldupai Gorge, located in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area, is a flagship human evolution research site. Less recognized is that a Maasai pastoral society inhabits the region. Despite over a century of excavations in the ‘birthplace of humanity’, local Maasai and palaeoanthropologists have rarely affiliated with each other. Furthermore, a lingering and erroneous characterization of the Maasai as archaic, environmentally damaging and premodern continues to guide policies that compromise Maasai pastoral livelihoods. This article utilizes actor–network theory to ethnographically and symmetrically compare the epistemic cultures of both the Maasai and palaeoanthropologists in Oldupai, and argues that while scientific and Maasai knowledge may differ in cultural content, both groups built ‘black boxes’ – such as scientific facts and oral traditions – in parallel and equally logical forms. Since there are no fundamental cognitive differences between members of each group, there are no justifiable reasons that the Maasai should continue to be excluded from research in their homeland and the myriad benefits that it can bring.


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