Expanding coverage of African archaeology on Wikipedia

Tassili n’Ajjer is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Sahara Desert in southeastern Algeria known for its Neolithic rock art from a period when the site was still savanna. With over 15,000 documented pieces of art, the site is exceptional. Before students in Mary Pendergast’s The Archaeology of Africa class started working on it, Wikipedia’s article on the site was short and like so much of Wikipedia, the coverage was idiosyncratic. While the article included only a single paragraph on the rock art, it also included a section on the possible depiction of fungi and a discussion of early use of psychedelics.

The student editor who worked on the article produced something much more balanced. Now, the article has a lengthy section on the rock art at the side, and coverage of its archaeological history, context and significance.

Ingombe Ilede, an archaeological site in Zambia, was just a short, largely unsourced article before a student in the class began work on it. Now the article contains detailed information about burials at the site, and the importance of glass beads, copper ingots, ceramics, and textiles found at the site. The article now gives readers a sense of the society and how the inhabitants fit into the broader regional context. Other articles expanded by students include the Swahili architecture article, the article on Gona, and important paleoanthropological site in the Ethiopian Highlands, and the Pastoral Neolithic, an important period in Africa’s prehistoric. Newly-created articles included Kuumbi Cave in Zanzibar, Fincha Habera, an Afro-alpine archaeological site in Ethiopia, and two new articles on pottery styles: Nderit pottery, and dotted wavy line and wavy line pottery.

Outside of Ancient Egypt, coverage of African archaeology on Wikipedia is spotty — but it needs expansion to help people understand African history before colonialism. Students in this class were able to fill important gaps through a combination of article expansion and new article creation.

Image credit: Linus Wolf, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


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