It’s all gone to pot at the campsite….

Piecing together a jigsaw of the Valley’s past

Topping up his tan before the launch of his new film, our very own Indiana Jones has been back in the valley, but keeping a low profile, skulking in the old games room on the campsite. If you were to look through the windows you’d see clouds of dust rising from a long table and two figures hunched over a mountain of pot fragments and bits of stone – well that’s what it looks like. To Larry Barham it’s a trip back through time to our early ancestors and the aftermath of all those seasons of careful digging – analysing the finds.

Larry’s first love is the stone tools excavated over the last six years, which he can now say with confidence date back over a million years (so our early ancestors probably loved the place as much as we do!). But he’s forced himself to start with the stuff he calls “modern”, the Iron age pottery which ranges back in time from the late nineteenth century to around the time when AD met BC. And it has been an interesting romp through the last 2000 years, with a number of “firsts” for South Luangwa along the way.

The first thing Larry noticed as the plastic bags disgorged their contents was the sheer variety of pottery styles. The classic book on Eastern Zambian pottery, written by David Phillipson in 1976, is open on the table (an early gift from Patsy before she realised what she was letting herself in for with all those students).

It illustrates the various types of patterns found on the pots – but there simply aren’t enough to cope with Luangwa finds, so Larry (and finds assistant Mary) have been making them up as they go along (in a very professional manner of course) and recording them carefully for future researchers to use.

You’d think the earlier the pot, the simpler it would be, but you’d be wrong. Some of the most intricate designs appear on the earliest pots while many of the more recent ones look as if they’ve just been thrown together (sorry, pottery joke inevitable, in fact they are coiled pots anyway).

One of the first things to emerge from the analysis was the number of pots that not only had decoration on the neck, in other words just below the rim, but also on the top of the rim itself. All sorts of patterns have been added to the pot-decorating repertoire of eastern Zambia by the farmers of the Luangwa Valley over the past two thousand years.

He’s now started on the stone tools and the first three have taken him as long to describe as it took him to sort three bags of pots. “Pots are easy, you can quote me on that”. Watch out Larry, we did!

His next Zambian project – as well as bidding for a new grant to enable him to come back and find out more (and push back that date of 1.1 million we bet) – is to raise money to build a heritage centre to serve both the local community and the tourists visiting the Valley. Without it, all those pots and bits of stone will end up sitting in the basement of the Livingstone Museum, never seeing the light of day. They’ll join the ranks of other finds around the world that reflect the immense variety of the Luangwa Valley’s history, prehistory and natural history. Finds such as fossils from just before the age of the dinosaurs, collected in the 1970s, languishing in storage at a world famous university that would like to hand them back for people to see and enjoy.

“People come from all over the globe to see the animals,” says Larry, “but I’m sure they’d like to learn about the human side of the valley and there’s nowhere they can. It’s a fascinating story. We’re finding out how hunter-gatherers lived, when they gave way to farmers, how the Bisa and the Kunda came to be here. But what about the story of how local people live today and what they make and do? That heritage is vanishing faster every day – I sit here looking at all this pottery and there’s scarcely anyone making it any more. The planned centre will be both a record of the past and a record for the future – a resource for local people and researchers of all sorts to use and enjoy, a showcase for tourists, a place to buy crafts and for those skilled in making them to train a new generation before it’s too late.”

To find out more about the planned Luangwa Valley Heritage Centre visit the website, either on:  or

The last few days have been busy ones with the annual guides exams. I have been involved with the first aid section and Monday was an epic, with the marking of the theory papers going on late into the night. Tired as I was the drive home was made memorable by two honey badgers, the one kept of turning around and glaring at me in a very inquisitorial fashion – they are incredibly feisty for their size, and usually not fearing much, I soon ended up sitting on the bonnet of the car watching them a few meters away!

I am heading out of camp to the annual Indaba held in Durban, this is a international trade show and is always a great time to meet our agents and friends in the travel industry. I am also hoping to be able to get a bit more experience in game capture in SA and may be out of camp for most of the month of May.

Colleen and Dora will be on hand to answer emails and look after all our guests and the camp. We are looking forward to a good season and hope to see friends back in camp.

Kind regards