The Historical Archaeology Lab (HAL) was founded under the influence of the Historical Archaeology Research Group (HARG). HARG was established in 1987 for the study of historical archaeology of the Cape colony.
The interest in this period of work, known as culture resource management (CRM), stemmed from UCT’s involvement during the early 80s in excavations of fortifications, outposts, and some industrial sites in the Cape. During this time, the South African Cultural History Museum began to employ archaeological staff and Stellenbosch Museum began long-term excavations around historic homes and sites.
The HAL originally focused on vernacular architecture and the material culture of the British period of occupation and their contact with Khoesan, Xhosa, Zulu and other indigenous groups. This included the early 18th century Dutch Cape Colony period, slavery, and the vernacular architecture of this period. The HAL also carries out ceramics analysis, based on ceramics gathered from probate inventories from this period.
The need to bridge the gap between theory and practice, authorities, and the public is also addressed at HAL. The lab has become well-known in the Western Cape for its contribution to local cultural heritage research, consultancy, and conservation management. HAL also played an active role in founding the inter-disciplinary Association of Professional Heritage Practitioners.
Research at the lab also covers the 19th century and the Northern Cape frontier interactions and the transition between the Dutch and British periods of interaction. This is a critical area for the research group and covers the complex processes of cultural change and continuity. The focus on the Northern Cape frontier also involves understanding Sotho-Tswana entanglements on the frontier with other groups such as the Khoesan, Griqua, Xhosa, and Koranna.
More recently, the HAL has expanded to cover the late 19th and early 20th century as the Northern Cape frontier was closing. Of particular interest is the formation of whiteness as a marker of identity and the economic history of the colony, and its impacts on the creation of blackness and whiteness as racial categories.
Further to this, the use of film has been integrated as a public participation tool in archaeology. A digital archaeology research unit linked to the HAL is currently in development and seeks students interested in the application of digital methodologies in archaeology.
The Rememberance-Herinnering-Isikhumbuzo project is also recruiting for its work linked to the NRF African Origins Platform Project: Re-engaging the archaeology of the Holocene and the last 500 years. The project is currently working with communities in the Cederberg to develop community based participatory methods for archaeology in South Africa.
The HAL is currently interested in developing engaged and participatory frameworks for research and it is actively recruiting students.