Dr Abigail Moffett's research for her doctoral studies in archaeology was focused on developing a greater understanding of the workings of power and economy in the precolonial past in southern Africa.
She chose to approach this through an in-depth archaeological study of a copper mine and production site located in Phalaborwa, Limpopo.
“This provided an opportunity to assess the organisation of production and the domestic and regional economy in which copper producers were working,” explains Moffett. “The implications of my research show that the organisation of economy and power in the precolonial past, particularly the period AD 1000–1300, was much more decentralised than previously envisioned.”
Communities such as the Phalaborwa copper producers across the southern African landscape had access to trade goods, locally crafted products and other items.
“This in turn has implications for how we model the development of complex states in the region,” she explains.
Her current research interests include the production, circulation and consumption of commodities in the Iron Age, crafting and cross-craft gender relationships and innovation, improvisation and technology transfer across southern Africa and the Indian Ocean network.
I fell in love with UCT
Moffett grew up in Botswana, England and South Africa, and matriculated from St Mary's DSG in Pretoria in 2004.
“I fell in love with UCT when I visited the campus while in high school. It was such a different space from the school environment; people seemed engaged, interested to learn, aware of their place in the world and the responsibility that comes with this,” she says.
Moffett registered for a politics, philosophy and economics degree in 2006, but after one semester and one history elective decided to change her career path.
“I fell in love with archaeology in the second semester, and the rest is history,” she says.
A number of her undergraduate courses sparked her interest in precolonial African history and archaeology.
“In particular a second-year history course, Africa before 1800, and a third-year course, Roots of black identity,” she says.
Moffett holds a BSocSc in history and archaeology and an honours degree in archaeology. In July 2011 she registered for an MPhil in archaeology and spent the first six months on an Erasmus Mundus exchange at the University of Leuven in Belgium.
She returned to continue her MPhil and after a year upgraded to a PhD in 2013. She submitted her thesis in December 2016 and graduated on 3 May 2017.
Excavating and exploring
Moffett enjoys being challenged to think critically about something, to understand the complexity of knowledge production and the contexts of its creation.
“I love excavating and exploring new sites – it inevitably leads to new ideas,” she says. “I feel extremely excited about the rich and incredible history of the past two millennia in southern Africa.”
Moffett is motivated by knowing that there is still so much research to be done in her field that needs to be put out in public spaces for others to learn.
“I sometimes struggled to self-motivate when writing became exhausting, but I always found solace in my friends in the department who would offer encouragement and motivation. No one quite understands the PhD journey like fellow PhD students,” she says.
She attributes her success to the mentors who have inspired her journey in African archaeology and history, and who shaped her career path.
“My supervisors, associate professors Shadreck Chirikure and Simon Hall, are incredibly passionate about archaeology. They have both spent long afternoons talking through ideas with me and their passion and enthusiasm for the discipline is infectious. Similarly, Shamil Jeppie and Maanda Mulaudzi from the history department were inspirational teachers.”
Pursue your passion
Moffett adds, “I always worried that I needed to find a career path that had a definitive job at the end of it, but if you are really interested in something I would argue that it is worth pursuing your passion and finding where that leads you.
“Also, don't be afraid to ask for help or approach teachers you find inspiring. They most likely would love to talk to you and help you out.”
Moffett has registered as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Archaeology, with Chirikure.
“I hope to continue to research in my field and become involved in wider collaborative research projects in southern Africa,” she says.
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