For the love of heritage

Alma Nankela’s own experiences fuelled her fascination with the past.

08 February 2019 | People

Tunohole Mungoba



Alma Nankela is currently the chief archaeologist for the whole of Namibia.

Her duties and responsibilities include overall archaeological heritage research and the management and conservation of such resources in Namibia.

She is responsible for advising the National Heritage Council (NHC) and the secretariat on the state of Namibia's archaeological heritage resources, and on any actions necessary to protect and conserve them.

Nankela is also responsible for developing and implementing all archaeological heritage resource policies and guidelines, to ensure the sustainable utilisation and professional conservation of such resources in Namibia.

She is also responsible for the dissemination of archaeological heritage research to the Namibia public through public education platforms and for the overall management and conservation of such resources in Namibia.

Nankela told Careers that an average day in the life of an archaeologist varies, depending on where she is working on that day.

“Since my work is a split between the office and various archaeological sites; my commute can vary quite considerably. When in the office, I get set up, check my emails, review the previous day’s communications and make notes of what needs to be done,” said Nankela.

She added that although she is the only archaeologist in the office, she sometimes catches up with the rest of the technical team. It’s an opportunity for her to learn from the people she works with and share skills and knowledge.

According to Nankela, a large part of her day is spent writing technical reports, archaeological policies, developing and reviewing existing archaeological heritage systems, liaising with clients, representatives of various institutions, local communities and other researchers, both local and international.

“Other days I could spend out of the office doing some primary field research, on a site inspection or sometimes visiting the archives. I might be monitoring what impact a new infrastructure development will have on heritage or the archaeological setting of area,” she explained.

Growing up, Nankela was never a child who played in a sandbox, visited museums or dreamed of becoming an archaeologist.

“My own experiences and interests were different. The love of the outdoors, people, curiosity, growing up in refugee camps in Angola and going on small hunting expeditions, and growing up in the villages of northern Namibia, as well as the love of culture, probably fuelled my fascination with the past.”

Her inspiration is drawn from the love and passion for our ancestral heritage and the fact that Namibia does not have sufficient archaeologists, although it has a wealth of archeological heritage resources.

Nankela pursued history and geography at secondary school and thereafter a degree at the University of Namibia (Unam).

“At the time, archaeology was not a fully-fledged course at Unam, so I participated in various archaeological expeditions in Namibia and southern Africa organised either by Unam, the French embassy, the National Museum of Namibia or the National Heritage Council of Namibia,” she said.

These field expeditions provided her with an opportunity to work alongside archaeologists from various backgrounds and exposed her to various specialisations in archaeology.

From 2014 to 2017 she once again awarded a scholarship to study towards a PhD in Namibian archaeology in France, Portugal and Italy, which she completed in March 2017.

Nankela said the important traits of a successful archaeologist include a good sense of humor, having passion, being patient, being driven, curiosity, critical thinking skills and knowing the intricacy of your own subject matter.

“Archaeology is not an individual effort, you have to be a team player. A team setting allows individuals to collaborate and put together a comprehensive understanding of site contexts, as individuals apply their specialties to different aspects of an archaeological problem,” she added.

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