Institute of Archaeology


Pauline Harding

Archaeology as ‘Witchcraft’: Spirits, Sorcerers and Salesmen in Buganda

Portrait of Pauline Harding

Email: p.harding@ucl.ac.uk
Section: Heritage Studies



Archaeology as ‘Witchcraft’: Spirits, Sorcerers and Salesmen in Buganda

Sub-Saharan Africa’s heritages remain underrepresented within world heritage lists. This research explores why, with a focus on what ‘heritage’ means globally and how this contrasts with understandings of heritage in Uganda. Drawing on interview materials and observations from ethnographic fieldwork at heritage sites in Uganda, and also on historical records and academic texts, it examines Ugandan heritage values in terms of historically rooted practices that are living, thriving and continually evolving, in contrast to international values that centre on static historical monuments or ancient practices considered to be ‘at risk’. It explores Ugandan heritages that have been associated with ‘primitive’ behaviours, spirits and ‘witchcraft’, within an immensely complex socio-political and ideological setting that sees Ugandans varyingly preserve, develop and destroy elements of their own past. Central themes include government and kingdom uses of heritage to pursue conflicting agendas of politics, land ownership and identity; community perceptions of archaeological sites as spiritual gateways that connect the living and the dead; and ‘fake’ heritages developed by cultural entrepreneurs and manipulated for financial gain. Through analysis of these themes, this research seeks to outline why Uganda’s heritages are so divisive within the nation; how this prevents them from being satisfactorily understood and celebrated on an international scale; and what are the most appropriate ways to research and protect them in the future.




    • BA Egyptian Archaeology, UCL, 2010
    • MA Managing Archaeological Sites, UCL, 2011

    Additional responsibilities

    Coordinator of UCL Institute of Archaeology African Peoples and Pasts seminars, 2018–present


    Harding, P. 2019. Strings in Uganda. In: The Strad magazine 130(1551). London: Newsquest Specialist Media Ltd

    Harding, Pauline. 2023. Myths, Dreams and the Business of Spiritual Heritage in Uganda. Journal of African Cultural Heritage Studies, 3 (1). 151–168. DOI: http://doi.org/10.22599/jachs.127

    Conference papers

    Harding, P. 2023. ‘Syncretism in the Underworld: The Archaeological Landscape of Ttanda, Uganda’. Presentation at Institute of Archaeology director’s symposium Magic and Monotheism: Archaeology and the Persistence of Folk Ritual. UCL, London, 15 September.

    Harding, P. 2018. 'Mythologising archaeological landscapes’. Presentation at international conference Mythological Panoramas: Tracing distortions and fictions of landscape across time and space. Senate House, London, 4 October.

    Harding, P. 2018. ‘Projected population growth and future heritage issues in Uganda’. Presentation at PanAfrican Archaeological Conference. Rabat, Morocco, 13 September.