Curious about the past

Thirty-three-year-old ­Itumeleng Masiteng is a passionate archaeologist at the Ditsong National Museum of Cultural History in Pretoria. She believes in enlightening people about their past and her work entails analysing rocks and other objects to explain human relationships.

What got you into the field?
My curiosity about our past inspired me to learn about cultural ­material, stones, pottery and beads. My passion and ­dedication grew because I did not let my ­circumstances limit or define who I am. The realisation of my dream was cemented by my exploration of ­culture and a bit of ­science that led to excavating ­broken pottery and past truths.

Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Mamelodi, Pretoria, where I lived with my ­parents and my two brothers.

What influenced your career choice?
When I was young I wanted to be a doctor, like most kids did, but I was curious about culture too. I did not know much about archaeology, yet I had good teachers from primary school who instilled a positive attitude and taught me that nothing was impossible. I had the drive to study, but I did not have a clear goal as to what I wanted to become.

What motivated you to study archaeology?
I did all the crazy things before I landed in this field of study. I ­discovered after years that old things, history, the human past and our roots fascinated me. I never planned on going into the field — I collided with it.

When did it strike you that you would become an archaeologist?
Because I was not exposed to ­different careers in high school, all I wanted was to become a medical doctor. But when I was not admitted to my favoured university for a medical degree, it gave me a chance to consider other avenues, including ­archaeology. I had always had a passion for history so I decided to go for it. I completed a BSc in archaeology and psychology at the University of South Africa in 2005. At that time I was already working at the museum — I started in 2001, so I ­studied part-time.

What does a day in the life of an archaeologist look like?
I study artifacts and objects of the near and distant past to develop a picture of how people lived before cultures and societies. I do research on these artifacts to ensure that we have the end products. I curate archaeological collections, do fieldwork, grave relocations and conduct research. We spend most of our time in the lab, analysing data, ­writing reports and interpreting findings for the public. It takes months to ­examine thousands of tiny, nearly identical chipped stone axes. Basically, I work with broken stuff.

Why do you think archaeology is a cool profession?
My school teachers taught me to think out of the box and this helped me to always be open-minded. It is a cool profession because it is a field with no limitations. You get to meet and find different people and learn how they interacted in the Stone Age. I also get to travel and see what other archaeologists do. Travelling broadens one’s mind.

What qualities are needed for this job?
To be an archaeologist you need to be a dynamic and open minded ­person. Youneed to go with the flow. This is not a profession for someone who is a stereotype, because you must be ready to adapt to any changes and must not take yourself too seriously.

What are the highlights of your career?
They include travelling and going to conferences both nationally and internationally, taking part in ­cultural exchange programmes and bilateral study tours.

What is the secret of your success?
Dedication, hard work and passion. You need to dream big and persevere to achieve what you want in life.

You are working on your ­postgraduate studies. What is the focus?
I am busy with my final ­archaeology honours programme focusing on ­faunal studies. I am investigating ­faunal remains from the late Iron Age.

What does the future hold for you?
I want to be prominent in the field as the only female in my department. I also want to make major changes in the museum. I want to change the perception that most people have about the human race — that we are different. I want to educate my community.

I have already started doing exhibitions to inform people about how we used to trade with different countries in the past. It is important to me to show people that all races are equal.

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