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A smartphone instead of a pickaxe. Archaeology in the 21st century

A smartphone instead of a pickaxe. Archaeology in the 21st century

A doctoral student from the Jagiellonian University Institute of Religious Studies won the “Diamond Grant” for his research project devoted to rock art in Kondoa region in Central Tanzania from the archaeological and ethnological perspective. 26-year-old Maciej Grzelczyk discovered rock paintings in Swaga Swaga Game Reserve.

Maciej Grzelczyk’s first trip to Tanzania took place in 2014, and the second one a year later. Yet, it took him four years to make a groundbreaking discovery. In Kondoa region he found over 50 rock art sites. His earlier studies had focused on other regions. This time he decided to explore Swaga Swaga Game Reserve and this turned out to be a perfect choice.

During his one-man research expedition, Grzelczyk was accompanied only by park rangers. Contrary to a popular belief, the research didn’t involve digging in earth. Instead, the archaeologist conducted a painstaking scanning of a hill with the use of state-of-the art technology (including a smartphone app), which led to his sensational findings.   

There is a widespread image of archaeologists labouring in summer heat with a shovel or pickaxe. This is partly true, but modern technology plays a more and more important role in their work. Some rock paintings were found thanks to a special application, which made it possible to spot images invisible to naked eye by adjusting colours in a photo in a way which makes a barely distinguishable red paint perceptible. This relatively simple technology is very useful in fieldwork.

What do the paintings show? In fact everything that was important for their creators – animal hunting, scenes from everyday life, rituals, and beliefs. The discovery includes two types of rock paintings: the red ones, some of which even date back to 27 thousand years BP (before present) and the much younger white ones, which are from 100 to 300 years old (the last documented case of creation of such art was in 1964).

All the paintings have been meticulously photographed. Additionally, spherical panoramas of all the sites have been made, since, as Grzelczyk explains, the landscape may have influenced the content of the rock art. For some reason, certain rocks that would seem perfect for painting were left out by the artists. A lack of clear view from these sites might have played a role in that decision.

Now it’s time to analyse and verify the photos. As a PhD student of Religious Studies, Maciej Grzelczyk is interested in analysing the pieces of rock art not only from archaeological perspective, but also from ethnological and anthropological point of view.

The researcher is planning to come back to Tanzania soon, as there is still much left to discover.

The article is based on an interview with Maciej Grzelczyk conducted in July 2018.

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