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  • South African Archaeological Society

    Obituary: Alexander Robert Willcox 1911-1993Author(s): Harry Barker and H. C. ('Bert') WoodhouseSource: The South African Archaeological Bulletin, Vol. 48, No. 158 (Dec., 1993), pp. 119-123Published by: South African Archaeological SocietyStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3888954 .Accessed: 25/06/2014 06:42

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  • South African Archaeological Bulletin 48: 119-123, 1993 119

    OBITUARY

    Alexander Robert Willcox 1911-1993

    Photograph taken in the 1960s at Dancer's Cave in the Nkosisaan River Valley in the Drakensberg. Seated from left: Harry Barker, Alex Willcox, Margot Barker. The name of the mountaineer standing on the left is Karl Rfihle.

    Alex Willcox died tragically on Wednesday 1 September 1993 at Gray's Hospital in Pietermaritzburg after being shot through the window of his home in the Drakensberg a few days previously. He is survived by his daughter Sandra and son David, to whom we extend our deepest sympa- thies.

    We invited his friend Harry Barker to write an Obituary. Bert Woodhouse kindly offered his appreciation of Alex too, and we publish both below. We have added a bibliog- raphy of Alex Willcox's publications compiled by his daughter, Sandra, assisted by Val Ward at the Natal Museum. Our thanks to allfourfor their contributions.

    EDITOR

    Those who live into the second half of their ninth decade may have to accept the melancholy privilege of writing valedictions to distinguished friends whose death has ended life-long friendships. With the death of Alex Willcox that bitter but honourable privilege has now thrust itself upon me for the fourth time within the space of less than two years.

    I am not competent to assess the value of his writings about archaeology, Bushman paintings and rock art, being only an uninstructed amateur of such subjects; but after a friendship of over 59 years I can speak of the man with some knowledge.

    He came to South African in 1934 from Dawlish in Devonshire and began to practise his profession of quan- tity surveyor then. How I met him I cannot now recall but he accompanied me to several camps organized by the Transvaal Mountain Club of which I was a committee member. He was a small, wiry, tough man, enjoying out- door life and we became good friends.

    Then, of a sudden (I think it was in 1936), he vanished from my circle with no hint of why, until some time in 1938 he phoned me to explain. He said he had been criti- cally ill for months with rheumatic fever and had almost

    Photograph taken by Rhoda Cooke in 1986 on the occa- sion of her husband's 80th birthday. From left: Cran Cooke, Alex Willcox and Oliver Davies.

    succumbed, but was now slowly recovering. He was medically advised to take whatever physical exercise his weakened heart would tolerate. Horse-riding was sug- gested and he had accordingly tried this in the Cathkin area, where he became fascinated by the Bushman paint- ings in the caves. This was how his interest in archaeology began.

    He immediately began to collect data and to expand his already wide reading about history, prehistory, archaeol- ogy, geology, politics and other kindred subjects. He and I would meet and talk and (always) argue in his flat in Johannesburg. Who wouldn't argue with one who was such a challenger of received ideas? In contrast to most of our contemporaries complacent to the last, he and I both foresaw in advance that a Second World War was about to begin. When it came, the courageous Alex was soon in the South African army. Then our association languished for the duration of the war and beyond it, for my own war service disabled me until December 1946.

    By now, by an effort of what was largely his indomitable will, Alex had restored his physical energy and he began to sacrifice his profitable quantity surveyor's business to his passion for authorship and archaeology. His first book - a field guide to would-be builders of a new house - which he called So you want to build?, appeared at this time. It sold out and went eventually into a second edition. I wrote a chapter on law for him.

    After that it was full-steam ahead into Bushman paint- ings. He trudged the mountains throughout South Africa, burdened with packs loaded with heavy photographic equipment and with food and camping gear. He was to become the first Bushman art explorer and archaeologist to realize the potential value of colour photography in repro- ducing, exactly as Bushmen saw them, the record of their emotions in rock art.

    With him now went his intrepid wife Nancy. It is worth stressing that she, like him, was physically small and slightly built, but she happily subordinated her aims to his and became his enthusaistic, faithful amanuensis and

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  • 120 South African Archaeological Bulletin

    companion in every way. In his Acknowledgements at the beginning of his

    epoch-making book published in 1956, Rock paintings of the Drakensberg, the reader will find this tribute to Nancy:

    My wife, who accompanied me on most of the (mountain) trips, who has carried her rucksack count- less miles of heavy going, who has acted as assistant photographer and typist, and who did not object even to spending part of her honeymoon in Bushman shel- ters, I cannot adequately thank, but I daresay she has enjoyed it all no less than I.

    Then again, thirty years later, in the Acknowledge- ments of his book about the exploration of the Orange River (Willcox 1986) he wrote:

    But, as always, my chief debt is to my wife Nancy for typing and retyping the text, and accompanying me on sometimes arduous expeditions to the Orange River Valley.

    However, neither he nor she was a mountaineer in the fullest sense of the word, and this meant that, despite several attempts, they had failed to reach some of the remoter caves with the best examples of Bushman art.

    Alex appealed to me to help him and, early in the 1950s, with my own entrepid wife Margot, I led him to the famous Battle Cave where, standing on my shoulders, he was able to take a direct photograph of the Bushman warrior fully armed racing into battle with such reckless enthusiasm that his eager legs are 'doing the splits'.

    He and I and our respective wives later on made many other expeditions to the Drakensberg to collect data.

    By now he had decided to abandon his quantity surveyor's business and sell it and his house in Johannes- burg, and to go and live in the Drakensberg. It was the act of a man who was willing to sacrifice everything that might stand in the way of the achievement of his so worthy purpose. He bought a piece of ground on the road to Champagne Castle Hotel where, undistracted by the pressures of city life, he could study, sift his material, and produce the succession of books and articles which estab- lished his reputation as an international authority on rock art and its associated disciplines.

    He talked me into buying a piece of farmland contigu- ous to his. I called my property 'River Bend'. With char- acteristically mordant wit he thereupon named his property 'Round the Bend', a sort of courageous self-acknow- ledgement of his abnegation of the values of ordinary mortals.

    I repeat that my lack of disciplined knowledge prevents my evaluating his contribution to history and archaeology, but I conclude my tribute to his and Nancy's courage and unselfishness by referring to the work that, for over a decade, they did for the black children in the neigh- bourhood where they had made their home for the last 30 years of their lives.

    I had donated two acres of my own property as a site for a school for those children who had been trudging up to 10 km a day to school at Loskop. Alex and Nancy took over its funding and administration, and saw it grow from a school with a score or so of children, to one which now provides education for between 100 and 200 happy schol- ars. When a new owner of River Bend later tried to close the school, Alex and Nancy, with ferocious zeal, fought successfully with others to oppose the closure.

    How bitterly ironical is the fact that, soon after the

    success of that opposition, Nancy should succumb to cancer, and that finally Alex should be murdered by robbers in the home from which he and she had so often looked across at the school they served.

    Alex needs no monument in stone. His books attest to his industry, his resolution and his courage. From his lounge one can look at the noble contours of Champagne Castle, the Sterk Horn and their lower ridges. One thinks of the creator of St Paul's Cathedral and, viewing these contours, one can say again Si monumentum requiris, circumspice: if you seek his monument, look around.

    HARRY BARKER Johannesburg

    Alex Willcox, born in 1911, was educated at Newton Abbot Grammar School in Devon. He qualified as a quan- tity surveyor and came to South Africa in 1935. His book Rock Paintings of the Drakensberg, published in 1956, established his reputation as an authority on rock art to which he had devoted a great deal of his time. Some of this time was spent with Robbie Steel, and some with Harald Pager.

    Two years prior to the publication of this book, Alex contributed a short but seminal article to the The South African PEN Year Book for 1954. In that article he made many significant points, including the following:

    If there are objective criteria of great art, one of them is surely that the artist causes the beholder of his work to share the emotions which moved him to create it and does this with maximum economy of means. Although Alex frequently emphasized the scientific

    approach to his hobby, his use of the word 'emotions' is an indication of his deep love for rock art. In his own words, "often one can turn from a painting of a fat eland or a herd of grazing rhebok or a troop of playful baboons to find the reality in sight. This is an additional charm."

    Alex communicated in elegant prose - elegant in the sense of an elegant mathematical solution - which would have satisfied a quantity surveyor. But additionally he communicated with his camera. Fortunately his fieldwork in the Drakensberg coincided with the more general avail- ability of colour film and the photographs which illus- trated Rock paintings of the Drakensberg set a standard on which it has been difficult to improve.

    That the hobby of finding and photographing rock art had become a Willcox family affair was demonstrated in Alex's next book, The rock art of South Africa published in 1963. The first photograph showed Alex and Nancy ac- companied by their Hlubi maid carrying daughter Sandra to what became known as Sandra's Shelter where the painting of a howling jackal some 80 mm long was cap- tioned as a 'miniature masterpiece'. In the same year, Alex's photographs of several other masterpieces illus- trated an article in the June issue of the National Geo- graphic Magazine.

    Apart from his emotional involvement with the art and his persistent fieldwork to find 'new sites', Alex carried out tireless research into the relevant literature which enabled him to widen his territory so that in June 1969 an article that he wrote for Optima was entitled 'Stone Age art from Cantabria to the Cape'.

    Not only did his rock art territory widen, but simulta- neously his interest in history and prehistory also widened. In 1971 the University of the Witwatersrand published his reports on the excavation of two shelters in the Drakens- berg in which he had the collaboration of Bill Hepner. In 1976 Alex published Southern Land which had many

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  • South African Archaeological Bulletin 121

    striking illustrations by Alan Telford and which started with a lifeless planet and ended with the establishment of the Republic of South Africa.

    The year 1984 was a notable one for Alex. He not only produced a guidebook to The Drakensberg Bushmen and their art, but he surveyed the whole continent in The rock art of Africa and broke completely new ground with Ship- wreck and survival on the South-East coast of Africa. In these publications he had the artistic collaboration of Colin Nockels. That collaboration was continued in 1986 with the publication of The great river: the story of the Orange River which follows the river from source to mouth and the early explorers who visited it.

    Alex was recognized by his peers as the doyen in his field and he enjoyed membership of the Royal Society of

    South Africa as well as many learned and professional bodies. He was President of the South African Archaeological Society in 1972-3, he was awarded a Cer- tificate of Merit by the South African Association for the Advancement of Science and was a founder member of the Southern African Rock Art Research Association. The President of SARARA, Shirley-Ann Pager, arranged a memorial service for Alex on 11 September 1993 in the Crematorium Chapel in Johannesburg. Representatives of the Mountain Club of South Africa, the South African Archaeological Society and the Institute for the Study of Man in Africa, as well as many friends, attended.

    H.C. ('BERT') WOODHOUSE Johannesburg

    A.R. WILLCOX BIBLIOGRAPHY: 1954-1992

    Willcox, A.R. 1954. Bushmen art is a language. South African P.E.N. Year Book 1954: 36-38.

    Willcox, A.R. 1955. The shaded polychrome paintings of South Africa, their distribution, origin and age. South African Archaeological Bulletin 10:10-14.

    Willcox, A.R. 1956. The mind of the Bushmen. South African P.E.N. Year Book 1956/7: 95-96.

    Willcox, A.R. 1956. A scheme for the preservation and recording of the prehistoric art of South Africa. South African Museums Association Bulletin 6:194-197.

    Willcox, A.R. 1956. The status of Smithfield C reconsid- ered. South African Journal of Science 52:250-252.

    Willcox, A.R. 1956. The rock paintings of the Drakens- berg. Lantern 6:185-188.

    Willcox, A.R. 1956. Rock paintings of the Drakensberg, Natal and Griqualand East. London: Parrish. 96p.

    Willcox, A.R. 1956. Stone cultures and prehistoric art in South Africa. South African Journal of Science 53:68- 71.

    Willcox, A.R. 1956. South African rock paintings - an undervalued heritage. South African Panorama 1(5):33-34.

    Willcox, A.R. 1957. A cave at Giant's Castle Game Reserve. South African Archaeological Bulletin 12:87- 97.

    Willcox, A.R. 1957. The classification of rock paintings. South African Journal of Science 53:417-419.

    Willcox, A.R. 1959. Famous rock paintings in the Karoo. South African Archaeological Bulletin 14:56.

    Willcox, A.R. 1959. Australian and South African rock- art compared. South African Archaeological Bulletin 14:97-98.

    Willcox, A.R. 1959. Hand imprints in rock-paintings. South African Journal of Science 55:292-298.

    Willcox, A.R. 1959. Prehistoric art in Southern Africa. Enciclopedia Universale Dell' Arte 10:422-431.

    Willcox, A.R. 1960. Rock paintings of the Drakensberg. London: Parrish.

    Willcox, A.R. 1960. Who were the artists? - another opinion. South African Archaeological Bulletin 15:23- 25.

    Willcox, A.R. 1961. Rock engravings in Tarkastad District. South African Archaeological Bulletin 16:68.

    Willcox, A.R. 1961. Another rock slide. South African Archaeological Bulletin 16:68.

    Willcox, A.R. 1962. Contribution of C. Van Riet Lowe to prehistory in South Africa. South African Archaeologi- cal Bulletin 17:57-63.

    Willcox, A.R. 1962. Marine animals in rock paintings. South African Journal of Science 58:6-7.

    Friendly, A.J. & Willcox, A.R. 1963. Africa's Bushman art treasures. National Geographic 123(6):848-865.

    Willcox, A.R. 1963. The rock art of South Africa. Lon- don: Nelson. 96p.

    Willcox, A.R. 1963. Painted petroglyphs at Balemo in the Limpopo Valley. South African Journal of Science 59:108-110.

    Willcox, A.R. 1964. Interpretation of rock art. South African Archaeological Bulletin 19:77-78.

    Willcox, A.R. 1964. The non-representational petroglyphs of South Africa. South African Journal of Science 60:55-58.

    Willcox, A.R. 1965. Archaeological notes from the Northern Cape. South African Archaeological Bulletin 20:139-140.

    Willcox, A.R. 1965. Petroglyphs of domestic animals. South African Archaeological Bulletin 20:214.

    Willcox, A.R. 1966. Art on the rocks. South African Panorama 11:18-23.

    Willcox, A.R. 1966. Who made the rock art of South Africa and when? South African Journal of Science 62:8-12.

    Willcox, A.R. 1966. Sheep and sheep-herders in South Africa. Inter Africa Institute 36:492-499.

    Willcox, A.R. 1967. Rock art and stone industries. South African Journal of Science 63:480.

    Willcox, A.R. & Pager, H.L. 1967. The petroglyphs of Redan, Transvaal. South African Journal of Science 63:492-499.

    Willcox, A.R. 1968. Domestic animals and rock-art dating. South African Archaeological Bulletin 23:25.

    Willcox, A.R. 1968. A survey of our present knowledge of rock-paintings in South Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin 23:20-23.

    Willcox, A.R. 1968. More petroglyphs from the Limpopo Valley, Transvaal. South African Archaeological Bul- letin 23:50-51.

    Willcox, A.R. 1968. So you want a house. Johannesburg: Hugh Kertland Publishers.

    Willcox, A.R. 1969. Domestic animals, rock art and dating. South African Archaeological Bulletin 23:151.

    Willcox, A.R. 1969. Stone age art from Cantabria to the Cape. Optima 19:94-99.

    Willcox, A.R. 1970. Prehistoric art. Standard Ency- clopaedia of Southern Africa 9:73-85.

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  • 122 South African Archaeological Bulletin

    Willcox, A.R. 1971. Domestic cattle in Africa and a rock art mystery. In: Schoonraad, M. (ed.) Rock paintings of Southern Africa: 44-48. Johannesburg: South African Association for the Advancement of Science Special Publication 2.

    Willcox, A.R. 1971. Report on excavation in rock shelters in the Ndedema Gorge, Cathedral Peak area, Natal 1967-1968. Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand Department of Archaeology Occasional Paper 8:1-27.

    Willcox, A.R. 1971. Summary of Dr Edgar Denninger's reports on the ages of paint samples taken from rock paintings in South and South West Africa. In: Schoonraad, M. (ed.) Rock paintings of Southern Africa: 84-85. Johannesburg: South African Associa- tion for the Advancement of Science Special Publica- tion 2.

    Willcox, A.R. 1971. Size and the hunter. South African Journal of Science 67:306-307.

    Willcox, A.R. 1972. Solar symbols in prehistoric rock art. Azania 7:167-170.

    Willcox, A.R. 1972. So-called 'infibulation' in rock art. South African Archaeological Bulletin 27:83.

    Willcox, A.R. 1972. Stow, George William. Dictionary of South African Biography 2:83.

    Willcox, A.R. 1973. Prehistoric art. Standard Encyclope- dia of South Africa: 73-85. Cape Town: Nelson.

    Willcox, A.R. 1973. Rock paintings of the Drakensberg, Natal and Griqualand East. 2nd Edition: 96. Cape Town: Struik.

    Willcox, A.R. 1973. North American rock art - some impresions and comparisons. South African Archaeo- logical Bulletin 28:27-3 1.

    Willcox, A.R. 1974. Reasons for the non-occurrence of Middle Stone Age material in the Natal Drakensberg. South African Journal of Science 70:273-275.

    Willcox, A.R. 1974. The study of rock art in North America - some thoughts on terminology. South African Archaeological Bulletin 29:120-121.

    Willcox, A.R. 1974. Reasons for the non-occurrence of Middle Stone Age material in the Natal Drakensberg. South African Journal of Science 30:273-274.

    Willcox, A.R. 1975. The archaeology of the Drakensberg region of Natal. Natal Town and Regional Planning Report 30:1-30. Pietermaritzburg: Town and Regional Planning Commission.

    Willcox, A.R. 1975. History of rock art studies in South- ern Africa. In: Rock Art studies in South Africa. Johannesburg: South African Archaeological Society Witwatersrand Centre Occasional Paper: 2-8.

    Willcox, A.R. 1975. Pre-Columbian intercourse between the Old World and the New - considered from Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin 30:19-22.

    Willcox, A.R. 1976. Southern land: the prehistory and history of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Purnell. 274p.

    Willcox, A.R. 1977. Stow, Sir Frederick Samuel Phillip- son. Dictionary of South African Biography 3:764.

    Willcox, A.R. 1978. An analysis of the function of rock art. South African Journal of Science 74:59-64.

    Willcox, A.R. 1978. So called 'infibulation' in African rock art: a group research project. African Studies 37:203-227.

    Willcox, A.R. 1978. The Bushmen in history. In: Tobias, P.V. (ed.) The Bushmen. Cape Town: Human & Rousseau.

    Willcox, A.R. 1981. 'Infibulation' aftermath. South African Archaeological Society Newsletter 4(2):8.

    Willcox, A.R. 1983. Letter to the Editor. Comment on Hammond Tooke's review of 'Believing and seeing' by J.D. Lewis-Williams. South African Archaeological Bulletin 38:4.

    Willcox, A.R. 1983. Rock art studies - towards more rigour in hypothesis and description. South African Archaeological Society Goodwin Series 4:27-28.

    Willcox, A.R. 1983. Comment on 'The economic and social context of Southern San rock art' by J.D. Lewis- Williams. Current Anthropology 24.

    Willcox, A.R. 1984. Shipwreck and survival on the south- east coast of Africa. Winterton: Drakensberg Publica- tions.

    Willcox, A.R. 1984. The Drakensberg Bushmen and their art. Revised edition. Winterton: Drakensberg Publica- tions.

    Willcox, A.R. 1984. The Drakensberg during the Middle Stone Age. Comments on paper by A.D. Mazel. South African Archaeological Bulletin 34:139.

    Willcox, A.R. 1984. The Drakensberg Bushmen and their art: with a guide to the rock painting sites. Winterton: Drakensberg Publications.

    Willcox, A.R. 1984. Shipwreck and survival on the South-East coast of Africa. Winterton: Drakensberg Publications.

    Willcox, A.R. 1984. More on San rock art. Comment on paper by Lewis-Williams. Current Anthropology 24:538-545.

    Willcox, A.R. 1984. The rock art of Africa. London: Croom Helm.

    Willcox, A.R. 1984. Meanings and motives in San rock art - the views of W.D. Hammond-Tooke and J.D. Lewis-Williams considered. South African Archaeo- logical Bulletin 39:53-57.

    Willcox, A.R. 1984. Comment on paper on 'Eland, rhebuck and cranes' by A.D. Mazel. South African Archaeological Bulletin 39:71.

    Willcox, A.R. 1986. Great River: the story of the Orange River. Winterton: Drakensberg Publications.

    Willcox, A.R. 1987. Building of the Berg. Winterton: Drakensberg Publications.

    Willcox, A.R. 1987. San artistic ability: how far innate? South African Journal of Science 83:200-203.

    Willcox, A.R. 1987. Handedness present and past. The Digging Stick 4(1):1-3.

    Willcox, A.R. 1987. The cultural context of hunter-gath- erer rock art. Man 22:171-172.

    Willcox, A.R. 1987. The rock art of North America and South Africa compared. La Pintura 13:7.

    Willcox, A.R. 1987. The black wildebeest in rock art. Pictogram 1:2-3.

    Willcox, A.R. 1988. Footprints on a southern land. Winterton: Drakensberg Publications.

    Willcox, A.R. 1988. Cinnabar in Natal and Zululand. Natalia 18:104-105.

    Willcox, A.R. 1988. Arrows in bandeaux. Pictogram 1:3- 4.

    Willcox, A.R. & Nockels, J. 1988. Kabo of the mountain. Winterton: Drakensberg Publishers.

    Willcox, A.R. 1989. The building of the Berg. Winterton: Drakensberg Publications.

    Willcox, A.R. 1989. Zusammenfassung der Forschungsarbeiten von Edgar Denninger. Restauro 95:47-49.

    Willcox, A.R. 1990. Comments on 'Signs for all times' by J.D. Lewis-Williams and T.A. Dowson. Rock Art Research 7:60-62.

    Willcox, A.R. 1990. The Drakensberg Bushmen and their art. 2nd Edition. Winterton: Drakensberg Publications.

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  • South African Archaeological Bulletin 123

    Willcox, A.R. 1991. Review of 'Images of power: under- standing Bushman rock art' by J.D. Lewis-Williams and T.A. Dowson. Rock Art Research 8(1):70.

    Willcox, A.R. 1991. San informants on the practice of rock art in the Transkei, South Africa. Rock Art Research 8(2): 124-126.

    Willcox, A.R. 1991. Review of 'The rock paintings of the upper Brandberg. Part 1: Amis Gorge' by H. Pager. Pictogram 4(2): 115-117.

    Willcox, A.R. 1991. Prehistoric handedness. In: Pager, S.A., Swartz, B.F. & Willcox, A.R. (eds) Rock art: the way ahead: 146-149. Johannesburg: SARARA Occasional Publication 1.

    Willcox, A.R. 1991. 'Entoptics': their incidence in South African rock art. In: Pager, S.A., Swartz, B.F. & Willcox, A.R. (eds) Rock art: the way ahead. Johan- nesburg: SARARA Occasional Publication 1.

    Willcox, A.R. 1992. Rock art studies - a branch of science. Pictogram 5(2): 1-4.

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    Article Contentsp. 119p. 120p. 121p. 122p. 123

    Issue Table of ContentsThe South African Archaeological Bulletin, Vol. 48, No. 158 (Dec., 1993), pp. 63-124Volume InformationFront MatterEditorial [pp. 63-64]Research Articles: Papers in Honour of Ray InskeepIn at the Deep End: A Field Training Remembered [pp. 65-69]Three Decades of Iron Age Research in South Africa: Some Personal Reflections [pp. 70-76]The Cinderella Metaphor: The Maturing of Archaeology as a Profession in South Africa [pp. 77-81]The Long Shadow of Ray Inskeep [pp. 82-85]Planting an Idea: An Archaeology of Stone Age Gatherers in South Africa [pp. 86-93]The Neglected Alternative: Historical Narrative Rather than Cultural Labelling [pp. 94-97]Peeling Away the Past: The Display of Excavations at Nelson Bay Cave [pp. 98-104]Mythical African 'Australoids' and Triangular Bricks: The Cape Flats Skull in Retrospect [pp. 105-112]Personal Reminiscences of Ray Inskeep in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) 1957-1959 [pp. 113-114]Ray Inskeep and the Kalomo Culture [pp. 115-117]Publications: R. R. Inskeep [p. 118]

    Obituary: Alexander Robert Willcox 1911-1993 [pp. 119-123]The South African Archaeological Society [p. 124]Back Matter