S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Balfour, Mr Henry (archaeology, anthropology)

Born: 11 April 1863, Croydon, Surrey, England.
Died: 9 February 1939, Oxford, England.

Henry Balfour, museum curator, studied biology at Trinity College, Oxford, graduating in 1885. Two years later he married Edith M.L. Wilkins, with whom he had one son. He was a man of wide interests, and a good draughtsman. Later he concentrated on anthropology and archaeology, but also had a special interest in music. In 1891 he became curator of the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford and retained that post to his death in 1939. He was dedicated both to the museum and to the furtherance of knowledge, but was also a collector and naturalist. In 1907 he was appointed in addition Oxford University's first lecturer in prehistoric archaeology.

Balfour travelled widely in Norway and also visited Assam, Lapland, Australia, New Zealand, southern Africa, and other countries. One of his early publications was The evolution of decorative art... (London, 1893, 131p). He first visited South Africa in 1899. His next visit, in 1905, was to attend the joint meeting of the British and the South African Associations for the Advancement of Science, as vice-president for Section H (Anthropology) of the British Association. He contributed a short paper on "Musical instruments of South Africa" (of the indigenous population) in Cape Town on 17 August. By that time he had already published a paper on "The Goura, a stringed-wind musical instrument of the Bushman and Hottentots" in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute (1902). He also published various other papers on the musical instruments of different peoples, both ancient and modern, and The natural history of the musical bow (Oxford, 1899, 87p).

Visiting the Victoria Falls after the 1905 meeting Balfour seems to have been the first person to recognize an Early Stone Age artefact there, which he found in a pile of road gravel. In a "Note upon an implement of palaeolithic type from the Victoria Falls, Zambesi" (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 1906) he described and illustrated a typical handaxe and noted its resemblance to flint implements found in England and Western Europe. He also visited the ruins at Khami and Dhlo Dhlo in Zimbabwe, in the company of E.M. Andrews* and Colonel H.W. Feilden*. There he found pottery which he maintained had been engraved with stone tools. His finds were described and illustrated in "Flint-engraved pottery from the ruins of Khama and Dhlodhlo, Rhodesia" in Man, 1906.

In July and August 1910 Balfour again visited South Africa to deliver the "South African lectures" for 1910, arranged by the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. His series of seven lectures, on various aspects of anthropology, were delivered in thirteen towns and cities throughout the country. During the same year he published what is probably his most important paper relating to South Africa, in the form of a general account of southern African prehistory entitled "Archaeological and ethnological research", written for the South African supplement of The Times (London) of 5 November 1910. In the concluding section he stressed the need for organised research and for stringent laws to protect archaeological sites and finds.

Balfour returned to South Africa again in 1929 to attend the second South African meeting of the British Association. He delivered the presidential address to Section H, on "South Africa's contribution to prehistoric archaeology", which was published in Nature the next year.

Balfour was president of various societies, including the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (1903-1905), the Royal Geographical Society (1936-1938), and the Oxford Ornithological Society (1924-1935). His collections and books were bequeathed to the Pitt Rivers Museum.

List of sources:
Addresses and papers read at the joint meeting of the British and South African Associations for the Advancement of Science, South Africa, 1905, Vol. 3. Johannesburg: South African Association for the Advancement of Science.

British Association for the Advancement of Science. Report of the seventy-fifth meeting... held in South Africa, 1905.

Cohen, A. Notes of southern African stone tool collectors represented in the collections of the British Museum (Natural History). Unpublished notes received via e-mail, 27 March 2001.

Goodwin, A.J.H. A commentary upon South African prehistory up to the introduction of the new terminology. Bantu Studies, 1935, Vol. 9, pp. 291-333; bibliography pp. 387-413.

Jones, N. The prehistory of Southern Rhodesia. Cambridge University Press, 1949.

Mendelssohn, S. South African bibliography. London, 1910.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Oxford dictionary of national biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.

South African Association for the Advancement of Science. Report, 1910.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

Compiled by: C. Plug