The long southern African past before the advent of European colonialism remains resolutely neglected despite powerful post-apartheid impulses of various kinds for its recovery and celebration. In the last twenty years or so, outside of the specialist discipline of archaeology, there has been relatively little research undertaken to support those impulses. In this paper I offer my understanding of some of the things that have given distinctive shape to this field, and more particularly to enquiry into the late independent periods, attempt to account for its stalled aspect, identify the challenges as I see them, and indicate some of the directions of new research currently being inaugurated. Amongst other things, I offer critiques of the prevalent forms of periodization, the entrenched and limiting effects of persistent thinking in terms of forms of ethnos, as well as of the portmanteau notion of oral traditions which operates in this field and its consignment out of the realm of political discourse. I make an argument for urgently needed intellectual histories of how this area of history became the preserve of certain disciplines and not others, and of how concepts migrated across these disciplines to become entrenched as the foundational elements in the history of the region. I go on to deal with the making and reshaping of the available archive for these periods and the methodological implications of how that making and reshaping is understood.