Obituary: Yvonne Brink

Obituary: Yvonne Brink

We were immensely saddened to hear that our friend and colleague, the historical archaeologist Dr Yvonne Brink, passed away in Cape Town on 1 July 2018 at the age of 86. Yvonne was one of the first historical archaeologists who trained at the University of Cape Town from the 1980s onward. She pursued her interest in Cape history, vernacular architecture and archaeology in general after her retirement, until she became too frail.

Yvonne (née Meiring) was born in Port Elizabeth in 1931 and grew up on a citrus farm at Kirkwood in the Eastern Cape. She first enrolled at UCT in order to study medicine but soon realised that her interests and talents lay elsewhere. Her initial degrees were in languages (Afrikaans and Nederlands) and ancient history. This intellectual background would serve her well in her later doctoral research into early Cape architecture and social relations. She worked as a junior lecturer until she married Bredell Brink in 1954 and had three children.  Her passion for archaeology persisted, however, and after raising her family Yvonne returned to UCT to study archaeology 'for a year'. The year spun out to encompass more than two decades of academic contributions.

Yvonne devoured books on theory and how human minds work. Language, symbolism and what happens when peoples and their ideas meet were at the core of Yvonne’s curiosity and writings. She was awarded a Ph.D. in 1992 for her doctoral dissertation entitled ‘Places of discourse and dialogue: A study in the material culture of the Cape during the rule of the Dutch’ (subsequently published as ‘They came to stay: Discovering meaning in the 18th century Cape country dwelling’ (SUN Press 2008)). This work drew on the exciting new developments in archaeological thinking in the 1980s (post-processualism), which urged archaeologists to consider their materials as texts to be interpreted, rather than objects and facts to be unearthed. That body of theory was often critical of ‘dirt archaeologists’ but Yvonne was not at all averse to getting her hands dirty. She was an energetic participant in Martin Hall’s excavations at Paradise, in Newlands Forest, and other sites, such as St Cyprian’s School in Oranjezicht.

Yvonne’s publications included a number of articles in the South African Archaeological Bulletin and Goodwin Series, as well as contributions to the journal of the Vernacular Architecture Society of South Africa (VASSA). Also among her publications was a chapter on ‘The Cape during the rule of the Dutch East India Company’ (in Tim Murray (ed.), ‘The archaeology of contact in settler societies’, Cambridge University Press 2004). Her final publication encapsulated the interest in ‘the relationship between words and things’ that characterised her work. Entitled ‘Historical archaeology, language, and storytelling at the Cape of Good Hope and elsewhere’, it appeared in the volume ‘Materializing colonial encounters: Archaeologies of African experience (Francois Richard (ed.), Springer 2015). She also lectured part-time to historical archaeology students at UCT for a number of years.

In her later years Yvonne’s wide-ranging curiosity continued undimmed, and she became fascinated by prehistoric monuments in Britain, such as the Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae and Maes Howe on the Orkney Islands, and Pictish stones in Scotland. Her active academic life was eventually curtailed after a serious fall at home, which she recovered from against the odds, although with considerable impairment. Yvonne is survived by her three children, Hilde, Andre and Bredell, and seven grandchildren. She will be deeply missed by family, colleagues and friends.

Antonia Malan and Anne Solomon

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