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African Ethnology

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Dr. Alex de Voogt, Curator of African Ethnology


Dr. Alex de Voogt's research interests are diverse but concentrate on the dispersal of board games and the development and history of scripts.

The dispersal of mancala board games, a group of games characterized by rows of holes and a proportionate number of identical playing counters, extends from South East and South Asia to Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean and parts of South America. Their distribution is related to historical human migration and trade routes. Despite the wide variation of rules, some mancala games have dispersed across cultural, linguistic and geographic borders without a significant change in playing rules for several hundreds of years. Research has concentrated on the history of the games as well as on the expertise of some master players.

The study of language and writing systems goes back to Alex de Voogt's training in linguistics. The complexity and adaptive ability of scripts is a central topic. With the help of linguistic fieldwork and museum studies a contribution is made to the study and understanding of the Meroitic script and language that was used in the Kingdom of Kush, present-day Sudan, between 300 BC and 400 AD. But his research also includes studies of, for instance, the Maldivian script that exemplifies the contact and competition between scripts in modern times.

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