History of South Africa podcast Episode 4 – 1000 years of Pottery and ivory trade across southern Africa as farmers fan out over the coastal lowlands

The Central Cattle Complex layout of a early Iron Age Settlement – from Simon Hall: History of SA published by Cambridge University

This is episode 4 and we’re at the point where the first farmers arrived in Southern Africa 2000 years ago. AS we now know, prior to this event, there was broad cultural continuity in the hunter-gatherer groups going back another 10 000 years at least.

The movement of farmers into the eastern summer rainfall areas in the first one thousand years AD took place as the climate stabilised.

The ancestors of these first farmers domesticated sorghum and millet in the Sahel north of the equator and then brought their new skills southwards as they migrated.

Dispersion of early iron age farmers in Southern Africa following coastal plain and lowlands. Image: Cambridge History of South Africa.

When Bantu-speaking people arrived in southern Africa they integrated at times with the local population– the San and Khoe. This is proven by the incorporation of the hunter-gatherer clicks in both Zulu and Xhosa. You don’t assimilate parts of foreign languages without adopting something of the culture.

We heard last episode how important pottery has been in tracking what happened and when. On the basis of the style of pottery, three separate streams of movement into South Africa have been investigated.  They’re known as the Phillipson’s Chifumbase Complex and is the research into deposits of shards of pottery that represent migrating people traveling and living from place to place on the landscape.

Two of the streams have a common origin in East Africa known as the Urewe Tradition.

Lydenburg Heads

The least controversial of the three is called the Kwale Branch linked to two distinct phases.

One was the Silverleaves which dates between 250 AD to 430AD and the second, the Mzonjani between 420AD to 580AD.

The pioneer phase involving these agriculturalists was centred on the coastal plains of southern Africa and many were found in present day KwaZulu Natal particularly around the Tugela River.

Here the Mzonjani settlements are distributed in a line along the coast and none are more than six kilometers from the beach.

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