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Some recent radiocarbon dates from Southern Africa

  • Martin Hall (a1) and J. C. Vogel (a2)

In this paper we review radiocarbon dates which have become available over the past three years for the more recent archaeological sites south of the Cunene and Limpopo Rivers, assessing the determinations within the broader context of economy and society. For a framework, we make use of broad physiographic divisions of southern Africa, thus breaking from the artificial constraints of modern political divisions and allowing greater possibilities of synthesis

Within the set of new dates there are several fields in which recent radiocarbon determinations have been particularly important. The nature of hunting and gathering and herding communities in the arid western regions of the sub-continent is now more fully understood and more information is available about the succession of lithic industries in the south-western interior. In the south-eastern coastal areas the geographical extent of the earliest farming communities has been firmly dated. New determinations are beginning to provide a firmer chronology for the succession of ceramic industries in the east, and reassessment of the dating of the important sites of Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe demands a revision of concepts of early state development and trading contact with the east coast.

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1 Previous reviews of the southern African radiocarbon dates which have appeared in this Journal are by Maggs, T. (xviii, 2, 1977, 161–91), Soper, R. C. (xv, 2, 1974, 175–92), Sutton, J. E. G. (xiii, 2, 1972, 124) and Phillipson, D. W. (xi, 1, 1970, 115).

2 The terms ‘Early Iron Age’, ‘Middle Iron Age’ and ‘Late Iron Age’, as well as ‘Late Stone Age’, which have been used for classifying southern African archaeological sites in the past, have not been employed in this review. This is in the belief that such a system, although essential in earlier stages of research where it was necessary to establish basic sequences, is currently confusing the interpretation of southern African prehistory by introducing a priori concepts of population movement and cultural breaks. Instead the loose economic categories of ‘hunting and gathering’ and ‘farming’ have been used and chronological developments within natural landscape units stressed.

3 G. Mgomezulu has a survey of recent radiocarbon dates from eastern Africa in preparation.

4 Antiquity, xlvi (1972), 265.

5 Lerman, J. C., Mook, W. G. and Vogel, J. C., ‘C14 in tree rings from different localities’, in Olsson, I. U. (ed.) Radiocarbon Variations and Absolute Chronology. Nobel Symposium 12 (Stockholm, 1970).

6 An outline of the physiographic structure of southern Africa is given by Wellington, J. H., Southern Africa, a Geographical Study (Cambridge, 1955).

7 Maggs, T., ‘Some recent radiocarbon dates from eastern and southern Africa’, J. Afr. Hist. xviii, 2 (1977), pp. 161–91.

8 Sandelowsky, B. H., ‘Mirabib – an archaeological study in the Namib’, Madoqua x (4), (1977), 221–83.Sandelowsky, B. H., van Rooyen, J. H. and Vogel, J. C., ‘Early evidence for herders in the Namib’, S. Afr. archaeol. Bull. xxxiv (1979), 50–1.

9 Sandelowsky, , Van Rooyen, and Vogel, , ‘Early evidence’.

10 Pta-1012 dates to the mid-fourth millennium and was cited by Maggs (‘Dates’). This reading is confirmed by Pta-1348.

11 Pta-1368 reads some two millennia older than other samples from the same context. The excavator considers this to be the result of contamination.

12 Sandelowsky, , ‘Mirabib’.

13 L. Jacobson, pers. comm.

14 Sandelowsky, , Van Rooyen, and Vogel, , ‘Early evidence’.

15 See Maggs, , ‘Dates’ for a review of the chronology for the introduction of sheep in the Southern Cape Region.

16 Jacobson, L. and Vogel, J. C., ‘Radiocarbon dates for two Khoi ceramic vessels from Conception Bay, South West Africa/Namibia’, S. Afr. J. Sci. lxxv (1979), 230–1.

17 Sandelowsky, , ‘Mirabib'’.

18 H. de Villiers, ‘Report on human skeletal remains from a grave (Gorob) in the central Namib desert’, in Sandelowsky, B. H., ‘Mirabib – an archaeological study in the Namib’, Madoqua, x (4), (1977), 221–83.

19 L. Jacobson, pers. comm.

20 Carr, M. J., Carr, A. C. and Jacobson, L., ‘Hut remains and related features from the Zerrissene Mountain Area: Their distribution, typology and ecology’, Cimbebasia, ii (11), (1978), 237–58.

21 Jacobson, L., pers. comm.

22 Jacobson, L., pers. comm.

23 Sampson, C. G., The Stone Age archaeology of Southern Africa (New York, 1974).

24 Deacon, J., ‘Patterning in the radiocarbon dates for the Wilton/Smithfield complex in southern Africa’, S. Afr. archaeol. Bull. xxix (1974), 318.

25 Humphreys, A. J. B., ‘The Holocene sequence in the northern Cape’. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Cape Town (1979).

26 Maggs, , ‘Dates’.

27 Humphreys, , ‘Holocene sequence’.

28 Humphreys, A. J. B., ‘The re-excavation of Powerhouse Cave and an assessment of Dr Frank Peabody's work on the Holocene deposits in the Taung area’, Ann. Cape Prov. Mus. (nat. Hist.) xi (1978), 217–43. Some of the determinations from this site were reviewed earlier (Maggs, ‘Dates’).

29 Humphreys, , ‘Holocene sequence’.

30 Horowitz, A., Sampson, C. G., Scott, L. and Vogel, J. C., ‘Analysis of the Voigtspost Site, O.F.S., South Africa’, S. Afr. archaeol. Bull. xxxiii (1978), 152–9.

31 Humphreys, ‘Holocene sequence’.

32 The first formal statement of the western Cape seasonality hypothesis was made by J. E. Parkington, who has carried out a considerable amount of research in this area which is of relevance. For the general model, see: Parkington, J. E., ‘Seasonal mobility in the Late Stone Age’, African Studies, xxxi (1972), 221–43.

33 Maggs, , ‘Dates’.

34 Robertshaw, P., ‘Excavations at Paternoster, south-western Cape’, S. Afr. archaeol. Bull. xxxii (1977), 6374.

35 Robertshaw, P., ‘Archaeological investigations at Langebaan Lagoon, Cape Province’, In van Zinderen Bakker, E. M. (ed.), Palaeoecology of Africa, Vol. 10 (Rotterdam, 1978).

36 Robertshaw, P. and Poggenpoel, C., pers. comm.

37 Smith, A. E. and Ripp, M. R.An archaeological reconnaissance of the Doorn/Tanqua Karoo’, S. Afr. archaeol. Bull. xxxiii (1978), 118–33. The determinations, as published, have subsequently been corrected and, in addition, two more samples have been processed (Smith, pers. comm.).

38 Maggs, , ‘Dates’.

39 Opperman, H., ‘Excavations in the Buffelskloof rock shelter near Calitzdorp, southern Cape’, S. Afr. archaeol. Bull. xxxiii (1978), 1838.

40 Opperman, ‘Buffelskloof’.

41 At the nearby site of Boomplaas the earliest Albany, dated to about 10,000 B.c., is underlain by assemblages of the Robberg Industry, which are absent at Buffelskloof. This longer sequence adds further support to Opperman's interpretation. See Deacon, H. J., Where Hunters Gathered, South African Archaeological Society, 1976.

42 Schweitzer, F. R. and Wilson, M. L., ‘A preliminary report on excavations at Byneskranskop, Bredasdorp district, Cape’, S. Afr. archaeol. Bull. xxxiii (1978), 134–40.

43 Schweitzer, and Wilson, , ‘Byneskranskop’.

44 Schweitzer, and Wilson, , ‘Byneskranskop’.

45 J. C. Vogel, ‘Radiocarbon dating of the Border Cave sequences; An evaluation of the Pretoria readings’, in Beaumont, P. B., Border Cave. Unpublished M. A. thesis, University of Cape Town (1978).

46 An exception is I. Plug's examination of the assemblages from Bushman's Rock Shelter. See Plug, I., ‘Die latere Steentydperk van die Boesmansrotsskuiling in Oos-Transvaal’, Unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Pretoria (1978).

47 Davies, O., ‘Excavations at Shongweni South Cave: The oldest evidence to date for cultigens in southern Africa’, Ann. Natal Mus. xxii (1975), 627–62. Cited in Maggs, ‘Dates’.

48 Davies, O., pers. comm.

49 The original model, proposing an ‘eastern stream’ of migration which included, among other types, the earliest pottery described here was proposed by Phillipson, D. W. (see for a summary, The Later Prehistory of Eastern and Southern Africa (London, 1977)). This hypothesis has been criticized, and an alternative version proposed, by Huffman, T. N., ‘African Origins’, S. Afr. J. Sci. lxxv (1979), 233–7.

50 Klapwijk, M., ‘An Early Iron Age site near Tzaneen, N.E. Transvaal’, S. Afr. J. Sci. lxix (1973), 324.

51 Maggs, T., ‘The Iron Age sequence south of the Vaal and Pongola Rivers: Some historical implications’, J. Afr. Hist. xxi (1980).

52 These determinations were provided by the Archaeology Section, Eduardo Mondlane University, Maputo. Matola is described by Cruz e Silva, T., A preliminary report on an Early Iron Age site, Matola IV 1/68 (Maputo, 1976).

53 Hall, M. and Vogel, J. C., ‘Enkwazini, fourth century Iron Age site on the Zululand coast’, S. Afr. J. Sci. lxxiv (1978), 7071.Ha‥, M., ‘Enkwazini, an Iron Age site on the Zululand coast’, Ann. Natal Mus. xxiv (1980).

54 The concept of ‘linked dates’ is described by Huffman, T. N., ‘The interpretation of Iron Age radiocarbon dates’, Arnoldia, viii (17), (1977). 15.

55 Maggs, T., ‘Mzonjani and the beginnings of the Iron Age in Natal’, Ann. Natal Mus. xxiv (1980).

56 Klapwijk, , ‘An Early Iron Age Site’.

57 Hall, M., The Ecology of the Iron Age in Zululand (in preparation).

58 Phillipson, D. W. (The Later Prehistory) has suggested that his ‘eastern stream’ communities were without cattle and that this resource was brought south by later movements of people. Although this hypothesis is not tenable as it stands, as cattle are among the fauna from a number of sixth, seventh and eighth century sites in Natal and the Transvaal, it is still the case that cattle seem unknown from sites of the Matola Tradition. See also: Thorp, C., ‘Cattle from the Early Iron Age of Zimbabwe–Rhodesia’, S. Afr. J. Sci. lxxv (1979), 461.

59 Huffman, T. N. (‘African Origins’) has suggested that there was a complete break between the Matola Tradition and those ceramic styles that followed it and that this hiatus represents the immigration of a new population. It should be noted, however, that some stylistic elements characteristic of the Matola Tradition are also present in pottery marking this ‘second wave’ and it is quite possible to support a counter hypothesis of internal evolution (T. Maggs, pers. comm.).

60 Cattle were among the species identified at the sites of Msuluzi Confluence and Ndondonwana, both in the Tugela River valley. Maggs, T., pers comm., and Msuluzi Confluence, a seventh century Early Iron Age site on the Tugela River', Ann. Natal Mus. xxiv (1980).

61 There has been little agreement on terminology for classifying ceramics of this period. Huffman, for example. refers to a ‘Bambata, Sterkspruit and NC3…stepped continuum’ (‘African Origins’), while Maggs prefers to abandon such labelling completely (Maggs, T., and Michael, M. A., ‘Ntshekane, an Early Iron Age site in the Tugela Basin, Natal’. Ann. Natal Mus. xxii (1976), 705–39). In this review, we follow the older terminology in referring to a ‘Lydenburg Tradition’, a unit which may be taken as the equivalent of Huffman's ‘continuum’.

62 Duarte, R., pers. comm.

63 Evers, T. M., ‘Plaston Early Iron Age site, White River District, Eastern Transvaal, South Africa’, S. Afr. archaeol. Bull. xxxii (1977), 170–89.

64 Inskeep, R. R. and Maggs, T., ‘Unique art objects in the Iron Age of the Transvaal, South Africa’, S. Afr. archaeol. Bull. xxx (1975), 114138.

65 Evers, T. M. and Vogel, J. C., ‘Radiocarbon dates for Iron Age sites at Lydenburg and White River, Eastern Transvaal’, S. Afr. J. Sci. (1980) (in press).

66 Evers, and Vogel, , ‘Lydenburg and White River’.

67 Maggs, and Michael, , ‘Ntshekane’.

68 Maggs, , ‘Msuluzi Confluence’.

69 Maggs, T., pers. comm.

70 Inskeep, and Maggs, , ‘Unique art objects’.

71 Cronin, M., pers. comm.

72 Again, the term ‘Gokomere Tradition’ has been adopted as a general category following terminological disagreements. It is taken to include a number of regional facies, some of which are mentioned in the discussion which follows.

73 Pers. comm., Archaeology Section, Eduardo Mondlane University, Maputo.

74 Pers. comm., Archaeology Section, Eduardo Mondlane University, Maputo.

75 Huffman, T. N., ‘The origins of Leopard's Kopje: An 11th century Difaquane’, Arnoldia viii (33), (1978), 123.

76 Rightmire, G. P. and Van, N. J. der Merwe, ‘Two burials from Phalaborwa and the association of race and culture in the Iron Age of southern Africa’, S. Afr. archaeol. Bull. xxxi (1976), 147–52.

77 Rightmire and Van der Merwe, ‘Two burials’.

78 Robey, T., ‘Mpambanyoni: A late Iron Age site on the Natal south coast’, Ann. Natal Mus. xxiv (1980).

79 Soper, , ‘Dates’.

80 Vogel, , ‘Border Cave sequence’.

81 Maggs, T., pers. comm.

82 Hall, M. and Maggs, T., ‘Nqabeni, a Late Iron Age site in Zululand’, S. Afr. Archaeol. Soc. Goodwin Series, iii (1979), 159–76.

83 Hall, M., ‘An Iron smelting site in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve, Zululand’, Ann. Natal Mus. xxiv (1980).

84 N. J. Van der Merwe, pers. comm.

85 Hall, and Maggs, , ‘Nqabeni’.

86 T. M. Evers, pers. comm.

87 Maggs, , ‘Dates’.

88 Garlake, P., ‘An investigation of Manekweni, Mozambique’, Azania. xi (1976). 25–48.

89 Henthorne, D. I., Parkington, J. and Reid, R. C., ‘An archaeomagnetic survey of Mgungundlovu’, S. Afr. Archaeol. Soc. Goodwin Series, iii (1979), 149–58.

90 Henthorne, , Parkington, and Reid, , ‘Mgungundlovu’.

91 Cited in Maggs, ‘Dates’. See also Maggs, T., Iron Age Communities of the Southern Highveld (Pietermaritzburg, 1976).

92 Taylor, M. O. V., ‘Late Iron Age settlements on the northern edge of the Vredefort Dome’, Unpublished M.A. thesis, University of the Witwatersrand (1980).

93 Type N is an architectural style of stone building, with a surrounding wall and an inner ring of primary enclosures linked by secondary walling. Distribution is concentrated on the Vaal and Klip Rivers, extending north and southwards to areas of prominent hills. See Maggs, Iron Age Communities.

94 Type Z sites are also built of stone and are associated with the Kubung, an offshoot of the Rolong. See Maggs, , Iron Age Communities.

95 Taylor, , Late Iron Age Settlements.

96 Taylor, , Late Iron Age Settlements.

97 Taylor, , Late Iron Age Settlements.

98 Klapwijk, , ‘An Early Iron Age site’.

99 Earlier determinations from Silver Leaves were cited by Maggs (‘Dates’) and the new dates have been provided by M. Klapwijk, pers. comm.

100 Phillipson, , The Later Prehistory, and Huffman, , ‘African origins’.

101 Huffman, T. N., pers. comm.

102 Huffman, T. N., pers. comm.

103 Bambata pottery has been regarded as an adoption by hunting and gathering communities (see Phillipson, , The Later Prehistory) but has subsequently been reincluded within the Lydenburg cluster (Huffman, ‘African origins’). Despite this rather crucial change in status it has never been adequately defined.

104 Huffman, T. N., pers. comm.

105 Similar sites at Coronation Park, Salisbury, have been dated to the tenth century a.d. See Soper, ‘Dates’.

106 Huffman, T. N., pers. comm. The sample was from an earlier excavation by K. Robinson.

107 Hanish, E., pers. comm.

108 See, for example, Fagan, B. M., Southern Africa during the Iron Age (New York. 1965), or Robinson, K. R., ‘The Leopard's Kopje culture: its position in the Iron Age of southern Rhodesia’, S. Afr. archaeol. Bull. xxi (1966), 551.

109 Huffman, T. N., ‘The Leopard's Kopje tradition’, Mem, natl. Mus. Rhod. vi (197) 4, 1150.

110 Huffman, ‘Eleventh century Difaquane’.

111 Sinclair, P., pers. comm.

112 Huffman, T. N., pers comm.

113 Huffman, T. N., pers. comm.

114 Hanisch, E., pers. comm.

115 Hanisch, E., pers. comm.

116 Plug, I., Dippenaar, N. J. and Hanisch, E., ‘Evidence of Rattus rattus (House Rat) from Pont Drift, an Iron Age site in the northern Transvaal’, S. Afr. J. Sci. lxxv (1979), 82.

117 Huffman, , ‘Leopard's Kopje’.

118 Hanisch, E., ‘Excavations at Icon, northern Transvaal’, S. Afr. Archaeol. Soc. Goodwin Series, iii (1979) 72–9.Voigt, E., ‘Faunal remains from Icon’, S. Afr. Archaeol. Soc. Goodwin Series. iii (1979), 80–5.

119 Prendergast, M. D., pers. comm. and ‘A new furnace type from the Darwendale Dam Basin’, Rhodesian Prehistory vii (1975), 1620.

120 M. D. Prendergast, pers. comm.

121 Prendergast, M. D., ‘Stone-reinforced furnaces from Masembura Tribal Trust Land, Rhodesia’, Rhodesian Prehistory vii (1977), 1718.

122 Prendergast, M. D.. ‘Chisvingo Hill furnace site, northern Mashonaland’, S. Afr. Archaeol. Soc. Goodwin Series, iii (1979), 4751.

123 Gardner, G. A., ‘Mapungubwe’, Pretoria (1963).

124 Vogel, J. C., ‘Radiokoolstofdatering van nedersettings uit die ystertydperk op Greefswald’, Unpublished paper.

125 Vogel, , ‘Radiokoolstofdatering’.

126 Vogel, , ‘Radiokoolstofdatering’.

127 Vogel, , ‘Radiokoolstofdatering’.

128 Vogel, , ‘Radiokoolstofdatering’.

129 Fouche, L., Mapungubwe, ancient Bantu Civilization on the Limpopo (Cambridge, 1937). Gardner, Mapungubwe.

130 Voigt, E., ‘The faunal remains from Greefswald as a reflection of Iron Age economic and cultural activities’, Unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Pretoria (1978).

131 For example, Fagan, B. M., ‘Zambia and Rhodesia’, in Shinnie, P. L. (ed.), The African Iron Age (Oxford, 1971).

132 The chronology established on the basis of previous radiocarbon dates is summarized in Garlake, P. S., Great Zimbabwe (London, 1973).

133 Huffman, T. N. and Vogel, J. C., ‘The controversial lintels from Great Zimbabwe’, Antiquity liii (1979), 5557.

134 Huffman, T. N., pers. comm.

135 Huffman, T. N., pers. comm.

136 Sinclair, P., pers. comm.

137 Vogel, , ‘Radiokoolstofdatering’; Huffman, T. N., pers. comm.

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