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date: 09 December 2023

Interactions among Precolonial Foragers, Herders, and Farmers in Southern Africafree

Interactions among Precolonial Foragers, Herders, and Farmers in Southern Africafree

  • James R. DenbowJames R. DenbowDepartment of Anthropology, The University of Texas at Austin


Present data indicate that the domestication of wild cattle indigenous to the northern Sahara took place approximately eight to nine thousand years ago. This was followed around seven thousand years ago by the domestication of sorghum and millet in the Sahel and Nile regions of the southern Sahara. Other processes of domestication took place on the margins of the tropical forest in central Africa and in the highlands of Ethiopia. As these new technologies expanded southward, there was a moving frontier of interaction between food producers and autochthonous foragers. In some instances these new technologies may have diffused through preexisting networks that linked indigenous foragers. But in most cases it occurred through migration, as populations expanded to exploit the new technological, ecological, and economic advantages these new adaptations allowed. This did not take place in an empty land, however, and in each case complex interactions and negotiations between incoming farmers and indigenous foragers took place for access to resources and rights to settlement. While the details of this interaction varied along with differences in cultural and geographic context, it transformed the linguistic, genetic, and cultural makeup of sub-Saharan Africa after 5000 bce. In some cases, indigenous foragers and their languages disappeared entirely through assimilation or conflict. In others, a longer-lasting frontier was established through which foragers and farmers continued to interact into historic times. Their cultures, languages, beliefs, and worldviews did not remain static and unchanging, however, but were also transformed as new—often hybrid—societies were born. The history and nature of contact varied widely from place to place. In the northern and eastern Kalahari Desert of southern Africa, the data, as presently discerend through archaeological, linguistic, and genetic lenses, support a model of widespread genetic admixture, with flexible associations between culture, subsistence, and language over time.


  • Archaeology
  • Southern Africa

Paradigms and Archetypes

Over the course of the past eight thousand years, African foragers and farmers have been interacting across a broad palimpsest of environments from the Sahara Desert in the north, to the margins of the tropical forest in central Africa, to the high savanna grasslands and woodlands of eastern and southern Africa. The nature and outcomes of these interactions have been diverse, and in many areas they have yet to be studied in any detail. But in the Kalahari basin of southern Africa, detailed ethnographic studies of foragers in the 1960s and 1970s can now be augmented by a growing number of archaeological, linguistic, and genetic studies.

These more diverse approaches, in turn, encourage a more contextualized look at the paradigmatic and often essentialist assumptions implicit in earlier discussions of the history of relationships between foragers and farmers in Africa. Questions of interaction have often been framed as relationships between evolutionary archetypes characterized by distinct and non-overlapping sets of “traits.” Foragers, for instance, are described as small, acephalous bands whose lifestyles and economies demanded an egalitarian ethos of sharing, cooperation, and immediate consumption of goods provided by nature.1 Farmers, on the other hand, by virtue of their dependence upon delayed consumption of seasonal harvests and their need to conserve seed, land, and breeding stock, are thought to emphasize more privatized strategies of ownership over herds, fields, and harvests. Such a regulated economy can lead to more hierarchical or socially stratified communities.

The anthropological studies of San and Khoe-speaking foragers and forager-herders carried out in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana in the 1960s and 1970s did a commendable job of describing the daily economics and subsistence strategies of small forager populations.2 But the evolutionary paradigms that underwrote these projects often meant that foragers were abstracted from their social, political, and historical entanglements with the agro-pastoral communities with whom they negotiated access to game, wild plant foods, water supplies, firewood, rights to land, and other significant resources.3 Moreover, ethnographers never imagined that this interaction had been underway in parts of the Kalahari for over two thousand years.4

Questions about the implications and impact of this unexpected early history of interaction on archaeological and anthropological interpretations led to the Kalahari Debate of the early 1990s and continues in various forms into the present.5 One side of the debate argued that the Khoe and San societies observed by anthropologists in the 1950s and 1960s had developed in isolation from neighboring farmers and herders. As a result, they were thought to still be living as independent hunter-gatherers and exemplifying a way of life as it had existed in the distant past.6 When these studies were carried out, however, almost nothing was known of the later prehistory of the Kalahari and it was believed that farmers and herders had only entered the region after approximately 1600 ce. In the 1980s and 1990s there was a significant increase in archaeological research in Botswana and Namiba. These investigations pushed back the appearance of forager-herders and agro-pastoralists in the region by more than fifteen hundred years. The other side of the debate, so-called revisionists, therefore argued that contemporary Khoe and San societies were not the product of long-term isolation and separate development but had been impacted in varying degrees by interaction with herders and farmers for more than two thousand years.7 Recent archaeological, linguistic, and genetic data are now contributing to even more nuanced understandings of the varied and complex relationships that developed between Kalahari foragers and farmers over the past two millennia.8 In addition, while terms such as “Khoe,” “San,” and “Bantu” are used here as convenient units of description and analysis, one should not forget that these are somewhat static, anthropological typologies. The peoples encapsulated by these terms in the 20th century, like all peoples, are the product of long histories of transformation and change that is only now beginning to be explored using the complementary tools of archaeology, linguistics, and genetics. Over the longue durée, it is not about static and unchanging societies but rather processes of ethnogenesis as these societies fashion and refashion themselves in the context of new opportunities, changing ecological and climatic circumstances, and new encounters with other peoples.

For instance, the first descriptions of forager-herder-farmer interactions along the Boteti River, which traverses the eastern Kalahari Desert, depict a picture of more hybrid economies among Khoe and their Bantu neighbors than scholars have come to expect from more recent ethnographies. David Livingstone, the first explorer to describe the linguistic, phenotypic, and economic diversity of the people he encountered along the Boteti River, writes in the mid-19th century:

At last we came to the … Zouga [Boteti River]. A village of Bakurutse [Tswana speakers] lay on the opposite bank; these live among the Batletli [Deti-Khoe], a tribe having a click in their language, and who were found by Sebituane to possess large herds of the great horned cattle. They seem allied to the Hottentot family.9

Khoe possession of large herds of cattle was not the only anomaly noted by Livingstone. In phenotype they were also indistinguishable from the Bantu-speaking farmers of the region and therefore were much taller and darker than the San peoples of the neighboring sandveld:

At Rapesh we came among our old friends the Bushmen, under Horoye…. [They] were at least six feet high, and of a darker color than the Bushmen of the south. They have always plenty of food and water and, as they frequent the Zouga [Boteti River] as often as the game in company with which they live, their life is very different from that of the inhabitants of the thirsty plains of the Kalahari. [They] kill many elephants … The Bushmen choose the moment succeeding a charge, when the elephant is out of breath, to run in and give him a stab with their long-bladed spears.10

Later 19th- and early 20th-century accounts present a contrasting picture of the Khoe—not as independent owners of large herds of livestock but as a subservient and sometimes enslaved underclass dominated by Tswana overlords.11 Today, the Makgadikgadi is home to communities of both Eastern Khoe (Kua, Tshwa, and Shua) and Bantu (Tswana and Kalanga) speakers. Most Khoe do not own their own herds but work instead as herdsman or agricultural helpers for Tswana or Kalanga, and Bantu languages are generally spoken.12 In these contexts, Khoe dialects are rapidly disappearing as discrimination and prejudice encourage people to disguise their linguistic and cultural heritage. This is further reinforced by the fact that classes in the government school system are taught exclusively in Tswana and English, which are the “official languages” of business and government.

Clearly, the prejudicial socio-linguistic context of Khoe-Bantu relations in the past century could not have been characteristic of more distant times when a linguistic and genetic hybrid population developed. The implications of this ethnogenesis have not always been recognized. As Barnard notes, “It was for so long assumed that they [Khoe] were merely “acculturated” Bushmen that few ethnographers have described them in terms of a traditional lifestyle. There is no doubt that the Eastern groups long occupied an important position in southern Africa’s pre-colonial trade networks.”13 Archaeological work on the northern and eastern margins of the Kalahari is now beginning to document the antiquity and historical trajectory of such developments.

Interpretation from Small Things

One of the problems facing prehistoric interpretations of interaction is the difficulty of ascribing meaning to the static and only partially preserved remains recovered from archaeological sites. Do a few isolated ceramics recovered from an otherwise typical Later Stone Age (LSA) site indicate only a fleeting acquisition of potsherds as curiosities or perhaps talismans from Iron Age settlements? Or are they indicative of shifts in behavior toward the use of pots to cook in new ways, perhaps by boiling fish and plant foods, or using them as containers for milk, beer, or other liquids that could be identified using residue analysis? Indeed, does the appearance of “farmer” artifacts like potsherds and metal goods in “forager” contexts necessarily mean trade between two archetypical categories—or can it point in some instances toward the development of more compound or hybridized societies and economies?14 So much depends upon assumptions researchers make about the meanings to be ascribed to such remains—and changes in their frequency over time.

At the site of Little Muck in the far north of South Africa, for instance, a dramatic increase in stone scrapers around 900 ce led Hall and Smith to postulate that animal hide processing had become a craft as skins were produced for exchange with neighboring farming communities.15 After 1000, when Leopard’s Kopje ceramics appear in the Little Muck rock shelter, a decrease in lithics led Hall and Smith to suggest that the site had now been appropriated by farming peoples who replaced or assimilated earlier foragers. But could such shifts not just as well be evidence for changing adaptations by the same population through the adoption of new technologies and subsistence strategies? After 1400 there is little evidence for the presence of Later Stone Age populations in the region. Whether this change was accomplished by outward migration of foragers, or their assimilation into farming communities is difficult to determine from material remains alone. Other rock shelters in the region, such as João I, suggest intense involvement in long-distance trade by some—but not all—local foragers. Such diversity suggests the development of mosaic or overlapping economies variously intertwined through trade, competition and differences in the micro-economics of production. Foragers thus responded in a variety of ways to the new opportunities and constraints brought about as domesticated plants and animals expanded trade opportunities, and as new technologies and land-use strategies were introduced by agro-pastoralists. To understand the processes of decision making and agency that were inherent in these responses, modern-day scholars must consider them in specific environmental, social, and historical contexts.

Environmental Framing: Seasonal Scheduling and Resource Use in the Central Kalahari Basin

The Wetlands of the Okavango Delta and Boteti River

The central Kalahari basin of Botswana is a sand-filled depression bordered to the north, east, and south by the higher, better-watered landscapes of the Bie Plateau of north-central Angola, the Katanga Plateau of northern Zambia, the Muchinga Mountains of eastern Zambia and Malawi, the Matopo Hills of southwestern Zimbabwe, and the Bushveld or Highveld complex of South Africa and eastern Botswana. To the west, the Kalahari thirstland gradually gives way to the stark landscape of the Namib Desert, where shifting sand dunes and arid, stony flats parallel the Atlantic coastline northward from the Gariep or Orange River on the border with South Africa to cross the Cunene River into southwestern Angola.

In a stunning contrast to this generally arid landscape, the waters of the Okavango Delta—the largest inland delta in the world—spill out over the northern sands of the Kalahari Desert in northern Botswana (Map 1).

Map 1. Map of Botswana showing the locations of archaeological sites and geographic features mentioned in the text.

What water is not lost to transpiration along the way ultimately disappears in Lake Ngami to the west and the vast salt flats of the Makgadigkadi salt pans to the east. The permanent and seasonal waterways of the delta cover almost fifteen thousand square kilometers at the height of the seasonal floods. The water comes not from local rainfall but from the annual rains that fall on the Bie Plateau between October and May. Carried southward by the Cubango River, the water takes about six months to percolate through the permanent papyrus swamp of the northern Okavango to its southern end, where it rises in Maun during the dry season between May and September. Because the annual rise and fall of flood waters is out of sync with seasonal rainfall in Botswana, water is most prevalent at seasonal pans in the desert during the local rainy season when the waters of the Delta and Boteti River are at their lowest. As the desert dries out during the dry season, the waters of the southern Okavango, Lake Ngami, and Boteti reach their highest levels. These fluctuations produce a contrasting seasonal dynamic as resource availability shifts between wetland and desert micro-environments, a dynamic that foragers, fishers, farmers, and herders have exploited in a variety of ways over the past three millennia.

The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans

The Makgadikgadi pans, among the largest salt pans on earth, contain the evaporate remains of an extensive Pleistocene lake that covered over eighty thousand square kilometers forty thousand years ago.16 The paleo-lake gradually disappeared over the course of the Holocene and is now dry except in years of exceptional rains such as those in 2014. Open grasslands dotted with occasional clusters of palm trees border the pans on the west; mixed grassland and mopane forest occur to the south and east. Before veterinary cordon fences were built in the 1970s to control the spread of livestock diseases, an annual migration of gregarious herds of water-dependent game that included blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), zebra (Equus quagga), and Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) moved from the grasslands and seasonal pans of the desert in the summer rainy season to drink at the rising waters of the Boteti in the winter.17 For hunters, game would have been especially abundant along the Boteti River and southern Okavango during the winter dry season as the river rose. During the summer rainy season as the desert pans filled, herds moved back to the desert to exploit fresh pastures, allowing the grazing along the Boteti to regenerate.

Fishing would have been most productive at the beginning of the rainy season as receding floods left behind drying pools in the southern Okavango and Boteti where large numbers of bream (Tilapia sp.) and barbel (Claris sp.) could be efficiently harvested as the Yeyi do today.18 Along the Boteti River, Khoe speakers used stone-walled traps to capture fish as the flood waters receded.19 In recent times, traders in dugout canoes took advantage of the winter floods to cross from the permanent swamps of the northern Okavango to the seasonally flooded southern Okavango to exchange fish, dried and salted meat, and wild sycamore figs or mukuchomo/mukutshumo (Ficus sycomorus) for commercial goods in Maun.20

There is also evidence for early trade in lithics through the waterways of the Boteti and Okavango. Silcrete from Middle and Later Stone Age levels at White Paintings Shelter in the Tsodilo Hills, for instance, has been traced to outcrops along the Boteti River 250 kilometers away.21 It is not known whether the raw material was directly procured and carried over these distances as part of seasonal or long-term transhumance by highly mobile groups, or whether it was passed from group to group through exchange networks that followed the river systems. Silcrete tools have also been recovered from Iron Age settlements at Tsodilo, Matlapaneng, just outside Maun, and at Bosutswe in eastern Botswana, indicating an overlap in the use of lithic resources by farmers and foragers.22

When domesticated animals were introduced two millennia ago, the changes in grazing and water availability brought on by the contrasting floods and rains would have been important considerations for forager-herders as well as foragers. This would have been especially important if cattle were present since they require more water and grazing than game or fat-tailed sheep. One would therefore expect to find cattle-foragers more likely than sheep-foragers to concentrate near more permanent waterways. The earliest dates for both cattle and sheep presently come from the site of Toteng on the eastern edge of Lake Ngami where they occur in Later Stone Age contexts dating to the beginning of the first millennium.23

One constraint for early herder-foragers would have been the incidence of tsetse fly, which is prevalent throughout much of the Okavango system. The exact boundaries of its distribution varied through time, however, and it may have been less of a problem along the Boteti River where the narrow gallery forests that follow the river (a location where tsetse could breed) quickly give way to open grasslands away from the river. Seasonal migrations of African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) and wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) from the Kalahari Desert to the Boteti River would have posed a threat to the establishment of cattle herds, however, as they act as a reservoir for diseases, such as malignant catarrhal fever, that are deadly to cattle.24 The development of pro-active herding strategies that would avoid overlap between cattle and wildebeest at the river would have been important to the development of early herding economies such as that documented as early as the 7th century at the site of Kaitshàa, overlooking the southern margin of Sowa saltpan.25 The faunal remains indicate a diet dominated by sheep and cattle, with less than 3 percent of all the identified bovids coming from wild species—none of them wildebeest.

The Arrival of Herder-Foragers


Güldemann, Güldemann and Elderkin, and Ehret have recently proposed a dramatic revision of the so-called Khoisan language family, arguing that it is not a true family, but a composite of three distant or unrelated families—Khoe, Northern San, and Southern San. Proto-Khoe languages had a long history of separate development in East Africa before their arrival in the northern Kalahari approximately 2,500 years ago.26 They propose that an early Proto-Khoe-Kwadi population originating in East Africa colonized southern Africa as small-stock forager-pastoralists almost a millennium before the arrival of Bantu-speaking agro-pastoralists. If this is correct, then not all the populations once lumped together under the general term “Khoisan” emerged from a common hunter-gatherer ancestral stock in southern Africa. Instead, there was a long period of separate development of Khoe languages in East Africa, and San languages in southern Africa, before the arrival of Proto-Khoe-Kwadi speakers around 500 bce. Güldemann further suggests that these immigrant Khoe-Kwadi forager-herders possessed a non-Khoisan genetic phenotype that progressively altered as they mixed with existing San populations in central Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia.


Recent studies of East African Hadza and Sandawe populations suggest they derive a fraction of their ancestry from an admixture with a population related to the Southern African Khoisan, from whom they appear to have been separated for approximately thirty thousand years according to some statistical models.27 The present-day Southern African Khoe and San fall into two genetic groups that reflect this different heritage and occupy loosely different regions of the northwestern and southeastern Kalahari. Additional Y-chromosomal evidence suggests the hypothesis that the spread of Khoe small-stock pastoralism resulted from a population diffusion from eastern to southern Africa approximately two thousand years ago.28 Using a study of distinctive lactase persistence (LP) alleles that would allow for the digestion of milk into adulthood, Macholdt et al. found LP alleles were present in East African herder populations and Khoe populations in southern Africa, but occurred in significantly lower frequencies in Northern and Southern San.29 These findings suggest that herding and milking had a long history among Khoe populations but not among Northern or Southern San. Finally, studies by Henn et al. found that the geographic distribution of the E3b1f haplogroup is also consistent with the hypothesis of an expansion of Khoe-speaking herder-foragers from Tanzania into southern-central Africa as a population distinct from the San.30 This expansion was also independent of a later migration of Bantu-speaking peoples who followed a similar route from East Africa. Such genetic studies are still in their infancy, however, and many populations and regions in eastern and southern Africa have yet to be sampled. As a result, the regional cultural typologies based on ceramic styles produced by archaeologists, the language groupings proposed by linguists, and the statistical relationships proposed by geneticists are often difficult to reconcile into a consistent historical and geographic narrative.

What is known of the socioeconomic and linguistic relationships between Khoe and Bantu speakers on the Makgadikgadi pans is equally complex. In this area, interaction between early Khoe- and Bantu-speaking peoples resulted in a more hybrid merging of Bantu and Khoe. Alan Barnard describes it thus:

Most of the Eastern and Northern Khoe Bushmen are fully integrated into the economic milieu of the wider, Bantu-speaking society. Many especially in the north, are dark skinned, and in appearance as well as genetic makeup, similar to the black populations which surround them. The genetic evidence suggests discrete “black” and “red” populations (as they occasionally designate themselves), rather than a gradual distinction between the two (Nurse and Jenkins 1977: 4; Chasko et al. 1979). … Still this does not explain how they came to speak the languages they do. Westphal (1963: 260) cites legends among Bantu speakers of “small groups of primitives” who lived by hunting and gathering, lacked chiefs, and even fire. Cashdan (1986: 152–3) suggests that such groups may also be ancestors of present day Khoe-speaking Bushmen of northern and eastern Botswana, excluding the G//ana who have migrated eastwards from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.31

New studies provide more detailed genetic evidence for mate exchange in the genetic inheritance of local Shua (Khoe) residents who live around the Makgadikgadi salt pans. Pickrell et al. estimate that 70 percent of current Shua ancestry is Bantu, suggesting that twenty-two or twenty-three generations would be required to produce this outcome.32 They place the beginning of intermating between the two groups at about 550–690 years ago (with twenty-five- and thirty-year generations, respectively), which translates in calendar years to the years 1320–1460. Current Shua-Khoe have just 10 percent Khoisan, paternal Y-chromosomes, and 40 percent Khoisan, maternal mtDNA.33 This indicates a high degree of hypergamy in which Shua women were disproportionably finding partners among Bantu-speaking men. This pattern is evident in other hunter-gatherer/farmer relations elsewhere, including Sotho-Tswana and Nguni speakers much further south. In the later case, the adoption of “clicks” from Khoi or San languages is also evident. Contemporary ethnic distinctions between “black” and “red” populations should therefore be viewed for what they are—contemporary cultural constructions of identity rather than scientific indicators of long-term separation between historically discrete populations. Dating genetic models of hypergamy is also subject to many assumptions that may affect its accuracy, particularly over relatively short periods such as the last two millennia. While archaeological evidence can provide an additional perspective on these processes and may help to contextualize and date them, this also involves assumptions about the genetic and linguistic identities that archaeologists associate with particular material remains, ceramic styles, and economic typologies.

Attributions of forager or farmer economies do not follow once-accepted categorizations that contrasted LSA foragers and ceramic-using forager-herders as speakers of Khoisan languages with farmers speaking Bantu languages and practicing economies dominated by farming and herding, ceramics and metal. The contemporary linguistic and genetic findings from the Makgadikgadi indicate that the identity of prehistoric farmers and foragers—and their interaction—requires a more multidimensional and multivariate approach; it cannot be simply read from counts of ceramics, stone tool typologies, or percentages of domesticated and wild faunal in archaeological assemblages.

The Archaeology of the Northern Okavango

Prior to the arrival of Western Bantu-speaking populations from the north and Eastern Bantu-speakers from the east, thinly scattered bands of Proto-Khoe-Kwadi speaking herder-foragers inhabited the dryer wooded grasslands and wetlands of northern Botswana. Both Khoe-Kwadi and later Western Bantu immigrants settled among indigenous San hunter-gatherers speaking Ju-uHõa languages.34 By the end of the last millennium bce, at least some of the forager-herders used pottery that they either invented in situ,35 brought with them from sources such as the “Pastoral Neolithic” of East Africa36 or acquired through interaction with Western Bantu agriculturalists such as those represented at Benfica and Quibaxe in Angola.37 Pottery would have allowed fish, meat, bones, and plant foods to be boiled, thereby retaining more nutrients. It could also be used to store, along with skin bags, small quantities of water and sour milk. Along the Cubango-Okavango-Boteti river systems, all populations relied to varying degrees on fish and other riverine resources to supplement their diet.38


The ceramics recovered from the 7th9th-century site of Divuyu are among the earliest recovered in the sandveld west of the Okavango and belong to an Iron Age tradition with origins to the north among Western Bantu speakers in central Angola.39 Excavations at the site, which is situated on top of the “female hill” at Tsodilo, seventy kilometers west of the Okavango, recovered quantities of carbonized mongongo nuts (Schinziophyton rautaneii), an important wild plant food in the diet of local foragers, as well as farmers and small-stock herders.40 While no other plant remains were recovered, a stable isotopic analysis of the single human skeleton found at the site produced a δ13C value (8.8 ‰), indicating a diet consisting almost entirely of domesticated plants.41 A mix of hunted game and domestic sheep and goats supplemented by small quantities of fish, birds, and tortoise provided animal protein.42 Fishing has a history at Tsodilo that extends back into the Middle Stone Age at White Paintings Shelter.43 At Divuyu, there was an extensive use of jewelry and metal tools, including chisels that may have been used to mine or process specular hematite, which in historic times was widely traded. It was ground into a glittering blue powder and sprinkled on the hair and body as a cosmetic.44 Very few lithics were recovered, suggesting there was little interaction with stone-using hunters at this time.45


The 8th12th-century site of Nqoma, on a lower plateau of the female hill, produced a similar mix of domestic and wild animals along with clumps of carbonized sorghum (seed samples identified by J. M. J. de Wet, University of Illinois, in a personal communication to Denbow).46 Cattle dominated the animal sector of the economy, followed by small-stock and hunted game. Carbon isotopic analyses of three human skeletons from the site produced δ13C values (−10.5‰, −9.3‰, and −9.3‰) that indicate diets dominated by domesticated grains.47 Even more iron and copper jewelry was recovered at Nqoma than Divuyu, along with significant numbers of lithics that included formal segments and scrapers. The contrast with Divuyu suggests increased interaction with LSA hunters who may have brought game, hides, or foodstuffs to the site. LSA populations may have also been pressed into service as labor for the extensive specularite mines at Tsodilo. The archaeological evidence thus suggests that while some peoples of Later Stone Age heritage were attracted to and perhaps incorporated within these settlements, others lived in neighboring rock shelters with less access to metal, ceramics, and domesticated plants and animals.48 Such spatial and resource separation suggests social stratification.


At the 9th12th-century site of Matlapaneng outside Maun on the southern edge of the Okavango, carbonized remains of domesticated sorghum, pearl millet, a cucurbit seed, and wild Grewia seeds were recovered using flotation methods.49 Here, cattle remains made up 31 percent of the faunal assemblage, followed by 23 percent goats/sheep (caprines); the remaining fauna came from a variety of wild species.50 Interestingly, no fish remains were recovered despite good preservation and the site’s location on the banks of the Thamalakane River. The ceramics from Matlapaneng link it culturally with both Nqoma in the Tsodilo Hills, where small quantities of fish remains have been recovered, and with Kalundu Tradition sites in the Victoria Falls region of southwestern Zambia, where fish remains are absent or rare.51 The narrow occupation layer at Matlapaneng, which is overlain by approximately thirty-five centimeters of sterile sand, does not indicate successive occupations but rather a multiethnic occupation of Bantu speakers drawn from multiple locations west and east of the Okavango.

Stone points manufactured from local silcrete recovered at Matlapaneng, along with chert and quartzite cores, segments, scrapers, and flakes, indicate that stone supplemented metal tools.52 The variety of lithics suggests many of these tools were made at the site. From the lithics alone, however, it cannot be determined whether they were made by a distinct subset of the population, perhaps Khoe- or San-speaking foragers, or whether they were made by Bantu-speaking agro-pastoralists familiar with LSA lithic technology. Perhaps they were even the product of a hybrid population made up of people drawn from Bantu and Khoe or San stock.

Inside the Delta


The Xaro1 site is situated on the banks of the Okavango River at the northern edge of the Okavango Delta. It has an upper component containing Hambukushu pottery dated to the late 18th or early 19th century. Below this is a sterile layer of blocky clay that most likely derives from a period when the site was flooded and covered in papyrus mat. Beneath this layer lay charcoal-tempered ceramics identical to those from Divuyu, along with others that are stylistically less distinctive. The wet condition of delta soils was not favorable for the preservation of iron. Only seven lithics were recovered, however, suggesting that iron or perhaps wood was favored for tools.

Despite the abundance of “Iron Age” ceramics, no remains of domesticated animals other than dogs were recovered from the lower horizon.53 Identified game included zebra (Equus quagga), river otter (Lutra maculicollis), and a variety of medium to large bovids. Overall, however, the faunal was dominated by fish remains, predominately catfish (Clarias/Synodontis). Many Chelonia sp. carapaces were also common and, given the locale, these most likely came from terrapin rather than land tortoise. Many of the animal bones exhibited evidence of burning, which suggests roasting over an open fire rather than boiling in pots. Many Chelonia carapaces were burned on the outside, indicating they were cooked in the shell. None of the fish bone showed evidence of burning, and it is likely that fish were either boiled in pots or roasted over low heat. No plant remains were preserved, but stable carbon isotope analyses of two adult human skeletons, one definitely associated with a decorated potsherd belonging to the Divuyu tradition, produced δ13C values (−16.6‰ and −16.9‰), indicating a diet in which C4 domesticated plants were present, but played only a minor role.54


The site of Qogana is situated on the edge of a lagoon on the northeastern side of the permanent swamp, almost due east of Xaro1. Two two-by-two-meter test pits were excavated at the site, one in a probable occupation area where ceramics and the remains of a clay-plastered reed structure were uncovered. Fragments from a similar burned reed structure were also exposed at Nqoma. Such structures are still commonly seen around the Okavango today. The second test pit, fifty meters away from the first, revealed a bone-filled refuse midden. Although a calibrated 9th-century radiocarbon date aligns temporally with the date suggested by the Divuyu ceramics from Xaro1, the ceramics from Qogana are different. They are charcoal-tempered like most other ceramics from this period in northern Botswana, but most vessels were globular rather than necked jars with rolled, combstamped rims similar to those recovered in the lower levels of Serondela east of the Okavango near the Chobe-Zambezi confluence. Comparable levels at Serondela also date to the 9th century but included features normally associated with a farming village such as figurines of domestic cattle, iron fragments, and burned chunks from pole-impressed clay or daga structures.55

There is considerable overlap in the material culture at all these sites: charcoal-tempered ceramics, clay-plastered housing, and the use of metal tools, which, at Nqoma and Matlapaneng, were supplemented by stone tools. Yet at the same time, there is considerable variety in economic adaptations, which range from small-stock and cattle-based agro-pastoralism at Divuyu, Nqoma, Matlapaneng, and Serondella, to the predominately foraging and fishing economy at Xaro1, and a hunting and fishing economy at Qogana. The similarities in ceramic styles indicate some form of connection or communication existed between these communities, but the varying economies make it uncertain whether they represent early Khoe adaptations to the Delta similar to those of the present-day Buga-khoe and Dxericu, or a subset of an early Bantu-speaking population that shifted to fishing and hunting, or hybrid communities of both Khoe and Bantu stock. In any of these cases, the variety of adaptations suggests active processes of ethnogenesis as communities responded to differing micro-environmental habitats by developing specialized adaptations—adaptations still found among present-day Yeyi and Khoe (Kxoe) in the Delta.56

The language of contemporary Yeyi peoples is similarly intermediate, with 10–15 percent of their lexicon containing clicks that were likely adopted from, or inspired by, neighboring Khoe (Kxoe) languages.57 Different from the Makgadikgadi pans, in the Okavango, the socio-linguistic dynamics of contact and interaction appears to have resulted in overlapping, but to some degree socially separate, farmer, forager, and fisher adaptations. Unfortunately, genetic information of these Delta populations comparable to what scholars know of the Makgadigkadi pans is not yet available. Such information could help illuminate the early social dynamics of the Okavango region.

The Makgadikgadi Pans

New archaeological investigations on the southern and eastern sides of the Makgadikgadi pans now augment linguistic and genetic data to suggest a varied historical trajectory for the region. The archaeological evidence suggests that there were four important inflection points in this history: one in the period 600–1000 as Zhizo agro-pastoral settlements were first established in the area; a second between 1000 and 1300 as new Leopard’s Kopje populations, associated with the beginnings of political centralization in southwestern Zimbabwe and the Limpopo valley, appeared; a third between 1300 and 1700, when several stone-walled settlements of Zimbabwe style were built around the pan; and a fourth dating after the beginning of European contact with the region in the mid-1800s.

Kaitshàa: 650–1000 CE

The site of Kaitshàa, a name meaning “vulture water” in the local Khoe dialect, lies on a hundred-meter-high escarpment overlooking the southern edge of Sowa salt pan. A small test excavation at the site in 1996 dated the settlement to early in the second millennium but found little evidence for connections with long-distance networks.58 Later excavations in 2011 using finer sieves focused on uncovering an earlier component that was overlooked in the earlier excavation. These excavations revealed extensive Zhizo deposits dating to between 650 and 900 in some parts of the site. More surprising, however, was the evidence for early long-distance trade provided by the discovery of more than two hundred glass beads from the early levels. These indicated the settlement participated in long-distance East Coast trade networks at an unexpectedly early date.59

Several of the beads have a glass chemistry that placed them in a rare bead grouping (Chibuene) that pre-dates 700. These Chibuene series beads have only been found at four sites: Chibuene on the Mocambique coast, Kaitshàa and Thabadimasego on the Makgadikgadi pans, and Nqoma almost 1,800 kilometers from the Indian Ocean in northwestern Botswana.60 The early beads attest to early intracontinental trade in salt and specularite that linked these settlements in the far interior of southern Africa with luxury trade networks that reached the Indian Ocean. The speed at which early farming communities mapped onto important natural resources across this vast and relatively unpopulated region suggests they took advantage of preexisting Khoe and San exchange systems that would have served to consolidate rights to resources as well as to ensure the long-term livelihood and well-being of small populations in an uncertain and varied environment. Non-luxury products were likely included in these exchanges, but they are difficult to identify except in unusual circumstances such as the discovery of water-restricted sitatunga from pre-1000 levels at Bosutswe, more than 150 kilometers from any habitat where they could have lived.61

The present genetic and linguistic makeup of Makgadikgadi populations suggests that early interaction between indigenous Khoe foragers and herders and Bantu-speaking agro-pastoralists resulted in mixed populations that predate the present divisions into distinct Khoe, Tswana, and Kalanga communities. The socio-linguistic context of this ethnogenesis must have been very different from the more recent past, as it favored not only intermarriage but also the ascendance of Khoe over Bantu languages.

Even so, the faunal remains indicate that the early domestic economy was focused almost exclusively on domesticated animals, with identified small stock and cattle outnumbering game (impala and buffalo) by fifty to one.62 This is surprising given the large herds of zebra, wildebeest, and buffalo that still graze the Makgadikgadi grasslands, but it is perhaps indicative of the need to separate cattle from wild disease vectors such as wildebeest. The economic incentives of the salt trade that brought exotic goods to the region could also have been a factor that directed labor supplies away from subsistence hunting—at least in the period before 1000. Chickens, originally a Southeast Asian domesticate that likely accompanied the glass bead trade from the coast, are also present. Oval grinding stones suggest that sorghum or millet were grown, but no carbonized seeds were recovered. Unfortunately, the single human skeleton recovered in 1996 has been lost, so carbon isotopes cannot be used to determine the proportion of wild or domesticated plants in the diet.

Kaitshàa: 1000–1200 CE

The upper levels of the Kaitshàa dating between 1000 and 1200 represent another inflection point in the history of the site. The ceramics from these levels belong to the Leopard’s Kopje rather than Zhizo tradition. Despite evidence for continuing linkages with the East Coast trade, only four glass trade beads were recovered from these levels.63 Salt was undoubtedly still harvested from the pans, but few trade beads were received in exchange. On the other hand, almost a hundred ivory fragments were recovered from the early second-millennium levels (compared with just two bangle fragments from the Zhizo component). The increase in ivory at Kaitshàa, along with the discovery of a cache of nine ivory bangles at the nearby site of Mosu 1 dated to the 10th–13th centuries, demonstrates an increase in the importance of ivory in long-distance trade from the region.64 However, the local return, at least as measured in numbers of luxury glass beads or marine shells, was very little when compared to the earlier Zhizo component. Sheep and cattle continued to dominate the Leopard’s Kopje levels, but the remains of only fifteen wild animals, primarily impala and buffalo, were identified. Oval grindstones suggest domesticated crops were grown.

The dramatic decrease in imported glass beads in the later levels at Kaitshàa suggest, in regional terms, that the inhabitants of the site were now at an economic and social disadvantage. This change correlates with the rise of more centralized polities to the east at Bosutswe, Toutswe, and K2. These emerging chiefdoms dominated the political landscape and the luxury trade across southern Africa at the beginning of the second millennium. It is not possible to determine whether the change in the terms of trade at Kaitshàa was translated into greater social or ethnic differentiation between emerging Khoe and Bantu identities on the Makgadikgadi. The construction of a stone wall to block access to the headland from the surrounding plain, however, suggests that defense was now an important consideration as Leopard’s Kopje peoples settled the region and perhaps entered into new social and economic relationships with their forager or herder-forager neighbors.

Tora Nju: 1300–1400 CE

As power was consolidated at Mapungubwe and then Great Zimbabwe between 1200 and 1500, a number of stone-walled enclosures were built around the edge of the Makgadikgadi at Tora Nju, Tlapana, Mosu 1, and Lekhubu or Gaing-o.65 Stylistically, these ruins resemble the residences of small-scale regional authorities of the Zimbabwe culture. Two of largest ruins, however—Tora Nju and Gaing-o—have Khoe names and are today associated by local people with Khoe, not Bantu, ownership or ritual practices.66 Indeed, the only name for the Tora Nju ruin is Khoe, which translates as “house of a god.”

The glass beads, ceramics, and a single radiocarbon date from Tora Nju indicate an occupation between 1400 and 1600. While this suggests the ruin was built by incoming Kalanga peoples as part of an extension of Zimbabwe hegemony into the region from the east, both Khoe and Kalanga speakers associate it solely with Khoe ownership. While little archaeological work has been carried out, the spacing of stone ruins around the eastern and southern edges of Sowa Pan suggest they represent another inflection point in the region’s history, one in which more centralized authority was imposed.

The ruins might represent a period when more contemporary distinctions between Khoe and Bantu cultural identities were emerging. Livingstone reports separate Kalanga, Tswana, and Khoe villages, with cultural and linguistic distinctions among them. However, in the mid-19th century, the cattle-keeping Khoe were not painted as a subservient class working for their Bantu-speaking neighbors, but as independent herders in their own right. He also makes it clear that other Khoe communities were competent elephant hunters, carrying on a tradition that may extend back to the beginning of the second millennium at Kaitshàa. The early historical record, though spotty, suggests there were many microeconomic adaptations at play in a regional, mosaic economy where ethnic distinctions only loosely paralleled economic or linguistic categories.

By the end of the 19th century, a far different picture is presented. As European demand for ivory increased, Tswana overlords—acting as intermediaries with European traders—came to control the trade, if not the actual elephant hunting. Whatever social status the Khoe language and cultural heritage might have been afforded in the past, it was now demeaned as the Khoe were reduced to a subservient class. As they were disenfranchised from their herds, their languages also fell into severe decline and many are now extinct.67 As domestic livestock herds grew in the early 20th century they competed with wild game for grazing, water, and scarce labor supplies, the latter often drawn from Khoe or San sources. The long history of interaction, intermarriage, and ethnogenesis that had pertained in earlier centuries was forgotten. It was replaced with a truncated, false history designed to legitimize an apartheid-like dominion of Bantu farmers over Khoe foragers. In the absence of archaeological, linguistic, or genetic evidence to the contrary, this picture was extended uncritically into the deep past.

Blurred Typologies: Contrasts between Prehistoric and Historic Narratives

The differing historical trajectories of forager-farmer interaction revealed by the archaeology, linguistics, and genetics of the Okavango and Boteti/Makgadikgadi regions indicate that the conditions and terms of interaction between foragers and farmers were often different from those described in 20th-century ethnographies. In the wetveld of the Okavango-Boteti, early forager-herder-fisher economies were unexpectedly diverse as these populations adjusted to the new opportunities and demands brought about by advancing technologies and subsistence patterns.

The archaeological evidence for the linguistic identity or genetic relationships between foragers, forager-herders, forager-fishers, and agro-pastoralists often cannot be easily disentangled using material remains alone. While the genetic and linguistic data provide clear indications of long-term interaction and processes of hybridization, the archaeological data seems inherently more constrained to categorical “Iron Age” or “Stone Age” typologies. Thus, the material record of archaeology needs to be enriched and challenged by data from these other fields. And this is true more widely across Africa as well as investigations into the broader history of interaction between foragers and farmers come to question old assumptions about the relationships between ceramic typologies, emergent ethnic and linguistic identities, and the variety of economic adaptations that may be subsumed under the same ceramic categories—as was found between Divuyu and Xaro.68

In the Kalahari, for instance, the presence of ceramics and absence of stone tools at Xaro and Qogana could argue for occupation by iron-using Bantu speakers, but the forager or fisher economies at these sites show no evidence for herding and only minor evidence for the consumption of domesticated plants. They are not easily categorized as either Iron Age or Stone Age settlements. Similarly, the contemporary languages of the Delta, while retaining distinct Khoe (Kxoe) and Bantu divisions, also suggest significant interdigitation as evidenced by the significant presence of clicks in the Yeyi and Hambukushu languages. Ceramics identical to those from Xaro and Qogana recovered from Divuyu, Nqoma, and Matlapaneng, on the other hand, are clearly associated with food-producing economies dominated by domesticated plants and animals. Iron and copper tools and ornaments are common at Divuyu and Nqoma but less common at Matlapaneng. Lithics are rare at Divuyu and Nqoma, but at Matlapaneng the numbers of stone points, scrapers, and cores recovered suggest that at least a part of the population manufactured and used stone as well as metal tools. Whether these technologies were accompanied by social differentiation or contrasting cultural or linguistic identities requires additional research.

On the Makgadikgadi pans a contrasting situation is found. Here the linguistic and genetic profiles provide considerable evidence for hybridity between Khoe and Bantu peoples. Recent archaeological investigations indicate that the roots of this hybridity could extend back to sites such as Kaitshàa that were established along the margins of the salt pans almost 1,600 years ago to exploit the valuable salt deposits found there. The linguistic and genetic makeup of these early Zhizo salt miners is not known, but the linguistic and genetic data sets suggest social and economic processes that favored long-term hybridity and the ethnogenesis of new identities. Furthermore, the hundreds of glass trade beads dating to the first millennium found at Kaitshàa and Thabadimasego indicate that the region was not isolated from wider events but rather played an active role in long-distance trade and exchange for more than a millennium.

A large segment of the Makgadikgadi population today profess Khoe linguistic and cultural heritage. And it is they, not their Kalanga or Tswana neighbors, who claim ownership and spiritual rights over the stone-walled enclosures that archaeologists would otherwise attribute to past Bantu-speaking agro-pastoralists.69 These ruins are identified with Khoe, rather than Bantu, heritage. However, these same people are genetically Bantu, but they speak Khoe languages as their mother tongue. This indicates that the early socio-linguistic context of this history was quite different from that of the past century when Khoe languages and cultures were disparaged and are now in danger of extinction. The development of more multivariate models of forager-farmer interaction that can more fully integrate cultural, economic, linguistic, genetic, and archaeological data will help shift the focus of analysis away from the simple juxtaposition or “encapsulation” of stereotypic “foragers” by “farmers” to open up questions of agency, interaction, assimilation, and change within specific cultural, economic, and environmental landscapes.

Discussion of the Literature

The literature is representative of an exciting and challenging time for archaeologists, geneticists, historians, and ethnographers. Over the past twenty years, knowledge of archaeological sequences and regions has grown enormously. The Kalahari basin, once a backwater for research, is now seeing exciting new discoveries that have pushed back dates for the appearance of herder-foragers in the region by more than 1,500 years. New evidence also indicates the development of indigenous mining technologies in specularite and salt that brought transcontinental Indian Ocean trade unprecedented distances into the far interior long before the development of centralized chiefdoms and kingdoms east of the Kalahari. The task for archaeologists is to break away from earlier typologies that conceptually separated and isolated Stone Age cultures from Iron Age communities and seek ways to examine their interdigitation, and the impact that cultural interaction and genetic admixture had on the complex history of the region and the transforming identities of its peoples.

Linguists are also examining in great detail new or once poorly known languages. This has, for example, led to a fundamental re-evaluation of the so-called Khoisan language family, with the suggestion that it is not a single family but rather three families with long separated histories of development.

Added to this is the new field of historical genetics, which is now providing an incredible lens from which to examine the social interactions and connections between peoples in ways that sometimes complement and sometimes conflict with the narratives developed by archaeologists and linguists. Information on specific factors such as the presence or absence of alleles that would allow for pastoralists to drink the milk of their herds adds an important insight into the regional development and distribution of herding and milking economies. The historical genetic field is comparatively new to Africa, however, and many regions and cultures have yet to be adequately sampled. As a result, archaeologists and linguistics are having to learn how to interpret the results of their geneticist colleagues, just as geneticists are coming to realize how their sampling procedures and interpretations could benefit from greater awareness of archaeological and linguistic methods and results.

The topic of the interaction of foragers and farmers falls at an awkward interface between Stone Age and Iron Age studies. This divide is often reflected in archaeological works that emphasize either the earlier or the later prehistory of the continent. It is also a time of rapid change in the knowledge base as more and more researchers are working in the continent. For an overview of African prehistory with respect to foragers and farmers, Lawrence Barham and Peter Mitchell’s book, The First Africans, provides a useful summary of the earlier prehistory.70 Mitchell’s book, The Archaeology of Southern Africa, provides a more detailed, if somewhat dated, overview of the later prehistory.71 The second edition of Christopher Ehret’s book, The Civilizations of Africa, presents a summary of later prehistory that incorporates more of a linguist’s view. Roger Blench also discusses the relationship between archaeology and language in Africa,72 but for more detail on the specific topic of Khoe and Bantu interactions one would need to consult the more detailed literature found in specialist journals. For a general presentation on genetics and prehistory in Africa, an important foundational summary can be found in Tishkoff et al., “The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans.”73

Primary Sources

The primary sources for archaeological data are, of course, the stone tools, potsherds, faunal remains, and other materials excavated from prehistoric sites. Almost all of the excavated materials from the sites in Botswana are housed in the National Museum of Botswana in Gaborone, with smaller collections in the Archaeology Department at the University of Botswana (Gaborone). Archaeological collections from South Africa are held in regional museums such as the KwaZulu-Natal Museum in Pietermaritzburg, the Iziko South Africa Museum, Cape Town, the National Museum in Bloemfontein, the McGregor Museum in Kimberly,74 and the Mapungubwe Museum in Pretoria.75 Ethnographic films and photographs from the Kalahari and Namibia, produced by the Marshall family in the 1950s and 1960s, are available online through the South African Rock Art Digital Archive.

Since most of the raw data from which archaeological narratives are constructed are not usually accessible to the wider public, general readers and even archaeologists rely on detailed site reports published in regional and international journals. The primary regional journals include the South African Archaeological Bulletin, established in 1945. It publishes semi-annually on all aspects of African archaeology. More limited in circulation is Botswana Notes and Records, which has published annually on a variety of cultural and historical topics on Botswana, including archaeology, since 1968. The journal Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa, published by the British Institute in Eastern Africa, has been in existence since 1966 and includes archaeological papers and reports from all parts of the continent, especially central and eastern Africa.

Major international journals focused on African archaeology include the African Archaeological Review, which has appeared four times a year since 1983. It contains archaeological articles and new field data from all parts of Africa. The Journal of African Archaeology, published semi-annually in Germany since 2002, also covers archaeological research from across the continent. Finally, the bulletin Nyame Akuma, published annually since 1972 by the Society of Africanist Archaeologists, includes short notices and longer articles on recent fieldwork from all parts of the continent.

Further Reading

  • Denbow, J. The Archaeology and Ethnography of Central Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
  • Denbow, J., C. Klehm, and L. Dussubieux. “The Glass Beads of Kaitshàa and Early Indian Ocean Trade into the Far Interior of Southern Africa.” Antiquity 89 (2015): 361–377.
  • Huffman, Thomas N. “The Stylistic Origin of Bambata and the Spread of Mixed Farming in Southern Africa.” Southern African Humanities 17 (2005): 57–79.
  • Mitchell, P. The Archaeology of Southern Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Sadr, K. “Kalahari Archaeology and the Bushman Debate.” Current Anthropology 38.1 (1997): 104–112.
  • Sadr, K. “Invisible Herders? The Archaeology of Khoekhoe Pastoralists.” Southern African Humanities 20 (2008): 179–203.
  • Smith, A. “Pastoral Origins at the Cape, South Africa: Influences and Arguments.” Southern African Humanities 20 (2008): 49–60.
  • Wilmsen, E., and J. Denbow. “Paradigmatic History of San-Speaking Peoples and Current Attempts at Revision.” Current Anthropology 31.5 (1990): 489–524.
  • Bostoen, K., and B. Sands. “Clicks in South-Western Bantu Languages: Contact-Induced vs. Language-Internal Lexical Change.” In Proceedings of the 6th World Congress of African Linguistics, vol. 5. Edited by M. Brenzinger and A. Fehn. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe, 2012.
  • Chebanne, A. M. “Shifting Identities in Eastern Khoe: Ethnic and Language Endangerment.” Pula: Botswana Journal of African Studies 16.2 (2002): 147–157.
  • Ehret, C. “The Early Livestock-Raisers of Southern Africa.” Southern African Humanities 20 (2008): 7–35.
  • Güldemann, T. “A Linguist’s View: Khoe-Kwadi Speakers as the Earliest Food-Producers of Southern Africa.” Southern African Humanities 20 (2008): 93–132.
  • Güldemann, T. “Changing Profile when Encroaching on Hunter-Gatherer Territory: Towards a History of the Khoe-Kwadi Family in Southern Africa.” In Hunter-Gatherers and Linguistic History: A Global Perspective. Edited by T. Güldemann, P. McConvell, and R. Rhodes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.
  • Güldemann, T., and E. Elderkin. “On External Genealogical Relationships of the Khoe Family.” In Khoisan Languages and Linguistics: Proceedings of the 1st International Symposium. Edited by M. Brenzinger and C. König, 15–52. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe, 2010.
Historical Genetics
  • Barbieri, C., T. Güldemann, C. Naumann, L. Gerlach, F. Berthold, H. Nakagawa, S. Mpoloka, M. Stoneking, and B. Pakendorf. “Unraveling the Complex Maternal History Of Southern African Khoisan Populations.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 153 (2014): 435–448.
  • Breton, G., C. Schlebusch, M. Lombard, P. Sjödin, H. Soodyall, and M. Jakobsson. “Lactase Persistence Alleles Reveal Partial East African Ancestry of Southern African Khoe Pastoralists.” Current Biology 24.8 (2014): 852–858.
  • Coelho, M., F. Sequeira, D. Luiselli, S. Beleza, and J. Rocha. “On the Edge of Bantu Expansions: mtDNA, Y Chromosome and Lactase Persistence Genetic Variation in Southwestern Angola.” BMC Evolutionary Biology 9.80 (2009).
  • Henn, B., C. Gignoux, A. Lin, P. Oefner, P. Shen, R. Scozzari, F. Cruciani, S. Tishkoff, J. Mountain, and P. Underhill. “Y-Chromosomal Evidence of a Pastoralist Migration through Tanzania to Southern Africa.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105.31 (2008): 10693–10698.
  • Macholdt, E., C. Barbieri, S. Mpoloka, H. Chen, M. Slatkin, B. Pakendorf, and M. Stoneking. “Tracing Pastoralist Migrations to Southern Africa with Lactase Persistence Alleles.” Current Biology 24.8 (2014): 875–879.
  • Montinaro, F., G. Busby, M. Gonzalez-Santos, O. Oosthuitzen, E. Oosrhuizan, P. Anagnostou, G. Destro-Bisol, V. Pascali, and C. Capelli. “Complex Ancient Genetic Structure and Cultural Transitions in Southern African Population.” Genetics 205.1 (2017): 303–316.
  • Pickrell, J., N. Patterson, C. Barbieri, F. Berthold, L. Gerlach, T. Güldemann, B. Kure, S. Mpoloka, H. Nakagawa, C. Naumann, M. Lipson, P. Loh, J. Lachance, J. Mountain, C. Bustamante, B. Berger, S. Tishkoff, B. Henn, M. Stoneking, D. Reich, and B. Pakendorf. “The Genetic Prehistory of Southern Africa.” Nature Communications 6 (2012).


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  • 2. Richard B. Lee, The !Kung San: Men, Women, and Work in a Foraging Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979); Richard B. Lee and Irving DeVore, eds. Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers: Studies of the !Kung San and Their Neighbors (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976); George Silberbauer, Hunter and Habitat in the Central Kalahari Desert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); and Jiro Tanaka, The San, Hunter-Gatherers of the Kalahari: A Study in Ecological Anthropology, trans. David W. Hughes (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1980 [1971]).

  • 3. Edwin Wilmsen and James Denbow, “Paradigmatic History of San-Speaking Peoples and Current Attempts at Revision,” Current Anthropology 31.5 (1990): 489–524.

  • 4. James Denbow, “Prehistoric Herders and Foragers of the Kalahari: The Evidence for 1500 Years of Interaction,” in Past and Present in Hunter-Gatherer studies, ed. C. Schrire (Orlando, FL: Academic Press, 1984), 175–193; Carmel Schrire, Past and present in hunter-gatherer studies (Orlando, FL.: Academic Press, 1984); Edwin Wilmsen, Land Filled with Flies: A Political Economy of the Kalahari (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989); and Lawrence Robbins et al., “Recent Archaeological and Paleontological Research at Toteng, Botswana: Early Domesticated Livestock in the Kalahari,” Journal of African Archaeology 6.1 (2008): 131–149.

  • 5. Schrire, Past and Present; Jacqueline Solway and Richard Lee, “Foragers, Genuine or Spurious? Situating the Kalahari San in History,” Current Anthropology 31 (1990): 109–146; James Denbow and Edwin Wilmsen, “The Advent and Course of Pastoralism in the Kalahari,” Science 234 (1986): 1509–1515; Wilmsen and Denbow, Paradigmatic History; Wilmsen, Land; and Justin Pargeter et al., “Primordialism and the ‘Pleistocene San’ of Southern Africa,” Antiquity 90.352 (2016): 1072–1079.

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  • 8. James Denbow, The Archaeology and Ethnography of Central Africa (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014); James Denbow, Carla Klehm, and Laure Dussubieux, “The Glass Beads of Kaitshàa and Early Indian Ocean Trade into the Far Interior of Southern Africa,” Antiquity 89 (2015): 361–377; Christopher Ehret, “The Early Livestock-Raisers of Southern Africa,” Southern African Humanities 20 (2008): 7–35; Thomas Güldemann, “A Linguist’s View: Khoe-Kwadi Speakers as the Earliest Food-Producers of Southern Africa,” Southern African Humanities 20 (2008): 93–132; Joseph Pickrell et al., “The Genetic Prehistory of Southern Africa,” Nature Communications 6 (2016); and Enrico Macholdt et al., “Tracing Pastoralist Migrations to Southern Africa with Lactase Persistence Alleles,” Current Biology 24.8 (2014): 875–879.

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  • 12. Andy Chebanne, “Shifting Identities in Eastern Khoe: Ethnic and Language Endangerment,” Pula: Botswana Journal of African Studies 16.2 (2002): 147–157.

  • 13. Alan Barnard, Hunters and Herders of Southern Africa: A Comparative Ethnography of the Khoisan Peoples (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 131.

  • 14. Sibel Kusimba, “What Is a Hunter-Gatherer? Variation in the Archaeological Record of Eastern and Southern Africa,” Journal of Archaeological Research 13.4 (2005): 337–366; Aaron Mazel, “Changing Fortunes: 150 Years of San Hunter-Gatherer History in the Natal Drakensberg, South Africa,” Antiquity 65 (1992): 758–767; Peter Mitchell, “Anyone for Hxaro? Thoughts on the History and Practice of Exchange in Southern African Later Stone Age Archaeology,” in Researching Africa’s Past: New Perspectives from British Archaeology, eds. P. Mitchell, A. Haour, and J. Hobart (Oxford: School of Archaeology, 2003), 35–43; and Pargeter, Primordialism.

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  • 17. Daniel McGahey, “Maintaining Opportunism and Mobility in Drylands: The Impact of Veterinary Cordon Fences in Botswana” (PhD diss., School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, 2008).

  • 18. Alec Campbell, “Traditional Utilization of the Okavango Delta,” in Symposium on the Okavango Delta, eds. D. Nteta and J. Hermans (Gaborone: Botswana Society, 1976); and Barnard, Hunters and Herders, 123.

  • 19. S. Dornan, Pygmies & Bushmen of the Kalahari; An Account of the Hunting Tribes Inhabiting the Great Arid Plateau of the Kalahari Desert, Their Precarious Manner of Living, Their Habits, Customs & Beliefs, with Some Reference to Bushman Art, Both Early & of Recent Date, & to the Neighbouring African Tribes (London: Seeley, Service, 1925), 106–109.

  • 20. James Denbow and Phenyo Thebe, Culture and Customs of Botswana (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006); and McGahey, Maintaining Opportunism.

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  • 22. Phenyo Thebe, “Paradigms in Stone: Lithic Technology at Bosutswe and Matlapaneng” (MA thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin, 2004).

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  • 25. Denbow, Glass Beads.

  • 26. Güldemann, “A Linguist’s View”; Thomas Güldemann and Edward Elderkin, “On External Genealogical Relationships of the Khoe Family,” in Khoisan Languages and Linguistics: Proceedings of the 1st International Symposium, January 4–8, 2003, eds. M. Brenzinger and C. König (Köln: Rüdiger Köppe, 2010), 15–52; and Ehret, Early Livestock.

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  • 28. Coelho et al., “On the Edge of Bantu Expansions: mtDNA, Y-Chromosome and Lactase Persistence: Genetic Variation in Southwestern Angola,” BMC Evolutionary Biology 9 (2009): 80; and Barbieri et al., “Unraveling the Complex Maternal History of Southern African Khoisan Populations,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 153 (2014): 435–448.

  • 29. Macholdt et al., “Tracing Pastoralist Migrations.”

  • 30. Henn et al., “Y-Chromosomal Evidence of a Pastoralist Migration.”

  • 31. Barnard, Hunters and Herders, 122.

  • 32. Pickrell, Genetic Prehistory, 3.

  • 33. Brigitte Packendorf, “Eastern Botswana: Shua and Tshwa,” paper presented at the conference “Speaking (of) Khoisan,” Leipzig, 2015.

  • 34. Rainer Vossen, “What Click Sounds Got to Do in Bantu: Reconstructing the History of Language Contacts in Southern Africa,” in Human Contact through Language and Linguistics, eds. B. Smieja and M. Tasch (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1997), 353–366; Robbins et al., Advent of Herding; Robbins et al., Recent Archaeological; Eileen Kose and J. Richter, “The Prehistory of the Kavango People,” Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika 18 (2007): 103–129; Eileen Kose, “New Light on Ironworking Groups along the Middle Kavango in Northern Namibia,” South African Archaeological Bulletin 64.190 (2009): 130–147; Andrew Smith, “Pastoral Origins at the Cape, South Africa: Influences and Arguments,” Southern African Humanities 20 (2008): 49–60; D. Pleurdeau et al., “‘Of Sheep and Men’: Earliest Direct Evidence of Caprine Domestication in Southern Africa at Leopard Cave (Erongo, Namibia),” PLOS One 7.7 (2012): 10; and Denbow, Archaeology and Ethnography.

  • 35. Karim Sadr, “Invisible Herders? The Archaeology of Khoekhoe Pastoralists,” Southern African Humanities 20 (2008): 179–203.

  • 36. Andrew Smith, “The Concepts of ‘Neolithic’ and ‘Neolithisation’ for Africa,” Before Farming 1.2 (2005): 1–6.

  • 37. Thomas Huffman, Snakes and Crocodiles: Power and Symbolism in Ancient Zimbabwe (Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1996); Thomas Huffman, “The Stylistic Origin of Bambata and the Spread of Mixed Farming in Southern Africa,” Southern African Humanities 17 (2005): 57–79; and James Denbow et al., “Excavations at Bosutswe, Botswana: Cultural Chronology, Paleo-ecology and Economy,” Journal of Archaeological Science 35.2 (2008): 459–480.

  • 38. James Denbow and Alec Campbell, “The Early Stages of Food Production in Southern Africa and Some Potential Linguistic Correlations,” Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika 7.1 (1986): 83–103; James Denbow, “After the Flood: A Preliminary Account of Recent Geological, Archaeological and Linguistic Investigations in the Okavango Region of Northern Botswana,” in Contemporary Studies on Khoisan: In Honour of Oswin Keohler on the Occasion of His 75th Birthday, eds. R. Vossen and K. Keuthmann, 181–214 (Hamburg: H. Buske, 1986), 181–214; Lawrence Robbins et al., “Late Quaternary Archaeological and Palaeo-environmental Data from Sediments at Rhino Cave, Tsodilo Hills, Botswana,” Southern African Field Archaeology 9 (2000): 17–31; Lawrence Robbins et al., “Archaeology, Palaeoenvironment, and Chronology of the Tsodilo Hills White Paintings Rock Shelter, Northwest Kalahari Desert, Botswana,” Journal of Archaeological Science 27 (2000): 1085–1113; Gill Turner, “Early Iron Age Herders in Northwestern Botswana: The Faunal Evidence,” Botswana Notes and Records 19 (1987): 7–23; Gill Turner, “Hunters and Herders of the Okavango Delta, Northern Botswana,” Botswana Notes and Records 19 (1987): 25–40; and Wynand van Zyl et al., “The Archaeofauna from Xaro on the Okavango Delta in Northern Botswana,” Annals of the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History 3 (2013): 49–58.

  • 39. Denbow, Archaeology and Ethnography.

  • 40. James Denbow, “Excavations at Divuyu, Tsodilo Hills,” Botswana Notes and Records 43 (2011): 76–94.

  • 41. Morongwa Mosotwane, “Foragers among Farmers in the Early Iron Age of Botswana? Dietary Evidence from Stable Isotopes” (PhD diss., Faculty of Science, University of the Witwatersrand, 2010); Denbow, “Excavations at Divuyu.”

  • 42. Turner, Early Iron Age.

  • 43. Robbins, White Paintings.

  • 44. Duncan Miller, The Tsodilo Jewellery: Metal Work from Northern Botswana (Rondebosch: University of Cape Town Press, 1976); and Lawrence Robbins et al., “Intensive Mining of Specular Hematite in the Kalahari ca. AD 800–1000,” Current Anthropology 39 (1998): 144–150.

  • 45. Denbow, “Excavations at Divuyu.”

  • 46. Edwin Wilmsen and James Denbow, “Early Villages at Tsodilo: The Introduction of Livestock, Crops, and Metalworking,” in Tsodilo, Mountain of the Gods, eds. L. Robbins, A. Campbell, and M. Taylor (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press), 72–81.

  • 47. Morongwa Mosothwane, “Dietary Stable Carbon Isotope Signatures of the Early Iron Age Inhabitants of Ngamiland,” Botswana Notes and Records 43 (2011): 115–129.

  • 48. Wilmsen and Denbow, “Early Villages at Tsodilo”; Denbow, “Excavations at Divuyu”; Robbins et al., Late Quaternary; and Robbins et al., Recent Archaeological.

  • 49. James Denbow field notes from 1984–1985 in possession of the author; the seeds were examined by Dr. J. M. J. de Wet, Department of Agronomy, University of Illinois, Urbana, with the species identified in an unpublished letter to Denbow in 1986.

  • 50. Turner, Hunters and Herders.

  • 51. Wilmsen and Denbow, “Early Villages”;Edwin Wilmsen et al., “The Social Geography of Pottery in Botswana as Reconstructed by Optical Petrography,” Journal of African Archaeology 7.1 (2009): 3–39; Joseph Vogel, “Kamangoza: An Introduction to the Iron Age Cultures of the Victoria Falls Region,” Zambia Museum Papers 2 (1971); Joseph Vogel, “The Early Iron Age Site at Sioma Mission, Western Zambia,” Zambia Museums Journal 4 (1972): 153–169; Joseph Vogel and J. M. Chuubi, A Guide to the Livingstone Museum (Livingstone: National Museums Board Livingstone Museum, 1975); and Brian Fagan, “The Iron Age Sequence in the Southern Province of Zambia,” in Papers in African Prehistory, eds. J. D. Fage and R. A. Oliver (Cambridge: University Printing House, 1974), 208.

  • 52. Thebe, Paradigms.

  • 53. Van Zyl, Archaeofauna.

  • 54. Mosothwane, Dietary Stable Carbon, 123.

  • 55. Denbow, 1982 fieldnotes.

  • 56. Thomas Tlou, History of Ngamiland: 1750–1906 (Johannesburg: Macmillan, 1985); Denbow and Thebe, Culture and Customs; Denbow, Archaeology and Ethnography; John Kinahan, “The Acquisition of Ceramics by Hunter-Gatherers on the Middle Zambezi in the First and Second Millennium AD,” Journal of African Archaeology 11.2 (2013): 197–209.

  • 57. Koen Bostoen and B. Sands, “Clicks in South-Western Bantu Languages: Contact-Induced vs. Language-Internal Lexical Change,” in Proceedings of the 6th World Congress of African Linguistics, eds. M. Brenzinger and A. Fehn (Cologne: Köppe Verlag, 2012).

  • 58. Andrew Reid and Alinah Segobye, “Politics, Society and Trade on the Eastern Margins of the Kalahari,” in African Naissance: The Limpopo Valley 1000 Years Ago, eds. M. Leslie and T. Maggs (Cape Town: South African Archaeological Society, 2012), 64.

  • 59. Denbow, Glass Beads.

  • 60. Marilee Wood et al., “Glass Finds from Chibuene, a 6th to 17th Century Port in Southern Mozambique,” South African Archaeological Bulletin 67 (2012): 59–74; Denbow, Glass Beads; Dagget et al., “Glass Trade Beads at Thabadimasego, Botswana: Analytical Results and Some Implications,” (Johannesburg: Congress of the Pan-African Archaeological Society, forthcoming).

  • 61. Denbow, Excavations at Bosutswe.

  • 62. Karin Scott, Faunal Report on Kaitcha [sic]. Unpublished report in the author’s possession, 2013.

  • 63. Denbow, Glass Beads.

  • 64. Andrew Reid and Alinah Segobye, “An Ivory Cache from Botswana,” Antiquity 74 (2000): 326–331.

  • 65. James Denbow, “Material Culture and the Dialectics of Identity in the Kalahari,” in Beyond Chiefdoms: Pathways to Complexity in Africa, ed. S. McIntosh (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 110–123.

  • 66. James Denbow, “Preliminary Report on an Archaeological Reconnaissance of the BP Soda Ash Lease, Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana,” report on file at the National Museum of Botswana, 1985; Denbow, Glass Beads; Edwin Wilmsen and James Denbow, “The Middens at Tora Nju and Their Adjacent Stone Enclosure,” Journal of African Archaeology, forthcoming.

  • 67. Taggart, Report on the Conditions; Hitchcock, Kalahari Cattleposts.

  • 68. Ann Stahl, “Political Economic Mosaics: Archaeology of the Last Two Millennia in Tropical Sub-Saharan Africa,” Annual Review of Anthropology 33 (2004): 145–172; Diane Gifford-Gonzalez, “Animal Disease Challenges Fifteen Years Later: The Hypothesis in Light of New Data,” Quaternary International (2015); and Barberena et al. “Archaeological Discontinuities in the Southern Hemisphere: A Working Agenda,” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology (2016).

  • 69. Denbow, Material Culture; James Denbow, “Stolen Places: Archaeology and the Politics of Identity in the Later Prehistory of the Kalahari,” in Africanizing Knowledge: African Studies across the Disciplines, eds. T. Falola and C. Jennings (Somerset, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2002), 345–374.

  • 70. Lawrence Barham and Peter Mitchell, The First Africans: African Archaeology from the Earliest Toolmakers to the Most Recent Foragers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

  • 71. Peter Mitchell, The Archaeology of Southern Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); and Christopher Ehret, The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800, 2d ed. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016).

  • 72. Roger Blench, Archaeology, Language, and the African Past (Lanham, MD: Altamira, 2006). See also Ehret, The Civilizations of Africa.

  • 73. Sarah A. Tishkoff et al., “The Genetic Structure and History of Africas and African Americans,” Science 324.5930 (2009): 1035–1044.

  • 74. The McGregor Museum in Kimberly.

  • 75. The Mapungubwe Museum in Pretoria.