Hunter-gatherers on the Mapungubwe landscape

15 Mar 2016

The archaeology of the middle Limpopo Valley, which includes eastern Botswana, northern South Africa and south-western Zimbabwe, is best known for its Iron Age archaeology (Fig. 1). This is perhaps expected because found here is Mapungubwe, a hilltop site that was the capital of southern Africa’s first state-level farmer society c. AD 1220 to 1300 (Huffman 2007). However, the local archaeological record extends back quite some time before the appearance of complex societies and the occupation of Mapungubwe. While farming communities arrived at least by AD 900, the earliest evidence of a hunter-gatherer occupation is found to be as far back as 12 000 years ago. This is sometimes overlooked despite the rich cultural material that has been found, the extensive rock art sequence and the intriguing ‘disappearance’ of huntergatherer archaeological remains about the same time that the Mapungubwe state declined.