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Molebogeng Bodiba, Maryna Steyn, Paulette Bloomer, Morongwa N. Mosothwane, Frank Rühli and Abigail Bouwman


Ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis was employed to obtain information on the population relationships of the two Thulamela individuals (AD 1400-1700) and six other skeletons from various archaeological sites of the southern African Iron Age – Tuli (Botswana), Nwanetsi, Makgope, Happy Rest and Stayt. Although sequences were short, it seems that the Thulamela female aligns somewhat more with eastern populations as opposed to the male who aligns more with western groups. This result is not surprising given that the two individuals were buried at the same site but their burials were hundreds of years apart. It was also possible to identify genetic links between the Iron Age individuals and modern southern African populations (e.g. some of the skeletons assessed showed maternal genetic similarities to present-day Sotho/Tswana groups) and to separate the samples into at least two genetic groups. Poor quality and quantity of DNA meant that only haplogroups, not subhaplogroups, of the individuals could be traced.

Maria H. Schoeman, Byron Aub, John Burrows, Grant Hall and Stephan Woodborne


Terrace farming flourished in Bokoni from the sixteenth century CE onwards. Bokoni farmers’ resilience strategies, however, were severely tested during the third occupation phase (approx. 1780 to 1840 CE), when the mfecane destabilised the region. In order to reflect on the environmental conditions Bokoni farmers faced in this period the stable carbon isotope proxy rainfall records from Prunus africana and Pittosporum viridiflorum specimens that grew on the Buffelskloof site were studied. Because the Buffelskloof records postdate the occupation, the records are compared with a 1000-year Adansonia digitata rainfall proxy record from the Pafuri region. Deviations between the two are attributed to the juvenile effect, and when these are discounted there is a significant correlation between local and regional rainfall records. This suggests common large-scale synoptic forcing underlies regional rainfall variability, and the decadal-scale variability in the Adansonia digitata records indicates extremely dry conditions in the 1780 to 1840 CE period.

Inga Merkyte, Søren Albek and Klavs Randsborg


Until recently archaeological evidence predating the historically known Kingdom of Dahomey in southern Bénin has been next to non-existent. The situation changed when deep and long drainage channels were dug into the fertile soils at the modern town of Bohicon. In the sides of these channels, rich cultural remains appeared, confirming the assumption that high rates of soil accumulation have caused low archaeological visibility in the forest/former forest belt of West Africa. Geophysical mapping and extensive excavations have revealed two large settlements of 500-600 hectares each, partly overlapping but separated by 2000 years. This paper presents both sites – Sodohomé 1, the earliest site encountered so far in southern Bénin, and Sodohomé 2 (or Sodohomé-Bohicon) which dates to AD 900-1150/1220. Although the first has produced some remarkable results, for instance, an iron spearhead that is the oldest securely dated non-meteoritic iron object in Africa known so far, the focus is on the latter site where evidence demonstrates the existence of a true town with craft specialisation, industrial-scale iron production, long-distance trade and wide communication networks.

Edwin N. Wilmsen, Anne Griffiths, David Killick and Phenyo Thebe


Current potters in Manaledi village in the Tswapong Hills of Botswana aver that they and their ancestors for five generations have made pottery exclusively with clay from nearby sources. We begin with an examination of Manaledi and its clay mine to uncover current dialectics between village, landscape, clay, potters, and ancestors. Archaeological sherds found around the village and clay sources document occupation by makers of Early Iron Age (ca. AD 500-750), Middle Iron Age (ca. AD 750-1050), Late Iron Age (ca. AD 1420-1800), and 18th-20th century wares related to current Manaledi pottery. The proximity of archaeological deposits, clay sources, and village made it possible to conduct simultaneously what might otherwise be considered three separate projects. As a consequence, we are able to document that Manaledi clays have been used to make pottery for some 1500 years and to consider long-standing constraints on potting this implies.

Rocco Rotunno, Anna Maria Mercuri, Assunta Florenzano, Andrea Zerboni and Savino di Lernia


Archaeological deposits in rock shelters have enormous informative potential, particularly in arid environments where organic materials are well preserved. In these areas, sub-fossilized coprolites and dung remains have been identified as valuable proxies for inferences about past environments, subsistence economies and cultural trajectories. Here we present a multidisciplinary analysis of bovid (ovicaprine) coprolites collected from the Early Holocene hunter-gatherer occupation at Takarkori rock shelter (SW Libya, central Sahara). Our results show that Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia) were managed as early as ~9500 years cal BP, mostly with the rearing of juveniles. Palynological analysis of individual pellets suggests a seasonal confinement of the animals and the selection of fodder. GIS analysis of coprolite distribution also indicates sophisticated strategies of Barbary sheep “herding” and spatial differentiation of specialized areas within the rock shelter, including the construction and use of a stone-based enclosure for corralling animals. These highly structured and organized forms of control over wild animals are interpreted as a potential co-evolutionary trigger for the subsequent rapid adoption and integration of the incoming pastoral Neolithic economy.

Michael Brass


Different emphases on ideological, socio-economic and technological changes have been brought to bear on the cultural variability made materially manifest in pre-Iron Age Saharan pastoral societies. The models have ranged from limited or no complexity before iron production to transient mobile elites across the Sahara, to socially complex communities from the mid-Holocene onwards in the Central Libyan Sahara, and to permanent elites with complex social structures. Here, ethnographic cultural variability is stressed, previous models detailed, and data for the Eastern and Central Sahara summarised and analysed. The emerging picture is of a mosaic of population movements, clustering and experimentation resulting in transient peaks of wealth and the potential for incipient social complexity to become temporarily or permanently manifest. Saharan social diversity serves as a warning against linear models and highlights the importance of an explanatory framework for investigating the evolution of social structures outside of permanently settled communities for North Africa.