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.
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.