Main content area

Chronology and dynamics of Later Stone Age herders in the upper Seacow River valley, South Africa

Sampson, C.G.
Journal of arid environments 2010 v.74 no.7 pp. 842-848
pastoralism, herding, sheep, cattle, ceramics, history, paleontology, South Africa
The prehistory of sheep and cattle herding in South Africa's semi-arid Karoo region remains poorly documented. Yet the upper Karoo plays a key gateway role in one competing model of pastoralist expansion into the extreme south of the continent. Direct-dated prehistoric livestock remains from local rock shelters are too few to build an adequate chronology. An alternative is the direct dating of fiber temper in potsherds collected at livestock enclosures (kraals) built of low, dry-stone walling. Seventeen such 14C dates are reported, along with comparable thermoluminescence dates including three from pottery associated with Khoekhoe pastoralists in the ethnohistoric record. The earliest dated kraal in the upper Seacow valley is Cal AD 1000 and the youngest is Cal AD 1750, so it is likely that all of them are of pre-European (AD 1780) date. There was a continuous herder presence, buffered by local Bushman hunter-foragers who also took up herding but retained their own ceramic tradition. The dates are spread too thinly to verify gaps in the record that might signal short-term collapses in herding practice, like the one that preceded the Dutch trekboer invasion. Resident foragers first made fiber-tempered pottery here a full millennium before the advent of herding.