The history and archaeology of pastoralist and hunter-gatherer settlement in the North-Western Cape, South Africa

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Investigations in the archaeologically unexplored region of Namaqualand show that it was unoccupied for much of the terminal Pleistocene and early Holocene. Marginally more favourable climatic conditions circa 2000 BP encouraged re-occupation of the region. It would appear that Khoe-speaking hunter-gatherers with livestock and pottery first entered Namaqualand along the Orange River before moving southward along the Atlantic coast. Both sheep and pottery are present at /Ai tomas in the Richtersveld and Spoeg River Cave on the coast, some 1900 years ago. This is strong evidence for a western route of Khoekhoen dispersal into southern Africa and invalidates one of the hypotheses proposed by Elphick in 1972. Domestic stock was initially only a minor addition to the economy and these early inhabitants of the region continued utilising wild plant foods and game, slaughtering their domestic stock only infrequently. It is proposed that hunter-gatherer society may undergo the structural changes necessary to become pastoralists and that there is evidence for this in the archaeological record from Namaqualand during the period 1900 to 1300 BP. The historical and ethnographic records relating to the Little Namaqua Khoekhoen indicates that gender conflict structured much of the lives of the historical population and it is postulated that the pre-colonial period was also characterised by changing gender relations. Central to this thesis is a consideration of the active role of material culture in negotiating relations between various interest groups within a society as well as structuring relations between 'ethnic' groups. Certain material culture items are identified which were used to negotiate and structure gender relations. The archaeological material from Namaqualand are therefore analysed in order to determine changing social relations through time. It is concluded that ethnic distinctions between pastoralist groups and hunter-gatherers in Namaqualand became more stressed with the arrival of the Dutch as a consequence of increasing competition for resources. The collapse of Namaqua Khoekhoen society was brought about as a result of trading excess stock for luxury items rather than in establishing stock associations. This thesis proposes that material culture from archaeological excavations be analysed for evidence of the structuring of within-group relations and that material cultural changes dating to within the last 2000 years should not automatically be ascribed to the presence of two 'ethnic' groups.

Bibliography: pages 282-299.