European impacts on the Seacow River valley and its hunter-gatherer inhabitants, AD. 1770-1900

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

When Europeans first began to move into the central portion of the interior of southern Africa in the late eighteenth century, they encountered Bushmen hunter-gatherers who were already occupying the land. The impact which these Europeans had on one geographical region, the Seacow River valley in the north-east Karoo region, and on the hunter-gatherers living there, form the basic theme of this thesis. The aim is to place the Seacow River valley and the events that transpired in that region between 1770 and 1900 in a documented context, in order to use this context to make sense of the archaeological data pertaining to this Post-Contact period. The expansion of European farmers into the Seacow River valley was gradual, and through the eighteenth and nineteenth century this gradual expansion affected not only the large herds of game grazing on the Karroid vegetation, but the vegetation itself. A wide spectrum of documentary sources shed light on the nature and timing of the extermination of valley game animals and provided clues to the effect which the European presence had on the environment. Bushmen hunter-gatherers living in the region responded to the Europeans in various ways. Although some Bushmen may have moved ahead of the colonial frontier, or were destroyed by it, many Bushmen survived by adopting different roles in colonial society. The degree in which valley Bushmen retained their identity, subsistence patterns and material culture was largely dependent on their relation to the colonial presence in the form of farms, mission stations and towns. Some Bushmen lived independently from these centres, while others were related to these centres in different ways. The documentation of this differing response to the colonial presence not only provides a context for the accumulation of Post-Contact archaeological deposits, but allows some light to be shed on the context of individual archaeological sites.

Includes bibliographical references.