‘Discourse on Rivers, and Fish and Fishing’: Freshwater Aquatic Resources and Hunter-gatherers in Southern African Prehistory
Freshwater fish are often identified as a major resource for past hunter-gatherers, and their exploitation has been implicated in both the emergence of the capacity for modern behaviour and the evolution of sociopolitical complexity. Archaeological attention has mostly been directed at higher latitude groups, but southern Africa is one of several middle and lower latitude regions in which freshwater fish were also procured, sometimes on a large scale. This chapter considers their exploitation in Africa south of the Zambezi over the longue durée of the past 70,000 years, discusses the ways in which they were captured, and evaluates claims that they helped sustain higher population densities, reduced mobility, seasonal aggregation, and the development of more ‘delayed return’ economies during the late Holocene.
Pierre de Maret
Numerous wood, clay, and ivory figurines have been used for various purposes throughout Central Africa for many centuries. Unfortunately, only a few figurines in clay have so far been recovered by archaeologists. In Uganda, a pottery head and a cylindrical figurine, both dated probably to the late first millennium ad were found in two instances near Kampala. In Lower Congo, small stone statues were placed on tombs, while much further upstream, figurines in the shape of cylindrical bottles have been recovered among Kisalian grave goods (ninth to thirteenth centuries). From the same period, caprine and antelope metapodia were used as dolls for young girls and probably as fertility figures for young women. Throughout Africa, similar bones have had the same uses in recent times. Similar metapodia found in an archaeological context from various time periods in the Near East and in Europe may thus also have been perceived as figurines.
In sub-Saharan West Africa, substantial archaeological evidence only appears from about 2000 bc. From that time onwards, sites with large proportions of fish-bones and large numbers of fish taxa, including open-water fish, are known. Deep-water fishing requires a well-developed fishing technology. Links have been made between the sites and modern, specialized fishers. However, because of the high component of crops in the diets of modern fishers, the recent levels of specialization were probably only possible with the appearance of fully fledged farming around the beginning of the current era. The exploitation of aquatic resources in Holocene West Africa is discussed, mainly based on archaeozoological evidence from the Lake Chad area. The methodology used, especially regarding quantification, is also presented.
How Meat Made us Human: Archaeological Evidence of the Diet and Foraging Capabilities of Early Pleistocene Homo in East Africa
Henry Bunn, Travis Pickering, and Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo
This chapter examines the oldest known archaeological evidence from 2.6–1.5 million years ago (Ma) from several sites in East Africa, to improve understanding of the diet and related behavioural capabilities of early human ancestors (hominins) from that period. The archaeological evidence from the period consists of both small scatters and large, dense concentrations of flaked stone tools often found with fossil bones of large animals. The proportions of different skeletal elements, particularly once-meaty limb bones, and the abundance of stone-tool butchery damage on those bones, indicate that by 1.84 Ma at the FLK Zinj site at Olduvai Gorge, hominins had first access to prey carcasses. Moreover, mortality (age at death) profiles suggest active hunting by early Homo rather than secondary access to scavenged carcasses. Evidently, early Homo was repeatedly transporting meaty portions of large carcasses for delayed consumption and probable food sharing—behaviours characteristic of humans, not apes.
Intensification, Diet, and Group Boundaries among Later Stone Age Coastal Hunter-gatherers along the Western and Southern Coasts of South Africa
Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses of bone collagen from a large sample of Holocene human skeletons from South Africa show regional and chronological variations in diet, especially in the importance of marine foods. Isotopic variability suggests that hunter-gatherers were more territorial than previously recognized, at least between 4000 and 2000 radiocarbon years ago. There is also evidence for population growth; some sites preserve very large volumes of archaeological deposit and dietary breadth increased—a pattern of ‘intensification’ that occurred elsewhere in the world. Here, it raises questions of similarity (e.g. in artefact types) and difference (e.g. in settlement pattern) between archaeological hunter-gatherers and anthropologically documented southern African foragers. Variation in the quantities of grave goods is intriguing, but there is insufficient evidence to detect patterning beyond broad geographical trends. This work contributes to our understanding of coastal hunter-gatherers, who are poorly documented in most parts of the world.
Identifications of animal remains from southern African Stone Age sites are complicated by the abundancy of taxa, skeletal differences, a wide variety of habitats, and the fragmented condition of most of the bone samples. Studies in osteomorphology and osteometry are essential. There are regional variations in species sizes combined with changes in bone sizes within and between taxa. Seasonality and animal migrations are demonstrated in the highlands of Lesotho and the semi-arid Karoo. Faunal studies of Sibudu and Bushman Rock Shelter show the contrast between two rock shelters that are geographically separated but overlap in occupation periods.
The physiographic setting of the Nile valley, in Sudan as well as in Egypt, provides a nearly homogenizing factor in the cultural and socioeconomic development of Mesolithic and Neolithic prehistoric populations. Unfortunately, a dearth of prehistoric research has hindered the recognition of regional differences and our comprehension of the complexity of such development. Furthermore the past fifty years of archaeological investigations in prehistoric Sudan have not, paradoxically, pushed forward our understanding beyond A. J. Arkell excavations at the Khartoum Hospital site (1949) and Shaheinab (1953), the first prehistoric sites excavated in this region. This premise is necessary in order to advise of the volatility of the picture that can be drawn with the currently available data. The Mesolithic populations of the Sudanese Nile valley are characterised by their pottery production and associated with a hunter-gatherer-fishers economy. The Neolithization of the region is rooted in these groups, but the contribution of foreign influences cannot be ruled out.
Randi Haaland and Gunnar Haaland
The chapter presents a descriptive account of Neolithic site inventories containing figurines in the Sudan Nile Valley. Cattle figurines indicate that animal husbandry played an important role in economic life as well as in political and ritual contexts. Female figurines can be seen as a multi-vocal symbol that may evoke a wide spectrum of meanings ranging from sexuality and fertility to basic qualities in human relations— trust, dependency, and solidarity. The mother–child relation is generally associated with such qualities. Symbolic imagery (e.g. female figurines) evoking this relation serves to foster compelling ideas of solidarity in small-scale networks of relations. In Neolithic pre-state communities, security of life and property is based on ad hoc political mobilization of such small-scale networks. Emergence of more permanent, specialized politico-administrative structures serving to maintain security within societies of larger scale is associated with increase in signs (e.g. weaponry, monumental architecture) expressing male warrior-like qualities.
Barbara E. Barich
This chapter discusses the collection of objects, in clay and stone, from various pastoral Saharan sites whose original core area lay between Libya (Tadrart Acacus) and Algeria (Tassili- n-Ajjer). The chapter starts from the general theme of the relationship between the figurines and the subjects they represent, and the difference between two-dimensional and three-dimensional representation. It goes on to discuss the manufacturing process of the clay specimens (dating from between 7000 and 4000 years ago) and the significance of the changes introduced by the Neolithic. Most of the items studied fall into the category of zoomorphic figurines, with only two anthropomorphic examples, and find in the depiction of cattle their most striking subject. These representations possess an evident symbolic content which must be framed within the pastoral ideology of the Saharan Neolithic. In the anthropomorphic figurines the representation of the human body also plays the role of recapturing the sense of wholeness.
Excavations of Southern African farming community sites have yielded two figurine types. The first comprises coarse clay figurines found in clusters in central areas in homesteads. These clusters contained anthropomorphic and animal figurines that resemble material culture used in twentieth-century southernmost African initiation schools. The second figurine type, associated with domestic areas, is finer and included toys and stylized human figurines. The stylized human figurines resemble historical figures that embodied ideas about male ownership over the female body, procreative powers, and spirit. The decorations on the stylized female figurines resemble body scarification that might have been used to express personhood. This chapter suggests that the production and use of these clay figurines were enmeshed in ideas about sex and gender, and that figurines materialized ideas, in both ceremonial and domestic contexts, about the adult body as sexed and gendered.
Figurines are widely found in archaeological contexts in West Africa. Mostly of clay, more rarely in stone or wood, they served varied purposes. This chapter explores archaeological figurines from across West Africa, focusing upon the main regional concentrations in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, before considering broader interpretive themes. These figurines were ascribed different meanings and had diverse functions. Ancestor figurines recur. Others were perhaps linked with healing and medicine. The internal cavities found in some suggest they might have been perceived as power objects; considered as invested with personhood of some form. Many are found in ritual contexts—shrines, burials—and were likely linked with religions. Others were probably toys. What they seem not to have been is ‘art’, and when labelled as such they become commoditized, and the target of looters and dealers in illegally obtained figurines from West Africa.
The Iron Age of southern Africa covers the spread and occupation of Bantu-speaking farmers during the last 1,500 years. Archaeological research of these farmers was heavily influenced by the Central Cattle Pattern, a settlement model which, as one of its main concepts, argued that cattle were the most important domestic animal since the first farmers settled in southern Africa during the first millennium ad. Various arguments have been presented to support this view, including the presence of cattle dung, cattle herd sizes, informants and ethnography, and weights of livestock, as well as ageing and skeletal part data. These arguments have been challenged recently, and new interpretations offered. New interpretations unrestricted by the Central Cattle Pattern have focused on descent patterns of farmers. Changes in identification methodology and measures of changes of livestock over time have played a major role in these new interpretations.