First pastoralist societies in Southern Africa

A new program in the lacustrine basin of lakes Ngami, Mababa and Makgadikgadi in the northern Botswana

Joint seminar IFAS-Research / Wits University
Monday 17 July 2017

13:00 – Archaeology Lecture Theatre, Origins North Bdg. Lecture Room (1st fl)


Jessie Cauliez (CNRS / Traces, Toulouse)
with Karim Sadr, Laurent Bruxelles, Benjamin Lans.


In Southern Africa, zones with early signs of pastoral activities have been identified in Namibia, South Africa and Botswana. Early pastoral activities were mixed with other forms of subsistence: secondary breeding activities in a highly mobile society with an economy geared towards fishing in one area, strong reliance on hunting and a gathering economy with minimal herding activities in other areas, alongside contemporary groups who refrained altogether from exploiting livestock. These non-rhythmic evolutions and the plurality of the patterns leading to the emergence of the first herding societies must undoubtedly be correlated with the mosaic of ecosystems characterizing the region: plateaus, desert plains, alluvial valleys, lakeshores and coastlines of Namibia, Botswana, South Africa. The conventional view of the origin of livestock herding in southern Africa involves the migration of a Khoe-speaking population from East Africa around 2500 years ago. This population is thought to have remained in northern Botswana for a considerable time before moving further and reaching the southwest coast of Africa around 2000 years ago. The environmental deterioration of the Kalahari Basin around 2000 years ago is thought to have pushed the earliest herders out of northern Botswana. The archaeological and paleo-environmental evidence from northern Botswana to support this view is meagre, and the conventional view remains only a hypothesis to be tested through archaeological and geomorphological fieldwork in the area concerned. A new program in the lacustrine basin of lakes Ngami, Mababa and Makgadikgadi was established in 2017, for which we suggest presenting aims.


Jessie Cauliez is a prehistorian archaeologist. She is a Fellow Researcher at the CNRS (French National Center of Scientific Research), at the TRACES UMR 5608 Laboratory in Toulouse (Travaux et Recherches Archéologiques) sur les Cultures, les Espaces et les Sociétés. She is co-director of the “PRBM” research team “Later Prehistory of the Mediterranean basin”. She analyses the historic trajectories of Holocene societies through research firmly anchored in the production of new data. She participates in the reconstruction of models charting the economic, technological and social mutations that characterize the arrhythmic evolution of the first agro-pastoral societies, at the dawn of metallurgical developments. Her work focuses on the north-western Mediterranean and the Horn of Africa, where she currently directs several research programmes. In light of the necessity to build up interpretative referentials in social anthropology, she has also developed ethnographic work in Ethiopia, with several ethno-linguistic groups. In this way, she aims to enhance our understanding of the links between technical traditions and socio-cultural groups on one hand, and the mechanisms at work in the diffusion processes of material culture on the other hand. How do individuals build up their identity, and maintain and develop social boundaries? Her research was in part supported by IFAS-Research.


This presentation is part of the series of joint seminars organised by IFAS-Research and the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies of Wits University.