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Welcome to African Archaeology!

The Journal of African Archaeology is an international peer-reviewed periodical appearing half-yearly since 2003. It publishes original papers addressing recent research and developments in African archaeology and related disciplines. The journal's main purpose is to provide scholars and students with a new pan-African forum for discussing relevant topics on the cultural dynamics of past African societies.

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Vol. 8 (1) 2010

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J. Sealy

Isotopic Evidence for the Antiquity of Cattle-Based Pastoralism in Southernmost Africa

Journal of African Archaeology, Volume 8 (1), 2010, pages 65-81, DOI 10.3213/1612-1651-10160

Abstract
Pastoralist Khoekhoe people in southern Africa are well known from 17th and 18th century records from the Cape, and from later descendent communities. The Cape Khoekhoen kept large herds of sheep and cattle, which constituted wealth and provided the dairy products that formed dietary staples. The origins and development of this way of life remain contentious. This paper addresses the issue by means of stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses of 160 adult human skeletons from the coastal forelands of southernmost Africa. Prior to 2000 bp, hunter-gatherers ate varying mixes of marine and terrestrial foods, but terrestrial C4 grasses (and animals grazing on them) were of relatively minor importance. Sheep (and probably cattle) first appeared in archaeological sites around 2000 bp, but whatever their role in peoples' diets, there was no significant shift in the isotope ratios of human skeletons in the first millennium AD. From the early second millennium AD, people began to eat significantly more C4 based foods, probably in the form of animal products (dairy and meat) from animals grazing on C4 grasses. I argue that the most likely reason is that domestic stock — especially cattle — became more important in peoples' diets at this time. There is evidence for a new style of burial, in which the body was interred in a seated, flexed position, and the grave capped with stones. Thus, although living sites remain elusive, important elements of the historically documented Khoekhoe way of life can be identified for the first time in the early second millennium AD. This evidence also shows that a cattle-based economy emerged centuries before Europeans seeking animals to slaughter increased the demand for stock.


Résumé
Grâce aux archives datant du XVIIe et XVIIIe siècle du Cap, le pastoralisme du peuple Khoekhoe en Afrique australe est bien connu, de même que celui des communautés qui sont ses descendants. Les Khoekhoen du Cap gardaient de grands troupeaux de moutons et de bovins qui constituaient leur richesse, et généraient des produits laitiers formant leur base alimentaire. Les origines et le développement de leur mode de vie demeurent sujets à controverse. Le présent article aborde cette question par le biais de l'analyse du carbone stable et des isotopes d'azotes de 160 squelettes humains adultes provenant de la zone côtière du sud de l'Afrique. Juste avant 2000 bp, les chasseurs-cueilleurs avaient une alimentation variée tant d'origine marine que terrestre, mais les végétaux terrestres C4 (et les animaux pâturant dessus) étaient de relative moindre importance. Les moutons (et probablement les bovins) apparaissent pour la première fois sur les sites archéologiques il y a environ 2000 ans, cependant, quel que soit leur rôle dans le régime alimentaire de cette population, on note aucun changement significatif dans les rapports isotopiques du squelette humain durant le premier millénaire après JC. A partir début du second millénaire après JC, les gens commencent à consommer davantage de la nourriture C4, probablement d'origine animale (produits laitiers et viandes), découlant du broutage des herbes C4 par les animaux. Je soutiens que la raison la plus probable de cette mutation est que le bétail — en particulier bovin — était devenu plus important dans l'alimentation des populations à cette époque. Il existe des preuves de l'apparition d'un nouveau style d'inhumation, où le corps était enterré dans une position assise, fléchie, et la tombe recouverte de pierres. Ainsi, bien que les sites d'habitat demeurent méconnus, d'importants éléments ont été identifiés pour la première fois qui documentent historiquement le mode de vie des Khoekhoe au début du second millénaire après JC. Ces preuves démontrent également qu'une économie basée sur l'élevage bovin a émergé des siècles avant que les Européens, cherchant des animaux à abattre, n'accroissent la demande en bétail.




Keywords: diet, domestic stock, herder, Khoe, Khoekhoen, Later Stone Age


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Shadreck Chirikure, South Africa
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Manfred K.H. Eggert, Germany
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Diane Gifford-Gonzalez, USA
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Eric Huysecom, Switzerland
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Alexandre Livingstone Smith, Belgium
Scott MacEachern, USA
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David W. Phillipson, UK
Gilbert Pwiti, Zimbabwe
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Robert Vernet, France
Lyn Wadley, South Africa

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