An Early Date for Cattle from Namaqualand, South Africa: Implications for the Origins of Herding in Southern Africa

By Orton, Jayson; Mitchell, Peter et al. | Antiquity, March 2013 | Go to article overview

An Early Date for Cattle from Namaqualand, South Africa: Implications for the Origins of Herding in Southern Africa


Orton, Jayson, Mitchell, Peter, Klein, Richard, Steele, Teresa, Horsburgh, K. Ann, Antiquity


Introduction

On first reaching southern Africa in 1488, Europeans encountered pastoralist populations (the Khoekhoen) who possessed numerous sheep and cattle, access to which was a key motivation in the eventual establishment of a Dutch East India Company (VOC) outpost at Cape Town in 1652. The origin of these domesticates, as well as the dogs and goats that some Khoekhoen also owned, has been debated for over a century, although always recognising that they must have come from north of the Equator (Smith 2005). Sourcing the domesticates has also often been linked to their frequent--though not universal--co-occurrence with pottery and with the history of the Khoe language family, one variant of which the Khoekhoen themselves spoke (Guldemann 2008).

The debate is complex. One view envisages a spread west from Botswana then south through Namibia into the Cape of South Africa (Cooke 1965). The alternative sees a more complex set of movements along the eastern margins of the Kalahari, south toward the Orange/Vaal confluence and then downstream into Namibia and Namaqualand, as well as southward via the Karoo into the Cape (Figure 1) (Elphick 1985; Ehret 2008). Related to this is the question of process: did livestock, pottery and the Khoe language spread as an integrated package around 2000 years ago--perhaps combined with a distinctive style of geometric rock art (Smith & Ouzman 2004)? And was this spread the result of migration from the far north of Botswana (Westphal 1963), but possibly with ultimate origins in East Africa (Smith 2006, 2008; see also Henn et al. 2008 for a genetic perspective on this)? Or was the appearance of the Khoekhoen as an ethno-linguistic community a more recent, late first/early second-millennium AD development in the Cape, preceded by many centuries in which sheep were exchanged among indigenous hunter-gatherer populations in Namibia and western South Africa to produce a situation of 'hunters-with--sheep' who only rarely developed a greater commitment to livestock rearing (Sadr 1998, 2008)?

Both these models for the spread of livestock--and most overviews (e.g. Klein 1986; Deacon & Deacon 1999; Mitchell 2002)--assume that the earliest livestock were sheep, with cattle not reaching the Cape before 1300 BP, perhaps from mixed farming iron--using Bantu-speaking communities significantly further east (Smith 2006). Indeed, Sadr (1998: 124, note 5) went so far as to ask if the intensive cattle-rearing recorded for late seventeenth-century Khoekhoen at the Cape was "a response to the lucrative VOC market for beef", in which case the large numbers of cattle reported by Dutch observers would have been a very recent development, wholly uncharacteristic of the preceding 1500 years. Publication of AMS radiocarbon dates from Toteng 1, Botswana, has since shown that domesticated cattle were present in a microlithic Later Stone Age (LSA) context in the northern Kalahari some 2000 years ago (Robbins et al. 2005, 2008). Until now, however, comparable evidence has been lacking elsewhere in southern Africa. The only exception would be Horsburgh's (2008) identification of cattle DNA in bones from 2000-year-old deposits at Byneskranskop Shelter, south-east of Cape Town. However, she now believes that further analysis is needed for confirmation of this. Here we report a new directly dated horn core of cattle (Bos taurus) flora KN2005/041 in Namaqualand near Koingnaas on South Africa's Atlantic coast (Figure 1). This find contradicts long-held views about the antiquity of cattle so far south and carries important implications as to how and in what circumstances livestock reached southernmost Africa.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

KN2005/0041

KN2005/041 (30[degrees]14'06"S, 17[degrees]15'00"E) is an in sim shell midden located some 570m from the sea and 3.3km from the Swartlintjies River. The single archaeological layer present was excavated over an area of 10.5[m.sup. …

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