Botswana History Pages, by Neil Parsons

3:    Archaeology


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Notes and Comments

[for more Links from this page see below]

Provisional version by Neil Parsons April 1999

The study of Botswana's archaeology began somewhat unsystematically with forays from over the border. Before the 1940s the only study focussed within the borders of Botswana was the surface collection of Stone Age tools in the Tati (Francistown) district by H.S. Gordon - deposited with bare documentation in the Bulawayo museum.

The antiquarian Richard Hall added 'Zimbabwe' sites in Botswana to his books on Rhodesian ruins around the turn of the last century. The pioneer Stone Age archaeologist of western Zimbabwe, Neville Jones, was also probably familiar with parts of Botswana.

The largely unpublished work of P.W. Laidler from South Africa in the 1930s, on the pottery of a few major Iron Age sites in eastern Botswana (including Toutswe north of Palapye), was important in that it contributed to the pioneering pottery classification of Schofield in the 1940s. H.A. Wieschoff, working for the great Frobenius, excavated at Domboshaba just over the border from Zimbabwe in the 1930s, but the wonderful clay birds that he found seem to have been victims of Allied bombing in Nazi Germany. The first systematic survey of Botswana, for Early and Middle Stone Age tools, was conducted by E.J. ('Jim') Wayland, the colonial director of geological services for the Bechuanaland Protectorate in the late 1940s. He had come from Uganda, where he had postulated the palaeo-climatological sequence of 'pluvials' that had given Louis Leakey a dating scheme for his study of human origins.

This meant that by the time of Desmond Clark's Atlas of African History in the 1960s, the distribution of Later Stone Age and Iron Age sites in Botswana remained largely blank - confirming the common assumption that Botswana had been a virtually unpopulated desert for thousands of years till the 18th-19th centuries AD. This situation was overturned in the 1970s largely as a result of the dedication and enthusiasm of Alec Campbell, founding director of the National Museum and Art Gallery of Botswana. He set two young American archaeologists, working for their doctorates, onto Toutswe Mogala hill north of Palapye. The second was Jim Denbow, whose finding of hundreds of Toutswe culture sites in Central District from the middle part of the Iron Age revolutionized the archaeology of Southern Africa. Botswana began to look central rather than peripheral to prehistoric innovations in the region.

Thanks to the previous initiative of Michael Crowder as professor of history at UB, the University of Botswana has developed a viable archaeological programme since the late 1980s. The first major fruit is terms of publication is Ditswa Mmung published in April 1999.

Archaeology Links

For details of Ditswa Mmung: The Archaeology of Botswana see our page on UB publications, and details of the UB Archaeology Unit staff and courses can be accessed via the page About the UB History Department. See also our provisional list of historical and archaeological sites in Local History Resources

Closely connected with Botswana archaeology are the Iron Age Shashi Limpopo Archaeology Project (accessible only as a link through the UCT Archaeology Department), and the Rock Art Research Centre of the University of Witwatersrand. UCT Archaeology includes useful links elsewhere on the web. Also see Grinco's Archaeology Images at University of Pretoria for Iron Age sites in Northern Province. Also see the Sterkfontein page for palaeontology in Gauteng. Also see a lecture on rock art by David Lewis-Williams.

There is an enormous bibliography on pre-colonial metal-working in Africa, including Botswana, by Duncan Miller and Tim Maggs.

Current teaching materials of Jim Denbow can be found under Archaeology and Anthropology on the University of Texas at Austin.

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Copyright © 1999 Neil Parsons

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Last updated 19 August 1999