Archaeobotanical evidence for the emergence of pastoralism and farming in southern Africa
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School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies., University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Geology, School for Geo- and Spatial Science, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Science, North West University, South Africa
Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria
Online publication date: 2022-06-30
Publication date: 2022-06-30
Acta Palaeobotanica 2022; 62(1): 50–75
  • Using archaeobotanical data, we developed a narrative of pastoralism and farming.
  • Pastoralism and farming result in a distinct pattern of vegetation changes.
  • Tribulus spp (puncture vine) is an indicator of livestock farming.
  • Decline of forest and increased coprophilous fungal spores reflect human activities.
  • Fire regime changes, increased open-land, and pioneer taxa reflect human activities.
Several models which remain equivocal and controversial cite migration and/or diffusion for the emergence and spread of pastoralism and farming in southern Africa during the first millennium AD. A synthesis of archaeobotanical proxies (e.g., palynology, phytoliths, anthracology) consistent with existing archaeobotanical and archaeological data leads to new insights into anthropogenic impacts in palaeorecords. Harnessing such archaeobotanical evidence is viable for tracing the spread of pastoralism and farming in the first millennium AD because the impact of anthropogenic practices is likely to result in distinct patterns of vegetation change. We assess this impact through the synthesis of published archaeobotanical evidence of pastoralism and farming, as well as vegetation changes in southern Africa during the first millennium AD. It has been argued that the decline of forests during the first millennium AD in southern Africa predominantly relates to climate change. This argument often precludes anthropogenic effects on vegetation. Our reassessment of the relationship between vegetation, climate, and human activities in southern Africa reveals evidence of human impact during the same period. We also highlight gaps in the current knowledge of early pastoralism and farming and potential future research directions. We hypothesize that the pattern exhibited by the decline of forest tree pollen, coupled with the increase of open-land indicators, the occurrence of pioneer trees, as well as the spores of coprophilous fungi, and possible changes in the fire regime are reflective of, and consistent with, anthropogenic activities of pre-European pastoralists and farmers.
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