Tracking Pastoralism through Africa

by Andrew Smith

Genetic studies of both cattle and humans in Africa show Levantine connections. 8000 years ago the Sahara was a well-watered grassland attractive to immigration by herders from the Near East. This came to a halt 5000 years ago when rainfall systems receded and herders had to move south. They also had been utilizing wild grains, sorghum and pearl millet, but the environmental pressure forced them to manipulate these resources, resulting in control and ultimately domestication, and, for some people, a more sedentary life. These grains became essential to the spread of farming communities, both in West and East Africa by 3000 BP, and probably allowed the colonization southwards of Iron Age Bantu-speakers from East Africa. Domestic animals also travelled south from East Africa, entering southern Africa some 2000 years ago. There has been some debate on how pastoralism came to southern Africa, whether it was by demic expansion of immigrant herders, or by local hunters taking up domestic stock, and who ultimately became the Khoekhoen known historically at the Cape. This debate will be discussed in detail, offering the most recent information from archaeological, linguistic and genetic studies.