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Archaeology, baobabs and drought: Cultural proxies and environmental data from the Mapungubwe landscape, southern Africa

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Abstract

Ethnographic and archaeological data from the Mapungubwe landscape show that rainmaking deposits on hilltops, along with burnt grain bins in ordinary villages, represent cultural responses to severe drought by Iron Age agricultural communities. In ordinary villages, burnt granaries were the result of cleansing rituals, rather than violence or natural causes. A total of 13 episodes of severe droughts were previously documented in hilltop and village deposits. New climate proxy data from baobab trees provide a 1000-year-long regional record that helps to refine this drought sequence. Based on carbon isotope values, the baobab record documents additional episodes and confirms an early 14th-century drought associated with the abandonment of Mapungubwe. This abandonment, however, owed as much to cultural factors as to environmental pressures.

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... Significant for our purposes, the rainfall trough extends to the nearby Limpopo Valley where the pre-colonial rainfall pattern is well known through isotopic studies of animal bone (Smith et al. 2007) and baobab rings (Woodborne et al. 2015). The Motloutse trough indicates that rainfall data for the Limpopo Valley (Huffman & Woodborne 2016) are relevant, even though the two areas may not have been precisely the same. ...
... For rain-control activities, three major droughts are on record: one dated ad 1375±25, another to 1465±5 and the third to 1530±10 (Huffman & Woodborne 2016;Woodborne et al. 2015); any could have been the reason for Letsibogo rituals. (Table 3) indicate that the late fourteenth-and mid fifteenthcentury droughts were more likely. ...
... Settlement could have resumed in the 1630s (300-400 mm), but the 1650s received little rain (200-300 mm) after the destruction of Khami. Indeed, a major drought around AD 1650 is reflected in burnt granaries and houses over a wide area of southern Africa, especially among Tswana-speaking communities in the Mochudi and Madikwe areas (Huffman & Woodborne 2016). Rainfall was generally higher in Zimbabwe, and Zinjanja dates from the 1650s and Danangombe from the 1680s through to about AD 1840. ...
Article
At its peak in the sixteenth century, the Zimbabwe Culture encompassed an area the size of France. The greater Tuli area in east-central Botswana formed the western extent of this culture area. Here many dzimbahwe mark the residences of sacred leaders in the later Khami period (1400–1840 ad ). These stone-walled headquarters formed a pyramid of political importance, with district chiefs (Level 4) and petty chiefs (Level 3) at the top and headmen (Level 2) and commoners (Level 1) at the base. Commoners and their headmen lived near arable land, while petty chiefs placed their administrative centres at the boundaries of their small chiefdoms. In death, sacred leaders rested in dzimbahwe on special hills, while ordinary villagers were buried in their homesteads. During the Khami period in Botswana, these various settlements were part of only one Level 4 district: Level 5 and Level 6 capitals were located elsewhere. After the collapse of the powerful Torwa state at Khami, decorative symbols changed from emphasizing the majesty of kingship (Khami) to the responsibilities of sacred leaders (Zinjanja), and then back again to kingship in the Rozvi state (Danangombe). The powerful Rozvi state did not extend to the Tuli area, probably because it was too dry.
... Most grain bins, hut floors and kraals are now found as isolated patches amid brush vegetation common in southern Africa. Further archeological context can be found in Huffman [2007] (see also supporting information [Huffman, 1978;Huffman and du Piesanie, 2011;Huffman et al., 2013Huffman and Woodborne, 2016;Main, 2002Main, , 2008Robinson, 1961]. These localities fill gaps in previous records, and extend the directional curve back to the 4 th century. ...
... They cultivated various grains, developed complex metal-working technologies, and lived in villages which included grain bins, huts and cattle enclosures [Huffman, 2007]. It has been established that ritualistic burning of daga structures [Huffman, 2009a] was performed in response to periods of prolonged drought [Huffman and Woodborne, 2016]. ...
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The paucity of Southern Hemisphere archeomagnetic data limits the resolution of paleosecular variation models. At the same time, important changes in the modern and historical field, including the recent dipole decay, appear to originate in this region. Here a new directional record from southern Africa is presented from analysis of Iron Age (ca. 425–1550 CE) archeological materials, which extends the regional secular variation curve back to the first millennium. Previous studies have identified a period of rapid directional change between 1225 and ∼1550 CE. The new data allow us to identify an earlier period of relatively rapid change between the sixth and seventh centuries CE. Implications for models of recurrent flux expulsion at the core-mantle boundary are discussed. In addition, we identify a possible relationship of changes recorded in these African data with archeomagnetic jerks.
... In this case, 'guilty' parties -guilty because they had broken pollution ruleswould have to burn down their granaries and build new ones on top if they continued to live in the same settlement (Murimbika 2006). Widespread burnings at the same time throughout the Iron Age, from Malawi to KwaZulu-Natal, show that severe droughts had a common natural cause, perhaps linked to El Niño events, with a common cultural reaction (Huffman and Woodborne 2016). ...
... Magagarape in Botswana provides one example (Campbell et al. 1996a). Five known episodes of severe drought could apply to the Rhino site: Group I, somewhere between AD 400 and 450; Group II, between AD 550 and 570; Group III, between AD 635 and 665; Group IV, between AD 675 and 700; and Group V, between AD 750 and 800 (Huffman and Woodborne 2016). Otherwise, the overall climate was amenable to mixed agriculture. ...
Article
The Rhino Early Iron Age site near Thabazimbi in the far north of South Africa is a sixth- to eighth-century AD example of an agricultural settlement that followed the principles of the Central Cattle Pattern. In addition to settlement features, salvage excavations yielded a fragment of a ‘Lydenburg Head’ in association with Happy Rest pottery. Together with other data, head sculptures appear to be a Kalundu Tradition trait. The head, long-term occupation and settlement extent show that Rhino was a chief’s headquarters. The Happy Rest assemblage provides an example of interaction with different Bantu-speaking people in the region who made Mzonjani pottery, while Later Stone Age scrapers attest to interaction with hunter-gatherers. Magnetic measurements led to a re-evaluation of archaeological interpretations of the site and show the mutual benefit of the joint study.
... Most grain bins, hut floors, and kraals are now found as isolated patches amid brush vegetation common in southern Africa. Further archeological context can be found in Huffman (2007) (see also supporting information; Huffman, 1978;Huffman & du Piesanie, 2011;Huffman et al., 2013Huffman & Woodborne, 2016;Main, 2002Main, , 2008Robinson, 1961). These localities fill gaps in previous records and extend the directional curve back to the fourth century. ...
... They cultivated various grains, developed complex metal-working technologies, and lived in villages which included grain bins, huts, and cattle enclosures (Huffman, 2007). It has been established that ritualistic burning of daga structures (Huffman, 2009) was performed in response to periods of prolonged drought (Huffman & Woodborne, 2016). ...
... Criticisms of Huffman's model, however, claim it promotes 'lawlike' constants in human action based upon cultural worldview rather than idiosyncratic agency, 73 and therefore negates coping and adaptation capabilities. 63 Moreover, it is unclear why the more protracted droughts during the late-13th century, which are corroborated by multiple clusters of ritual burning, 71 are not mentioned by Huffman and Woodborne. New perspectives on the process of state decline across Mapungubwe's wider sphere of influence, rather than a focus on capital abandonment alone, may help clarify these debates. ...
Article
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Climate variability has been causally linked to the transformation of society in pre-industrial southeast Africa. A growing critique, however, challenges the simplicity of ideas that identify climate as an agent of past societal change; arguing instead that the value of historical climate–society research lies in understanding human vulnerability and resilience, as well as how past societies framed, responded and adapted to climatic phenomena. We work across this divide to present the first critical analysis of climate–society relationships in southeast Africa over the last millennium. To achieve this, we review the now considerable body of scholarship on the role of climate in regional societal transformation, and bring forward new perspectives on climate–society interactions across three areas and periods using the theoretical frameworks of vulnerability and resilience. We find that recent advances in paleoclimatology and archaeology give weight to the suggestion that responses to climate variability played an important part in early state formation in the Limpopo valley (1000–1300), though evidence remains insufficient to clarify similar debates concerning Great Zimbabwe (1300–1450/1520). Written and oral evidence from the Zambezi Save (1500–1830) and KwaZulu-Natal areas (1760–1828) nevertheless reveals a plurality of past responses to climate variability. These were underpinned by the organization of food systems, the role of climate-related ritual and political power, social networks, and livelihood assets and capabilities, as well as the nature of climate variability itself. To conclude, we identify new lines of research on climate, history and society, and discuss how these can more directly inform contemporary African climate adaptation challenges.
... By AD 1320, Mapungubwe people had abandoned the Limpopo Valley and the landscape remained unoccupied by agriculturalists for some 80 years until early Sotho people took up residence. 1,2 With a probable origin in East Africa 3 , Icon pottery marks the first appearance of Sotho speakers in southern Africa. Shortly afterwards, Kalanga speakers (Western Shona) who made Khami pottery moved south from Zimbabwe and reoccupied the valley: it was their ancestors who had lived at Mapungubwe. ...
Article
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After the abandonment of Mapungubwe, the Limpopo Valley was reoccupied first by Sotho people, making Icon pottery, and then by Kalanga speakers making Khami pottery. The senior Kalanga chief, in this case Twamamba, was based at Machemma about 60 km to the south, while several petty chiefs administered various portions of the valley itself. Because of fluctuating rainfall, the occupations of both Sotho and Kalanga people occurred in pulses during higher rainfall periods. New AMS dates place one site in the Icon Period, eight sites in Pulse 1 (AD 1400–1480) and eight sites or components in Pulse 2 (AD 1520–1590). Kalanga people occupied the best agricultural land near the Limpopo floodplains and Sotho people lived on the plateau to the south. The two groups thus shared the landscape, but not the resources equally. The ceramic record documents this unequal interaction. This interaction, facilitated by male and female initiation schools on the ethnic boundary, helped to create Venda as a language and macro-cultural entity. Significance: • Interaction between Sotho (Icon) and Kalanga (Khami) over some 200 years led to the creation of Venda. • New radiocarbon dates relate to Tshivenda origins, the language spoken by Venda today. • Initiation schools in the Limpopo Valley provide a model for interaction in the rest of Venda.
... The development of a baobab-based rainfall proxy record for the last 1000 years for the Pafuri area of South Africa is important because of the scarcity of instrumental and proxy records for the region [3,4]. The Pafuri record was used to contextualize the archaeological trajectory of the Iron Age in southern Africa [5] and also elucidate climate response to forcing over longer time scales than can be obtained from the instrumental record. It revealed that the Medieval Warm Period was relatively wet, the Little Ice Age was relatively dry, and that inter-annual variability in rainfall is linked to sea-surface temperature regimes in the Agulhas Current Core region and also the Indian Ocean Dipole Moment Index [2]. ...
... The development of a baobab-based rainfall proxy record for the last 1000 years for the Pafuri area of South Africa is important because of the scarcity of instrumental and proxy records for the region [3,4]. The Pafuri record was used to contextualize the archaeological trajectory of the Iron Age in southern Africa [5] and also elucidate climate response to forcing over longer time scales than can be obtained from the instrumental record. It revealed that the Medieval Warm Period was relatively wet, the Little Ice Age was relatively dry, and that inter-annual variability in rainfall is linked to sea-surface temperature regimes in the Agulhas Current Core region and also the Indian Ocean Dipole Moment Index [2]. ...
Article
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Carbon isotope analysis of four baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) trees from the Pafuri region of South Africa yielded a 1000-year proxy rainfall record. The Pafuri record age model was based on 17 radiocarbon dates, cross correlation of the climate record, and ring structures that were presumed to be annual for two of the trees. Here we present the analysis of five additional baobabs from the Mapungubwe region, approximately 200km west of Pafuri. The Mapungubwe chronology demonstrates that ring structures are not necessarily annually formed, and accordingly the Pafuri chronology is revised. Changes in intrinsic water-use efficiency indicate an active response by the trees to elevated atmospheric CO2, but this has little effect on the environmental signal. The revised Pafuri record, and the new Mapungubwe record correlate significantly with local rainfall. Both records confirm that the Medieval Warm Period was substantially wetter than present, and the Little Ice Age was the driest period in the last 1000 years. Although Mapungubwe is generally drier than Pafuri, both regions experience elevated rainfall peaking between AD 1570 and AD 1620 after which dry conditions persist in the Mapungubwe area until about AD 1840. Differences between the two records correlate with Agulhas Current sea-surface temperature variations suggesting east/west displacement of the temperate tropical trough system as an underlying mechanism. The Pafuri and Mapungubwe records are combined to provide a regional climate proxy record for the northern summer rainfall area of southern Africa.
... This dry period coincides with the widespread decrease of temperatures considered as the maximum of Little Ice Age (Tyson et al., 2001). During the Little Ice Age, dry periods were recorded around East Africa (Russell and Johnson, 2007;Tierney et al., 2013) and southern Africa (Huffman, 2004;Chevalier and Chase, 2015;Huffman and Woodborne, 2016;Woodborne et al., 2016). This indicates that the equatorial West Indian Ocean which brings moisture to Madagascar and East Africa (Scroxton et al., 2017) was stronger than their respective atmospheric forcing. ...
Thesis
In this thesis, I investigated the impact of human land use and rainfall on the tropical dry forest in Madagascar by generating new records of vegetation, fire regime, and rainfall of the past 2000 years. We analysed proxies such as pollen and carbon isotope, microscopic charcoal in sediment cores for vegetation and fire while a measurement of the isotope content of baobab rings was used to reconstruct past rainfall of the Southwest of Madagascar. Qualitative and statistical analysis of the data allowed us to discuss the relative impact of human and climate on the dry forest during the late Holocene.
... The Quaternary community has thus shown great interest in human-climate-environment interactions, both with reference to human evolutionary processes, and later Holocene dynamics (e.g. Brook, Railsback, Scott, Voarintsoa, & Liang, 2015;Huffman & Woodborne, 2015). This trend was clearly evident at the recent (2015) inaugural AfQUA conference, 'The African Quaternary: Environments, Ecology and Humans' , where oral presentations were split 60:40 between palaeoenvironmental and archaeological studies, with considerable overlap and integration. ...
Article
Research in Quaternary Science in South Africa has developed rapidly over recent decades, growing into a strongly interdisciplinary and increasingly applied science. A historical overview of the discipline is provided, outlining its roots and placing the first studies in southern Africa in context, highlighting the contributions of pioneering researchers within the field here. The inherent methodological difficulties of working in a semi-arid environment have promoted the application and development of diverse, and sometimes novel archives and proxies. Indeed, there has been a noticeable shift away from traditional pollen-based climate reconstructions to a more diverse range of approaches, including multi-proxy evidence. The growth of the palaeosciences in South Africa has been supported by national research strategies and targeted funding instruments, and the promotion of environmental change research in general by national research networks.
... The KwaZulu-Natal Province with historically more indigenous herbivores (Baldwin, 1863;Coutu et al., 2016;McCracken, 2008;Voigt and von den Driesch, 1984), experienced an influx of livestock with the arrival of Nguni pastoralists from East Africa from ca. 1 000 BP (Huffman, 2004). Much later, pastoralists and farmers moved into the interior montane grasslands during the Little Ice Age droughts from ca. 450-150 BP (Huffman, 2004;Huffman and Woodborne, 2016). In the last century land management policies including: fire suppression, elimination of indigenous grazers and carnivores and concentration of pastoral communities in smaller areas may have increased the use and degradation of wetlands. ...
Thesis
Rainfall, fire, and grazing all control changes in vegetation and soil in grassland and savanna ecosystems. In these ecosystems, wetlands are key resource areas because they keep moisture and collect nutrients that support grass production. The grass production supports high grazer densities in landscapes, especially during dry climatic periods. The equilibrium idea suggests that, at high densities, herbivores reduce grass production and damage soils. In contrast, the disequilibrium idea argues that unreliable rainfall and frequent droughts lower herbivore densities to levels rendering their effects negligible. Thus, grass production and grazer densities rarely stabilise. However, nonequilibrium theories suggest the relevance of both ideas in natural systems. Spatial and temporal scales used for looking at landscapes and the resilience of persistent soil and grass states control which idea wins. In turn, stability of vegetation states is related to traits of grass biomass including palatability, flammability, and tolerance to drought. At long timescales, we remain uncertain about how grass production in landscapes are affected by indigenous herbivores, and those managed with fires by pastoralists for livestock. In this thesis, I test nonequilibrium dynamics with stability domains of grass biomass, i.e., centres of stable vegetation states (tallgrass versus shortgrass), to assess the resilience of contrasting key resource areas. Long-term sediment proxy data offer the opportunity for assessing vegetation and soil dynamics over many centuries.
... The widespread distribution of sites in time and space eliminates systematic violence as another explanation. Instead of these causes, occupation levels with burnt daga correlate with baobab (Huffman & Woodborne 2016) and faunal data (Smith et al. 2007) that document severe droughts (from 3-5 years) over a 1000-year period. As argued before, deliberately burnt grainbins probably represent a cleansing ritual associated with severe droughts (Murimbika 2006 andpers. ...
Article
Archaeomagentic research in the Mount Buhwa area of south-central Zimbabwe focused on a Silver Leaves village (2030CB19) and the famous Gokomere site of Mabveni (2030AD5). At both sites, in situ daga features were selected for sampling. These features were the remains of granaries whose burnings correlate with known droughts. The droughts, ceramics and radiocarbon dates place the two occupations in different phases of the Early Iron Age-early fifth and late seventh centuries respectively. Despite the time difference, both sites yielded evidence for interaction with people making Bambata pottery. The rich iron ores attracted faming peoples throughout the Iron Age and interaction was probably common.
... In addition, it could create platforms to produce high-yielding varieties and breeds of crop plants and animals respectively, both for food and industrial purposes via transgenic protocols and approaches. Also, in terms of carbon sequestration, an understanding of drought susceptibility and resistance marker genes can help in the development of drought tolerant/resistant tree species for silvicultural, horticultural and landscape purposes and for the afforestation of drought-stricken regions [69,70]; Matthew et al., 2019; [71]. ...
Article
Over the last 150 years, there has been a dramatic increase in research focusing on droughts in every part of the world, due to their negative impacts on multiple sectors, the functioning of ecosystems and human wellbeing. However, our understanding of the long-term trends of drought-related research remains limited. Therefore, this study is aimed at providing a generalised quantitative and qualitative synthesis of drought-related research publications from 1861 to 2019 in the Scopus database, using bibliometric and science mapping analytics. Title-specific field drought-related articles were mined and analysed for explanatory characteristics to identify different research trends, global and national interests and their contributions’. The results of the synthesis revealed a total of 26,221 articles from 45,329 authors and 3181 journals. The annual research production in drought-related research thus exhibited a 7.87% annual growth rate during this period from 1861 to 2019. Drought as a central theme witnessed a mean growth rate (MGR) of 8170% in the last 3 years (2017–2019). The prevailing topics include drought tolerance, resilience, climate change, and drought resistance, which had MGRs of 1100%, 530%, 2030% and 70% in 2017–2019, respectively. With an MGR of 1030%, remote sensing appeared to be a widespread method used in the monitoring of meteorological drought (600%), agricultural drought (730%), and hydrological drought (330%). Four trending thematic areas identified in drought-related research from 1861 to 2019 were climate change-related; physiology and biochemistry in plant/herb photosynthesis; molecular genetics and mechanisms of drought impacts (stress), tolerance and resistance in crops/plants; and emerging concept related to the circadian rhythms of biological systems in drought conditions. It also emerged from an analysis of the thematic areas that drought-related research in South Africa focused on agriculture and food-security, water-security, environmental sustainability, socioeconomics (among others) during the relevant period.
... The Zimbabwe culture sequence can now be divided into three periods, each named after important capitals: Mapungubwe (AD 1220- 1290), Great Zimbabwe (AD 1290-1450) and Khami (AD 1450-1820) (Huffman 2000(Huffman , 2009). The C 14 record of the sudden decline at Mapungubwe ranges 1270-1290 (Huffman & Vogel, 1991;Vogel, 1998;Huffman & Woodborne, 2015;Woodborne et al., 2015;Stephan Woodborne pers. comm. 1 September 2015). ...
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The initial standard narrative of how New Zealand was thought to be settled by a relatively small number of Polynesian people over centuries of gradual adaption grew from the estimates of genealogical reckoning or whakapapa and formative radiocarbon dating chronology. A new strategic migration model validates a rapid mass translocation from Hawaiiki in the late thirteenth century. The incentive for the migration was likely motivated by charismatic authoritarian "mana" individuals or an unknown "starburst" event. Research retrieved on past cosmogenic structures in southern Africa together with known medieval comparative indigenous knowledge data, reveals evidence that the Great Enclosure structure at Great Zimbabwe was possibly a cosmic reference to a unique astronomical incident with unverifiable sources and mainly non-literate oral narratives that offer inadequate validation. An uncatalogued supernova remnant RX J0852.0-4622 / G 266.2-1.2 in Vela has now been verified by a Japanese eyewitness account as visible in 1271 and is most likely Mahutonga-the star that disappeared in the oral tradition. This extraordinary star may have been the primary instigator for extensive translocation south-westwards to New Zealand from Hawaiiki, similar to the formation of Great Zimbabwe that likewise "followed a star" relating to the nearest, brightest and most recent supernova that disappeared.
... The random distribution of sites in time and space eliminates systematic violence as another explanation. Instead of these causes, occupation levels with burnt daga correlate with isotopic data from bones (Smith et al. 2007) and baobabs (Huffman & Woodborne 2016) which document drought conditions. These correlations are too numerous to be a coincidence. ...
Article
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Salvage excavations of a K2-period homestead (Liz 197) near Mapungubwe yielded a ceramic assemblage useful to the debate about Mapela Hill. At the same time, the homestead contributes to understanding settlement locations in the Limpopo Valley during the Middle Iron Age. Liz 197 is also one of the rare Leopard's Kopje sites with Leokwe pottery.
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Southern Africa is dominated by fire-prone arid and semi-arid landscapes that are expected to experience increased maximum temperatures, rainfall variation and frequency of extreme rainfall events in the future. These conditions will affect fire and vegetation dynamics, but feedback and interactions among fire, rainfall and woody cover limit our ability to predict future ecosystem changes. Moreover, human activities can also drive changes in these components and their interactions. There are few long-term datasets available to monitor these changes over ecologically relevant time-scales. Here the combined analysis of a rainfall proxy, developed from a baobab tree core (Adansonia digitata) and fire proxy, from a sediment core, in the savanna-woodland transition zone in South Central Africa elucidates the history of two major drivers of savanna structure for the past 600 years. They show a system that oscillates between wooded and grassy vegetation states over time, as well as a change in the spatial scale of fires, which could be linked to human activities and recent fire management legislation.
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The Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) is a recognized period of distinct pre-industrial climate change, with a core period of 1000–1200 CE. The field of palaeoclimatology has made major progress over the past 15 years during which a great number of high- and medium-resolution case studies were published, reconstructing climate change of the past millennia. In many parts of the world, regional data coverage has now reached a point which allows compiling palaeoclimate maps for well-defined time intervals. Here we present hydroclimatic trend maps for the MCA in Africa based on 99 published study locations. Key hydroclimatic proxy curves are visualized and compared in a series of 16 correlation panels. Proxy types are described and possible issues discussed. Based on the combined MCA dataset, temporal and spatial trends are interpreted and mapped out. Three areas have been identified in Africa in which rainfall seems to have increased during the MCA, namely Tunisia, western Sahel and the majority of southern Africa. At the same time, a reduction in precipitation occurred in the rest of Africa, comprising of NW and NE Africa, West Africa, Eastern Africa and the Winter Rainfall Zone of South Africa. MCA hydroclimate change in Africa appears to have been associated with characteristic phases of ocean cycles, as also supported by modern climate observations. Aridity in Morocco typically coincides with the positive phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), whilst increased rainfall in the western Sahel is often coupled to the positive phase of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). Reduction in rainfall in the region Gulf of Aden/southern Red Sea to Eastern Africa could be linked to a negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) or a derived long-term equivalent Indian Ocean cycle parameter. The Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) appears to have been shifted pole-wards during the MCA, for both the January and July positions. MCA hydroclimate mapping revealed major data gaps in the Sahara, South Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, northern Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Special efforts are needed to fill these gaps, e.g. through a dedicated structured research program in which new multiproxy datasets are created, based on the learnings from previous African MCA studies.
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Glass beads from the East African coast obtained through the Indian Ocean trade have been known for a half-century to have been taken into the interior of southern Africa. Zhizo Hill and Makuru, both situated in central Zimbabwe, were among the first Early Iron Age sites where such beads were recovered. Zhizo Hill subsequently became the name site for these beads and associated pottery, now called Zhizo. Makuru was among the very few mid-twentieth century sites with adequate charcoal from which the first radiocarbon dates associated with Zhizo beads and ceramics were obtained. Yet the beads from neither site have been analysed before this nor described in any adequate way. This paper presents the results of their analyses by Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry along with reassessments of those first radiocarbon dates. It then considers the implications of these data and the complexities of interpretation regarding the beads in southern Africa still to be addressed.
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This book was funded by the EU 7th Framework Programme (7FP), TropicMicroArch 623293 Project (http://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/187754_en.html). The book will be Open Access, thanks to FP7 post-grant Open Access (https://www.openaire.eu/postgrantoapilot).
Chapter
Climate has emerged as one of a number of themes in debates concerning the formation and disaggregation of African state structures before the colonial era. The proliferation of paleoclimatic data series from “natural archives” such as tree-rings has shed increasing light on changes in temperature and precipitation stretching back millennia. Such long-term climatic changes could have enduring effects on human livelihoods in agriculturally marginal areas. The apparent coincidence of periods of climatic change with major turning points in African history over the last millennium has therefore led to claims of causation, with early moves towards state formation in the Shashe–Limpopo basin (c. 1000–1220ce) and in KwaZulu-Natal (c. 1750–1800) linked to contemporaneous warm–wet conditions, and the decline, or “collapse,” of state structures, including Mapungubwe (c. 1300ce) and Great Zimbabwe (c. 1450ce), linked to a shift to cooler and drier regional climates. Recent literature from both within and outside of the southern African context has begun to question the veracity of climate-driven historical change. In the southern African case, there remains considerable uncertainty concerning the climate history of the region prior to 1800. The climatic signatures captured by some records are ambiguous in their representation of temperature or precipitation, while many long-duration climate records available for southern Africa are simply of insufficient temporal resolution to capture the short-term extremes in rainfall that have proved challenging to societies in more recent centuries. Even where there is robust evidence for the coincidence of wet or dry conditions with societal change, African farming communities were far from passive observers, but responded to environmental stress in a variety of ways. The relative length, continuity and richness of the historical record in Zimbabwe and Mozambique after. c. 1505 provides opportunities to look more closely at these relationships. From the early 16th century onwards, Portuguese observers left records of those droughts which most impacted societies. These short-term extremes—usually back-to-back years of deficient, irregular or delayed rainfall, sometimes coupled with locust plagues—had varying effects between and within societies as they were “filtered” through different levels of societal vulnerability and resilience, which in turn engendered divergent responses. Analysis of over three centuries of written records on the pre-colonial period suggest that climate-related stress alone, while sometimes leading to famine, was rarely enough to cut deeper into the political fabric of the region; yet, when combined with weak institutional capacity, warfare, or increasingly uneven distributions of power, extreme and protracted droughts could prove decisive and help bring about transformations in society. The Mutapa state and lower Zambezi valley during the late 16th and early 19th centuries, as well as the Zulu kingdom in the 1820s, serve as cases in point.
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Research in the Limpopo Valley has documented over 500 Middle Iron Age sites (AD 900–1320) relevant to the origins of Mapungubwe – the capital of the first indigenous state in southern Africa. Fifteen new accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dates from 11 of these archaeological sites establish the boundaries of the ceramic facies that form the culture-history framework for such diverse topics as land use, ethnic stratification, population dynamics and rainfall fluctuations. Mapungubwe was abandoned at about AD 1320. Significance: • Because Mapungubwe developed relatively recently (circa AD 1200), it can clarify the origins of older states. • Environmental factors such as droughts, along with agriculture and trade, played a role in the abandonment of Mapungubwe.
Thesis
The thesis titled, Past Imperfect: the contested early history of the Mapungubwe Archive interrogates the context and many silent gaps in the Mapungubwe Archive, and examines the multiple narratives as well as some of the indigenous histories of Mapungubwe prior to the traditionally viewed gold discovery made famous in 1933. Utilising postmodern notions of archival theory in her central argument, is how the Mapungubwe Archive needs to be questioned not only as a historical source, but rather as a contemporary discourse within global trends of the archival turn. The study elucidated the origins of some of the controversies surrounding Mapungubwe’s colonial past and how they mirror present heritage debates and disputes. The research focused on the conceptual notion of history as an imperfect past and argued that Mapungubwe’s contested past is inherently unfinished and flawed, because the past constantly challenges many ideas of the present.
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The dramatic decay of dipole geomagnetic field intensity during the last 160 years coincides with changes in Southern Hemisphere (SH) field morphology and has motivated speculation of an impending reversal. Understanding these changes, however, has been limited by the lack of longer-term SH observations. Here we report the first archaeomagnetic curve from southern Africa (ca. 1000-1600 AD). Directions change relatively rapidly at ca. 1300 AD, whereas intensities drop sharply, at a rate greater than modern field changes in southern Africa, and to lower values. We propose that the recurrence of low field strengths reflects core flux expulsion promoted by the unusual core-mantle boundary (CMB) composition and structure beneath southern Africa defined by the African large low shear velocity province (LLSVP). Because the African LLSVP and CMB structure are ancient, this region may have been a steady site for flux expulsion, and triggering of geomagnetic reversals, for millions of years.
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The expansion and decline of complex socio-political farming systems in the Shashe-Limpopo River Basin, southern Africa, has been linked to large-scale climate shifts in which increased rainfall favoured intensified agropastoral production and expanded settlement, while the onset of arid conditions led to collapse and abandonment of the area. This study uses stable nitrogen isotope ratios ( 15N/ 14N) from modern and archaeological fauna to construct a proxy-rainfall sequence for the region from AD 880 onwards. The resulting sequence provides a revised climatic context for agropastoral settlement of the river basin and evidence of greater climatic variation than previously documented. Stable nitrogen isotope data from the bone collagen of archaeological fauna show that settlement by Zhizo agropastoralists between AD 880 and 1010 took place under semi-arid conditions, with average annual rainfall of <500 mm. Results for sites dating between AD 1010 to 1290 are consistent with previous interpretations that the Leopard's Kopje A and B cultural period 'capitals' of K2 and Mapungubwe, respectively, rose to prominence under a trend towards increased average annual rainfall that was ≥500 mm. The data indicate also that the phase of increased moisture extended beyond the abandonment of Mapungubwe at AD 1290 and continued to be evident in fauna dating to the Moloko/Icon cultural period between AD 1310 and 1415. Data from the Moloko/Khami cultural period sites suggest that markedly drier conditions were not evident in the area until after AD 1450. Based on the isotope data, increased rainfall appears to have coincided with the expansion and intensification of settlement in the Shashe-Limpopo River Basin. Reconsideration, however, needs to be given to the correlation between the abandonment of Mapungubwe with the onset of arid conditions unfavourable for agropastoralism; other explanations, encompassing socio-economic and political choices, also must be sought.
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We present the first tree-ring reconstruction of rainfall in tropical Africa using a 200-year regional chronology based on samples of Pterocarpus angolensis from Zimbabwe. The regional chronology is significantly correlated with summer rainfall (November–February) from 1901 to 1948, and the derived reconstruction explains 46% of the instrumental rainfall variance during this period. The reconstruction is well correlated with indices of the El Niño-southern oscillation (ENSO), and national maize yields. An aridity trend in instrumental rainfall beginning in about 1960 is partially reproduced in the reconstruction, and similar trends are evident in the nineteenth century. A decadal-scale drought reconstructed from 1882 to 1896 matches the most severe sustained drought during the instrumental period (1989–1995), and is confirmed in part by documentary evidence. An even more severe drought is indicated from 1859 to 1868 in both the tree-ring and documentary data, but its true magnitude is uncertain. A 6-year wet period at the turn of the nineteenth century (1897–1902) exceeds any wet episode during the instrumental era. The reconstruction exhibits spectral power at ENSO, decadal and multi-decadal frequencies. Composite analysis of global sea surface temperature during unusually wet and dry years also suggests a linkage between reconstructed rainfall and ENSO.
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Shifting distributions of Iron Age villages in central and southern Africa provide independent cultural evidence for climatic change over the last 2000 years. A warm and wet period characterized the main spread of the Early Iron Age. Another wet period from about AD 900 to 1290—the Medieval Warm Epoch—permitted the build-up of large populations at K2 and Mapungubwe. The abandonment of Mapungubwe and simultaneous rise of Great Zimbabwe coincided with the beginning of the dry Little Ice Age, while a warm pulse in the 15th and 16th centuries created the conditions for mixed farming on the highveld. Another warm and wet period at the end of the 18th century contributed to the spread of maize, increased populations and military stress of the difaqane.
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Data from stalagmites in the Makapansgat Valley, South Africa, document regional climatic change in southern Africa in the Late Pleistocene and Holocene. A new TIMS U-series dated stalagmite indicates speleothem growth from 24.4 to 12.7 ka and from 10.2 to 0 ka, interrupted by a 2.5ka hiatus. High-resolution oxygen and carbon stable isotope data suggest that postglacial warming was first initiated ~17 ka, was interrupted by cooling, probably associated with the Antarctic Cold Reversal, and was followed by strong warming after 13.5ka. The Early Holocene experienced warm, evaporative conditions with fewer C4 grasses. Cooling is evident from ~6 to 2.5ka, followed by warming between 1.5 and 2.5ka and briefly at ~AD 1200. Maximum Holocene cooling occurred at AD 1700. The new stalagmite largely confirms results from shorter Holocene stalagmites reported earlier. The strongest variability superimposed on more general trends has a quasi-periodicity between 2.5and 4.0 ka. Also present are weaker ~1.0 ka and ~100-year oscillations, the latter probably solar induced. Given similarities to the Antarctic records, the proximate driving force producing millennial- and centennial-scale changes in the Makapansgat record is postulated to be atmospheric circulation changes associated with change in the Southern Hemisphere circumpolar westerly wind vortex.
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Iron Age settlement occurs in the eastern part of the sub-continent and Stone Age pastoralists with pottery occupied the west. The economy and ecology of cultures around 300-1000 AD are described while from around 800 AD features of a Late Iron Age tradition appear in hill top settlements, stone walling, long-distance trading links and the association of political power and wealth in cattle. Distributions for both the EIA and the LIA show higher populations in savannah and even forested environments rather than grassland areas although archaeological sites are best known from the grasslands. -K.Clayton
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In the Mapungubwe landscape, the Khami phase grades into the historic Venda period. Khami occupation, however, differs markedly from recent Venda settlement. Among the differences, rainfall was more consistent in the 15th and 16th centuries, and the Limpopo Valley supported several thousand people living on cattle posts and in agricultural villages. In contrast, 19th century Venda capitals virtually housed the entire chiefdom, totalling only some 350 people. A slow process of acculturation led the Venda-speaking Machete chiefdom to become Sotho. When Mapungubwe was discovered in the early 1930s, the chiefdom had already disintegrated, and the people spoke Sotho.
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Archaeological sites in the Shashe-Limpopo River Basin, southern Africa, reflect marked population growth and increased socio-political complexity between ca AD 880 and 1290, but the nature of agropastoral management that underpinned these extensive, more complex societies is not well understood. One key question concerns whether localized or more widespread regional strategies were employed to manage large herds of domestic animals. In order to identify potential herding areas we carried out strontium isotope analyses on tooth enamel from domestic fauna recovered at Shashe-Limpopo River Basin sites and compared them with those of modern wild and domestic fauna sampled from the greater region. Values were determined via low-resolution Inductively-Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) and Laser-ablation ICP-MS and high-resolution, standard Thermal Ionization Mass Spectrometry (TIMS). The low-resolution approaches gave values comparable to data produced by TIMS, within the level of precision required to distinguish geological areas contained in this exceptionally isotopically variable environment. The less invasive laser-ablation ICP-MS method provided a means to sample tooth enamel increments for indications of inter-seasonal movement of livestock. The archaeological data suggest that an inter-seasonal geographical expansion of herd management took place as socio-political complexity increased. A trans-humance or relocating herding strategy would have limited overgrazing of the local river basin landscape and results allow us to revisit hypotheses that overgrazing and environmental deterioration contributed to the subsequent political collapse and abandonment of the river basin at ca AD 1290.
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Climatic records from equatorial eastern Africa and subtropical southern Africa have shown that both temperature and the amount of rainfall have varied over the past millennium. Moreover, the rainfall pattern in these regions varied inversely over long periods of time. Droughts started abruptly, were of multi-decadal to multi-centennial length and the changes in the hydrological budget were of large amplitude. Changing water resources in semi-arid regions clearly must have regional influences on both ecological and socio-economic processes. Through a detailed analysis of the historical and paleoclimatic evidence from southern and eastern Africa covering the past millennium it is shown that, depending on the vulnerability of a society, climatic variability can have an immense impact on societies, sometimes positive and sometimes disastrous. Therefore, the interconnected issue of world ecosystem and social resilience is the challenge for decision-makers if sustainable development is to be reached on global and local levels.
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Variations in nitrogen isotope ratios in terrestrial foodwebs are described, and alternative models for variation in the enrichment between trophic levels are evaluated. Nitrogen isotope ratios in bone collagen have been used to determine trophic levels and differentiate marine from terrestrial resource consumption among prehistoric humans. However, recent research in terrestrial ecosystems has revealed significant variation in nitrogen isotope ratios between habitats, and within trophic levels in the same environment. Foodwebs in hot, arid environments tend to have higher nitrogen isotope ratios than cool, wet ones. Within ecosystems, the stepwise enrichment between trophic levels is often greater in hot, arid environments. Within ecosystems, herbivore species with physiological adaptations to water conservation have higher nitrogen isotope ratios than water-dependent species. The nitrogen isotope ratios of human bones may be affected by climate and physiology and thus cannot be directly compared between different types of ecosystems without first determining the isotopic composition of the local foodweb and the stepwise enrichment between trophic levels.
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