Are drylands marginal? Rethinking social complexity in the southern African Iron Age
Robert Nyamushosho
Tue, 09/10/2018 - 18:30
SA Astronomical Observatory auditorium
Western Cape
The general conviction in the Iron Age archaeology of southern Africa is that drylands are marginal landscapes that did not host any significant agro-pastoral communities in the past. As a result, past civilizations that lived in these landscapes have always been portrayed as short-lived, vulnerable and incapable of adapting to environmental and climatic adversities; their survival is mostly understood as being by chance and not choice.

However, data recovered from Mananzve, one of the dryland sites we surveyed and excavated in the Shashi region of south-western Zimbabwe, demonstrates that Iron Age communities continually occupied the landscape and, through various strategies of indigenous dryland agriculture, they maintained food security in the face of environmental and climatic risks. 

On a broader scale these findings show that drylands are resource rich and that Iron Age communities which occupied these landscapes had the capacity to adapt. This challenges the designation of drylands, such as the Shashi region, as marginal, since that term undermines the adaptive capacity and resilience of Iron Age communities.