Hunter-Gatherer Archaeological Research Project

Southern Africa’s indigenous forager communities, the ancestors of contemporary San groups, have, more often than not, had their history captured by colonial-era, pejorative characterisations of their culture and community. However, archaeological readings of their pasts provide us with a different perspective. This is more apparent in the middle Limpopo Valley than on most other landscapes because of the complex social developments that took place in the region. Beginning in the first millennium AD, socio-political developments eventually led to the establishment of Mapungubwe, southern Africa’s first state-level society. In the near-on decade of research into these sequences, the presence and role of foragers are seldom mentioned. That their contributions to these societies is hardly recognised disarticulates past and present communities from southern Africa’s history. And yet, through their innovations, technologies, and indigenous knowledges they were able to forge space for themselves within emerging social networks. Through HARP we intend to explore the role of these systems and better understand how foragers, through their own initiatives and skillsets, participated in socio-political and economic entities, empowering themselves and developing status in local hierarchies. Our work’s overarching aim is to address the discord between the inert role ascribed to foragers versus the rich archaeological sequence demonstrating their active participation in growing polities and complex society. From this, we hope a more inclusive history of central southern Africa will be developed that acknowledges the important roles played by indigenous forager communities.

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