A team of researchers working with colleagues from the BotswanaNational Museum shed new light on the questions of when cattle werebrought to southern Africa and from where. A domestic cow bone, datedto about 2000 years ago was excavated from a site at Toteng, located inthe Kalahari Desert of northern Botswana. This bone, dated by theAccelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon technique, provides theoldest directly dated evidence of cattle in southern Africa.
Domestic sheep were also present at Toteng at about the same time.Historical and linguistic information suggest northern Botswana figuredprominently in the arrival and dispersal of livestock in southernAfrica. The new dates support this view and confirm a long-termassociation between people and livestock in this part of the Kalahari.The discovery of the 2000 year old cow and sheep bones are importantbecause of the long held view that the Kalahari was a comparativelyisolated area that was primarily occupied by foraging peoples untilrecently.
The findings, to be published in the August/October issue ofCurrent Anthropology, are also interesting in the broader context ofthe spread of domestic livestock throughout Africa. Whereas livestockhad spread into northern Kenya in East Africa by as early as 4000/4500years ago, it took an additional 2000 years for their eventual spreadinto southern Africa. Experts have stressed that this delay was largelydue to the presence of tripanosomiasis, carried by tsetse flies, aswell as other diseases that kill livestock in much of the interveningarea. The Toteng sites are situated near the southern edge of theTsetse fly zone and the new dates of about 2000 years ago appear todate the initial penetration of livestock through this zone.
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Robbins, Larry, et al. "The advent of herding in southernAfrica: Early AMS dates on domestic livestock from the Kalahari Desert,Botswana." Current Anthropology 46:4.
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