The Earliest South Africans

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South Africa has provided a home for human settlement since very early times. The presence of homo sapiens goes back perhaps 125 000 years. These first South Africans were followed much later by hand-toolmakers of the Middle Stone Age (probably 40 000 years ago), the so-called Wilton-Smithfield cultural system (small flake tools, weapons, pottery) has been uncovered.

There are three reasons for the linkage between these Late Sone Age people and the earliest negroid inhabitants, who may have arrived as early as 8000 years ago. The Khoison (that is Bushman-Hottentot) and Negroid peoples emerge from common gene pools. Before stock-raising and agriculture had arrived, people had always been reduced to gathering edible roots and hunting to stay alive. The third clue is provided by the remarkable evidence of rock art.

Distinctive gene pools emerged under different environmental influences. The manner and the dating of language diffusion are particulary difficult to measure even if significant contact between human groups can be traced through the spread of loan words. The explanation of the spread of technology requires an overview of changes in the continent of Africa as a whole. Thus the spread of pastoralism in Africa may will have resulted from the desiccation of the Sahara (once there grew crops) after about 6000 BC. There was a movement southwards into the west and east African savannahs, and it is very likely that stock-holding nomads (moving from the desiccated regions of the north) took with them techniques of metallworking which seem to have been acquired through contact with the Mediterranean world. These techniques were not only needed for the making of weapons, but more for the cutting of crops. The iron blade made the reaping of though stems possible and this facilitated the emergence of agriculture.


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