The archaeology of the Nguni past


  • T. N. Huffman University of the Witwatersrand


Multiple strands of evidence help to clarify ancient Nguni history. Linguistics, anthropology and archaeology indicate an Early Iron Age homeland in East Africa. The use of a special suffix for location, as well as similarities in kinship terms, respect for in-laws, concepts of pollution and ceramic style all point to the Interlacustrine area. Nguni speakers left that area sometime around AD 1000, probably because of widespread drought and concomitant social disruptions. Many people moved south, but the movement itself was probably not coordinated. Once in southern Africa, Nguni speakers continued to live in small political units and to employ similar strategies in the face of drought and social disruptions. They built defensive walling between AD 1300 and 1500, and they moved out of KwaZulu-Natal at least three times. The scale of the last disruption, known as the mfecane or difaqane, was significantly greater, and it created the first Nguni Empire in southern Africa. As I argue, trade and maize made the difference.

To cite this article: Huffman, T.N. 2004. The archaeology of the Nguni past. Southern African Humanities 16: 79-111.



How to Cite

Huffman, T. N. (2021). The archaeology of the Nguni past. Southern African Humanities, 16, 79–111. Retrieved from