Regionality in the Iron Age: the case of the Sotho-Tswana


  • T. N. Huffman University of the Witwatersrand


Regional variation at the scale of Iron Age ceramic facies concerns group identity. These regional stylistic units are considerably larger than the lineages emphasised in oral traditions, but they nevertheless help to clarify the history of precolonial farming societies. A case study of the Sotho-Tswana in southern Africa shows a significant correspondence between traditional histories and stylistic sequences.

No Sotho-Tswana origin tradition mentions the Icon area; and so, this first phase of Moloko predates the oral record. Otherwise, the concordance between Sotho-Tswana history, as reconstructed by Legassick (1969), and the Moloko sequence is truly remarkable. Western Sotho-Tswana (e.g. Hurutshe and Kwena) had become separate from a Southwestern cluster (including Rolong and Tlhaping) by about the sixteenth century, and both clusters were more closely related to each other than to the Southern Sotho-Tswana (i.e. the Fokeng). The Fokeng sequence forms a separate Sub-branch of Moloko and thus requires a separate early history from Icon. Its Nguni-like features suggest that the Ntsuanatsatsi Sub-branch moved through KwaZulu-Natal before spreading onto the highveld.

This remarkable agreement is possible through an appreciation of the different scales of archaeological and historical data. 



How to Cite

Huffman, T. N. (2002). Regionality in the Iron Age: the case of the Sotho-Tswana. Southern African Humanities, 14, 1–22. Retrieved from