After the silt: middle and late Holocene hunter-gatherer archaeology of the Metolong Dam, Lesotho
In contrast to a rich record of Later Stone Age occupation across the Pleistocene/Holocene transition, previous research has struggled to identify in situ evidence of hunter-gatherer presence between c. 8200 BP and the second millennium AD on the Lesotho side of the Caledon River. Fieldwork undertaken ahead of the commissioning of the Metolong Dam on Lesotho’s Phuthiatsana River, the Caledon’s largest tributary, has afforded a means of re-addressing this question. This paper reports the excavation of post-8200 BP assemblages at four sites within the dam’s catchment: Fateng Tsa Pholo, Litsoetse, Ntloana Tšoana, and Ha Makotoko. Together with AMS radiocarbon dates for fine-line Bushman (San) rock paintings within the same area, these assemblages now establish that hunter-gatherers did visit the Metolong stretch of the Phuthiatsana in both the mid-Holocene and—much more compellingly—during the last 1000 years. While agropastoralist settlements may have helped attract hunter-gatherers into the area in recent centuries, a clear contrast persists between the settlement records of the Lesotho and South African sides of the Caledon. A dynamic geomorphology able to erode and deposit substantial quantities of sediment within relatively brief periods of time in ways that filled, hid, or cleaned out rockshelters may help explain the continuing paucity of Holocene hunter-gatherer archaeology in the Phuthiatsana Valley between 8200 and 1000 BP.
KEY WORDS: later Holocene; hunter-gatherers; Metolong; Lesotho; landscape change.