In this following series of posts we are covering the Later Stone Age of South Africa, I highly encourage you to please read the Introduction post to this series to bring you update to date with the information and terminology we have covered so far.
The Early Iron Age of South Africa:The Origins of the Early Iron Age Complex
The Origins of the Early Iron Age Complex
The Early Iron Age of eastern and southern Africa is now generally known as the Chifumbaze Complex. The name "Chifumbaze" refers to a rock shelter in Mozambique where pottery typical of this of this complex was first excavated. The term "Chifumbaze" is also used to distinguish the Early Iron Age Complex of eastern and southern Africa from contemporary iron-using complexes in other parts of Africa (Phillipson 1993:171). According to David Phillipson (1977:216-219), there is no evidence that the Chifumbaze or Early Iron Age Complex originated outside Africa, Indonesia has sometimes been mentioned as a possible place of origin, but there is no linguistic, pottery or other material cultural evidence which points to the early presence of Indonesian settlers in eastern or southern Africa. Indonesian influences are indeed recognizable in Madagascar, but these date from the second half of the first millennium AD.
Phillipson (1977&1993) contends Chifumbaze complex originated somewhere in the Sudanic Belt, that is to say, in the area between the southern fringes of the Sahara Desert and the northern limits of the equatrial forests of Central Africa. To substantiate his argument, Phillipson points out that domestic sheep, goats and cattle, as well as those species of crops cultivated by Early Iron Age farmers, were already present in this area during the period immediately preceding the advent of the Early Iron Age complex. During a period of contact (c 1000-400BC) proto-Bantu speakers came into contact with Central Sudanic speakers in this area and adopted the Central Sudanic practices of herding cattle and sheep, as well as the cultivation of sorghum. One group of these proto-Bantu speakers moved eastwards at around 1000-200BC and settled in the proximity of the great lakes of East Africa, the so-called interlacustrine region. Another section moved directly southwards to the Lower Congo River. From these two source areas the Early Iron Age or Chifumbaze Complex rapidly expanded southwards at the beginning of the Christain era.
As a result the mixed farming complex of the Early Iron Age was introduced into southern Africa. It is interesting to note that sites containing Urewe pottery are found near Lake Victoria, close to the source area indicated above. Urewe pottery, sometimes also referred to as "dimple-base ware", is considered by Phillipson (1977:219) to be the possible "common ancestral tradition" from which other Early Iron Age pottery traditions evolved.
It is clear from the above that Phillipson associates the origins of the Early Iron Age Complex of eastern and southern Africa with the migration of Bantu speakers. There is, in fact, a large degree of consensus among linguists that, in the area currently comprising Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria, a proto-Bantu language was spoken, from which the Bantu languages south of the equator, including those of South Africa, developed.According to Phillipson, then, the Bantu languages thus originated close to the source area of the Early Iron Age Complex. Furthermore, the geographical distribution of the Early Iron Age Complex largely overlaps with the present Bantu-speaking area of central, eastern and southern Africa.
There are, however, major differences of opinion concerning other aspects of Phillipson's model of origins. Tom Huffman (1979:233), for example, has questioned the typological evidence on the basis of which East African Urewe pottery is regarded as the common ancestor of all Early Iron Age pottery in sub-Saharan Africa. If a West Africa origin for all proto-Bantu speakers is accepted, it is obvious that their ceramics will display a large number of common attributes. According to Huffman, therefore, it is unnecessary to look for yet another common ancestral tradition in East Africa to account for similarities between ceramics units of the Chifumbaze Complex.
According to Phillipson (1993:179), the large measure of resemblance between the Bantu languages of eastern and southern Africa, as well as their wide distribution in these parts of the continent, can be attributed to a rapid dispersal from a common source area within the past 3000 or 4000 years. He links this rapid dispersal with the expansion of the Chifumbaze Complex. However, in his discussion of the origins of the Early Iron Age Complex, Martin Hall (1987:24) points out that there is not always a correlation between the linguistic and the ceramic data, and that the spread of the Bantu languages was not necessarily associated with large-scale population movements from the Cameroon area, Hall suggests that the expansion of the Bantu languages could have been achieved through other mechanisms; for example, through "the development of linguae francae used by traders" or "the emergence of new languages accepted" over an area as "standard intercommunity speech". This matter will be considered again when we discuss the spread of the Early Iron Age Complex to southern Africa in the next post.
Images are linked to their sources in their description and references are stated within the text.
Thank you for reading
Thank you @foundation for this amazing SteemSTEM gif