Mobile pastoralism is central to economic and social relations in eastern Africa today. Across increasingly depleted landscapes in Kenya and Tanzania, efforts by governments and NGOs to diversify pastoralists’ economic strategies to include fishing or farming have frequently failed. This is attributable not only to insufficiently considered social factors, but also to the ignored benefits of mobile herding, a highly flexible strategy, in unpredictable environments. Precisely because of this flexibility, pastoralism thrived across the region during the Pastoral Neolithic era, 5,000-2,000 years ago, a time of increasingly irregular rainfall. While evidence of early herding is found across much of Kenya, as one moves into Tanzania the archaeological record becomes silent, leading to speculation about archaeological visibility, and imagination of a multi-millennial “frontier” between foragers and food producers. Yet a growing body of ethnoarchaeological research demonstrates that mobile herders are not invisible. Furthermore, the extent and density of sampling in Tanzania is infinitesimal compared with that of Kenya. From 2012-2015, surveys and excavations by our team identified several Pastoral Neolithic sites in north-central Tanzania. This talk will discuss the multipronged approach being taken at Luxmanda, now the largest and southernmost known Pastoral Neolithic site. Finds and dates suggest that the occupants were part of a network of stone-using herders that extended farther south, far earlier than expected. Luxmanda thus forces a reassessment of current models for the tempo and nature of the spread of food production toward southern Africa. Thanks to its large size and unique preservation, the site is also enabling a multi-year investigation into the dynamics of pastoralist life within a single settlement, a rarity in eastern African archaeology.
Hosted by the Harvard Archaeology Seminar Series.