This month, a news article in Science focussed on Jeff Leach’s latest research among the Hadza. Jeff’s previous positions, such as in the archaeology department at the University of Leicester might, at first glance, suggest a change of direction when compared with his current position at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine but in truth his research has always focussed on the effects of diet on an individual. Indeed, his research career is based on a very personal story and, however much the ‘palaeodiet’ fad may, to my cynical eyes, appear to be a direct descendent of the noble savage paradigm, his research may turn out to be important.
Part of me wonders at the way in which such projects are typically reported, however. ‘One of the few last remaining hunter-gatherer peoples’ can often be swallowed and spat back out by the media as ‘endangered’. Indeed, the Hadza are themselves often portrayed in this way (I chose that link not because of any exceptional reporting content but because it has some very good photographs!). The truth is probably rather more complex than that, however. The Hadza are, it is true, surrounded by modern life. The thing is, they always have been. Today it’s a disinterested (embarrassed? well-meaning?) government, before that it was farmers, but, before that, it was pastoralists. It’s only the nature of the ‘modern’ that changes in this story and we could perhaps place more emphasis on the cultural resistance of the Hadza.
Long-time readers of this ‘blog will be aware of our catchily named ‘Archaeological Investigation of a “Moving Frontier” of Early Herding in Northern Tanzania’ project, which focuses on identifying the spread of pastoralism in Sub-Saharan Africa. An important contextual area of study for that though is to understand the mechanism for spread and, therefore, herder/hunter-gatherer interactions (an important primary research interest for Mary Prendergast, one of the project’s co-directors). From a zooarchaeological point of view, for example, it’s probably overly simplistic to suggest that an assemblage containing domesticated animals from this period is necessarily produced by pastoralists – trading and raiding undoubtedly took place on both sides, just as they continue to do so today.
That said, the presence of domesticated animals clearly indicates that pastoralists, with their livestock, were in the area if not on the site, which does at least help us to identify the spread of the phenomenon. Understanding the nature of that spread is probably a topic which will continue to be debated for the rest of my lifetime. Following our fieldwork in 2012, we are now able to confidently assert that this spread was occurring in Northern Tanzania at least as early as 1023-846 BC. We published this date as part of an article in Azania last month, discussing the results of one part of our survey work that year. The full abstract for the paper is repeated after the break.
Pastoral Neolithic sites on the southern Mbulu Plateau, Tanzania
As part of a larger project examining the introduction of herding into northern Tanzania, surveys and excavations were conducted at the southern edge of the Mbulu Plateau, documenting the presence of Narosura ceramics dating to the early third millennium BP, as well as a Later Stone Age occupation dated via ostrich eggshell to the tenth millennium BP. This marks the southernmost extent of the Pastoral Neolithic in eastern Africa. The paucity of sites attributable to early herding in this area may be due to a lack of survey in landscapes likely to have been preferred by livestock owners and to extensive contemporary cultivation in those same areas. Links can be drawn between the study area and previously documented sites with Narosura materials near Lake Eyasi, and between the study area and obsidian sources in the Lake Naivasha area of the Rift Valley, making the plateau and its surroundings a potentially promising area for further research.