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Research Article

Before the Anthropocene: human pasts in Karoo landscapes

Published in: African Journal of Range & Forage Science
Volume 35, issue 3-4, 2018 , pages: 179–190
DOI: 10.2989/10220119.2018.1533584
Author(s): David MorrisMcGregor Museum, South Africa

Abstract

Karoo landscapes today are replete with evidence of recent human impacts. The Karoo is relatively pristine in the South African imaginary, but it is not untouched. Social and historic change in the last 300 years has been dramatic. The article looks to the evidence of human lifeways and land-use patterns in Karoo landscapes from the deeper past, from before this modern era. In contrast to the ‘fabric heavy’ traces of the colonial period – farmsteads and SKA dishes – those reflecting earlier human inhabitation are generally ‘fabric-light’ and ephemeral, with the odds stacked against their survival in the archaeological record. The Karoo also has a relatively low level of archaeological survey coverage. Yet, where studies have been conducted, research testifies to a remarkable richness in archaeological and rock art heritage, a millennia-long record of non-farming stone-tool-using people. The nineteenth-century Bleek–Lloyd archive of |Xam folklore from the region contains insights into precolonial animist perspectives on living in these landscapes, perspectives which also challenge the distinction conventionally made between ‘the social’ and ‘the ecological’.

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