Diet of Australopithecus Afarensis

 Australopithecus afarensis, more commonly known as “Lucy’s species” after Lucy, the famous fossil discovered in Ethiopia in 1974, is an early human species that lived between 3.85 and 2.95 million years ago in Eastern Africa.

An artist’s rendition of Au. afraensis. Males had an average height of 4 ft 11 and an average weight of 92 lbs, while females had an average height of 3 ft 5 and an average weight of 64 lbs.

A crucial part of understanding Au. afarensis is understanding the specie’s diet and therefore environment, as the environment determines what food is available. To determine the eating habits of Au. afarensis, researchers turned to morphological features relating to diet, such as skull and mandible (jaw) structure and teeth. Based on their strong and robust skulls, large mandibles, and thick enamel, some concluded that Au. afarensis ate hard and brittle foods. However, later studies found that while Au. afarensis could eat these foods, their diet actually consisted of softer foods, mainly grass, leaves, and fruits.

Au. afarensis dentition

One group of researchers conducted a microwear texture analysis on the teeth of various Au. afarensis specimens. Different types of food interact differently with the teeth, leaving distinct textures and abrasions on the surface. Hard and abrasive foods like nuts and seeds create complex patterns, tough foods such as leaves leave long, narrow scratches, and fruits leave pits. From the patterns left on the teeth, researchers were able to determine what types of food the individuals ate. The results showed that Au. afarensis preferred softer foods such as leaves, grass, and fruit to that of hard and abrasive foods.

The molar microwear surface of Au. afarensis.

Another study came to similar conclusions using stable isotope analysis, a technique that involves analyzing the ratio of carbon in tooth enamel from two categories of plants: one of herbs, trees, and shrubs, and another of tropical grasses, sedges, and succulents. The results suggest that Au. afarensis ate more tropical grasses, sedges, and succulents, a consumption pattern that differs from that of earlier species who tended to avoid these foods.

Although researchers now have a fairly clear idea about the diet of Au. afarensis, the questions still remain as to why they ate softer foods when their morphology suggests that they were able to consume tough foods, and why they expanded their diets to include more grasses and sedges. One theory proposes that Au. afarensis used hard foods as a “fallback” in seasons when softer foods weren’t available. Others suggest that their expanding diets were a result of fluctuations in the environment, and that their ability to eat hard and soft foods allowed them to survive short and long-term climate fluctuations and corresponding changes in available resources. However, other researchers disagrees, claiming that the change in diet was instead due to the species exploiting a larger range of resources in a broader mosaic of habitats including grasslands, woodlands, and wetlands.

More studies are needed to determine which theory is most accurate. The case of Au. afarens’ diet is a prime example of how multiple methods of analysis are necessary to gain an understanding of the past. Additionally, it shows the changing nature of our historical understanding and how new methods and techniques can provide further insight and better knowledge than previously attainable.

Further Reading:



Using Microfauna Analysis to Reconstruct the Environmental History of the Ancient Helike

Despite the written records that give clues to the location of Helike, a principal city of ancient Greece in the Bronze Age, it was not until 2001 that scientists finally found traces of the lost city (the Classical site) under an inland lagoon after more than a century’s speculation about the actual site. Astonishingly, scientists of Helike Project also discovered a well-preserved Early Bronze Age (EBA) city nearby (in Saitis area) dating back to 2400 BC.

An excavation site at the ancient Greek city of Helike

Ancient written accounts attributed the destruction of Helike to Poseidon, the Greek God of the sea and earthquakes, who brought an earthquake followed by a large tsunami in 373 BC. Through the analysis of microfauna assemblages, archaeologists were able to confirm the incidents that obliterated the city and reconstructed the environmental history of the ancient sites.  The indicator species, whose presence or absence reflects specific environmental conditions, of Helike Delta are ostracods (Crustacea) and foraminifers (Protozoas). Their distribution is influenced by the salinity (freshwater, brackish or marine environments), temperature, oxygen levels or food availability. The microfossils are calcareous (resistant to decomposition) with low tolerance levels towards the environment (high sensitivity), thus accurately reflecting the microclimate with our assumption that their responsiveness to the environment is similar to that of the living species.

By gathering sediment samples and selecting paleoenvironmental indicators, researchers found that the sediment indicates a wide range of aquatic environments. Species with varied tolerance levels coexisting suggests transitional zones, maybe nearshore waters with seasonally different input of freshwater; terrestrial snail shells in aquatic microfauna assemblages indicate reworking of sediments from different environments (extreme case of damaged shells suggests tsunami transportation). Microfossil samples are also used to propose a stratigraphic correlation. Brackish water sediments (usually found below sea level) found above sea level show that the Helike Delta experienced tectonic shift (earthquake); majority of reworked shells from brackish water shows that the reworking was possibly due to wave action (tsunami) instead of run off from storms and floods.

Scanned micrographs of paleoenvrionmental microfauna indicators

Researchers thus carefully reconstructed the environmental conditions of Helike, concluding that submergence of EPA city, possibly a nearshore environment, was caused by earthquake, while sedimentation and tectonic activity caused its nearby area to reemerge as dry land and occupied by human populations in historical times. The Classical site was buried in a lagoon by the strong earthquake along with a powerful tsunami, and the sedimentation by the demolition continually uplifted the area, forming today’s Helike Delta.

Microfauna analysis showed its strength in use for deducing the past environment compared to the ambiguity of macrofauna which could be transported to the area. By conjecturing what the local environment of an archaeological site was like, researchers could not only reconstruct historical events of the rise and fall of ancient cities or geographical distribution of the land, but also further deduce how humans lived because environment, which determines food source, influences human lifestyle and activity (hunting, fishing…) to a great extent.



Alvarez-Zarikian, C. A., Soter, S., & Katsonopoulou, D. (2008). Recurrent Submergence and Uplift in the Area of Ancient Helike, Gulf of Corinth, Greece: Microfaunal and Archaeological Evidence. Journal of Coastal Research, 1, 110-125.



Alvarez-Zarikian, C. A., Soter, S., & Katsonopoulou, D. (2008). Recurrent Submergence and Uplift in the Area of Ancient Helike, Gulf of Corinth, Greece: Microfaunal and Archaeological Evidence. Journal of Coastal Research, 1, 110-125.


Further readings: (including videos analyzing microscopic life that shed light on the Helike mystery).

Understanding Early Human Adaptation to Climate Change

Humans living today can foresee the imminent rising sea level and changing weather patterns associated with climate change, but early humans living thousands of years ago had no such forecasts. Despite today’s more sophisticated prediction technologies, the majority of earth’s population lives in such a way that they are as vulnerable, if not more vulnerable, to climate changes as early humans. We too live on coastlines threatened with rising sea levels; we too depend on stable and immobile food sources. However, contemporary humans are unwilling to adapt our ways to live with or slow down climactic changes. Prehistory contains the records of how hominids have adapted to past changes in climate without the technology and resources we have now. With knowledge of these adaptations, archaeologists and the wider scientific community can better understand how we as a species can respond to the impending climate changes.

Siberia’s Kamchatka peninsula is one current location of an archaeological effort to understand the human reaction to climate change 4,000 to 6,000 years ago. This study in Siberia is a part of a larger international research study aimed at collecting a vast array of archaeological and paleoenvironmental data– the Social Change and the Environment in Nordic Prehistory Project (SCENOP). Related studies are underway in the arctic regions of St. James Bay, Quebec, and northern Finland. In Kamchatka, the goal is to explain ancient regional chronologies and understand the ways in which prehistoric humans adapted to significant environmental changes, including global warming, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. Archaeologists are using sixteen different pollen records to reconstruct vegetation dynamics and climate changes during the Holocene climactic optimum, a warm period that occurred during the Holocene era.

Satellite image of the Kamchatka Peninsula in Siberia.

The Holocene climactic optimum was a much slower change than present anthropogenic global warming, occurring at about one-third of the rate we face today. The warming that has taken place on earth over the past 300 years since the Industrial Revolution took approximately one thousand years during the Holocene period. However, the novelty and vulnerability of humans in these changing climactic conditions is comparable, and analysis of data gathered on early human adaptation will enable more effective collaboration between present day social, natural, and medical sciences in order to devise responses to current global warming.

Graph of climactic fluctuations over the past 11,000 years depicting the two major Holocene Climate optimums.

Although the archaeological effort to understand the early human response to climate changes is still underway, scientists have identified correlations between environmental fluctuations and important shifts in human behavior. During the period of climatic fluctuations in the Holocene era, humans began to domesticate plants and animals and subsequently adopted agriculture. These adjustments later led to sedentary settlements and the expansion of urban-based societies. Archaeologists hypothesize that this correlation suggests that the beginning of agriculture is linked to Holocene-era climate amelioration. Further reading on these adaptations can be found below.


Class notes/handouts


Further Reading:


The Buckhorn Wash Pictograph

Horseshoe Canyon in Utah is home to the Buckhorn Wash Pictograph Panel.  The Buckhorn Wash Pictograph Panel is part of a hundred and thirty-foot collection of large anthropomorphic pictographs designs. These designs attributed to the Archaic Period are most likely to have been created by a hunter gather group referred to as the “Barrier Canyon people.” Although the Barrier Canyon people did not live there year round as they were nomadic, it is likely that they would pass through Horseshoe Canyon seasonally.

One of the panels of pictographs depicting all three categories of figures

This then likely explains the purpose behind the pictographs; the canyons have very difficult terrain even to this day (visitor sites detail the canyon as inaccessible for wheelchairs and challenging for inexperienced hikers) and hence the designs were likely used as some sort of religious ceremony for safe travel. This is further evidenced by the location of the pictographs. The pictographs are not located within caverns or places of likely temporary habitation, but rather they are in very visible locations. Most of the designs are near the entrances and exits of long canyons. This indicates that the pictographs were likely painted before entering a long stretch of canyon, in order to pray to some sort of religious figure for safety, and were painted after having exited a stretch of cavern as means of thanks for a safe journey. There also seems to be evidence of respect for these drawings as despite the fact that there is a copious number, very few have been painted over, which gives additional merit to the idea that these designs had religious implications.

An example of what has been categorized as a spirit figure

The religious implications of the designs are also evidenced by the classification that archeologists have done to the different pictographs to divide them into figures known as composite, citizen, and spirit. These then show that the Barrier Canyon people were trying to indicate or initiate contact between themselves and some sort of gods. The citizen figures are discernibly humanoid and shorter than the composite or the spirit figures and were typically using their arms in legs in some sort of activity such as running. In contrast, the composite figures did have some human-like body parts but also were made up of animals. The most common animals used were snakes, sheep, and birds, which gives some indication as to the majority of animals that lived in the canyons. Finally, the spirit figures are arguably the most interesting as they give further evidence for the notion that these drawings were religious in nature. They were anthropomorphic, however, they were also frequently missing limbs and had some other notable inhuman characteristic (large eyes, horns, or antennae). Notably, their torsos were often marked with symbols that represented the elements. This provides strong indication that these pictographs were used as a sort of religious ritual to both secure safe passage and show gratitude for it.


For further reading:



Mammoths and Archaeology

History of Mammoth Breeds

Throughout the course of time, there have been a few different types of mammoths. About 1.8 million years ago, a breed of mammoth known today as the southern mammoth crossed into North America via a temporary land bridge in the Bering Strait. The Columbian mammoth was also a prevalent breed in North America, with its range covering the present-day United States down to Nicaragua. The smallest of the mammoth species was the woolly mammoth. A little over 100,000 years ago was the first time they were able to get to North America, again via the Bering Strait land bridge. Archaeologists know the migration patterns based on the ages of skeletons and fossils that are found across the globe.

The migratory paths of the woolly and Columbian mammoths.

What We Know About the Mammoths

Much of what we know today about the woolly mammoth comes from their teeth. The aforementioned breeds of mammoths were only able to be differentiated because of variations in their teeth. For example, the woolly mammoth had the most enamel ridges in order to protect its teeth from the abrasive grasses it consumed. Scientists at the Natural History Museum in London used a micro-CT scan to map the changes in mammoth teeth throughout their lifetimes based on the microscopic features on worn down enamel.

Reasons for Extinction

There are three ways archaeologists believe that the woolly mammoth met its demise. The first is from human interference. For humans living during the Pleistocene era, woolly mammoths were a source of meat, thick hide, fur, and bone. It would have only made sense for humans to kill as many mammoths as possible. The second belief is that the woolly mammoth went extinct because a large meteorite or comet struck the Earth. This would have also caused a mass extinction of many other animals as well. The third belief is that climate change shrunk the woolly mammoth’s territory so quickly that the beasts could not adapt to the warmer climate quickly enough. The changing climate has been affecting populations of animals for millions of years, so this hypothesis is the most plausible.

Can We Bring Them Back?

Within the last few years, news headlines have been talking about the possibility of cloning a woolly mammoth. In 2013, archaeologists uncovered a well-preserved woolly mammoth from a peat bog in Siberia. The contents of its stomach contained grassland plants such as buttercups and dandelions, so the animal was nicknamed Buttercup. After just a few tests, archaeologists were able to find blood oozing from Buttercup near her elbow. The blood told a lot about Buttercup, but so far an undamaged strand of DNA cannot be found. Cloning is temporarily out of the picture. The best that science can hope for is to combine DNA from Buttercup with that of elephants, essentially creating a new breed of mammoth.

A University of Michigan student with Buttercup the mammoth.

For Further Reading




Ancient Mississippi: Moundville

When one looks at an archaeological site one of the questions they are trying to answer is what type of society produced this site. There are a lot of different clues within the archaeological site that can tell help answer that question.  One good example of how social archaeology works is Moundville.

Moundville was an Ancient Native American site located in Mississippi. It was occupied from AD 1000-AD 1450.  It was a village built using Wall-Trench architecture. It was well planned, in a roughly square formation using a mound-plaza layout.  It was also a cultural center. We know this because there were remnants of pottery found at the site.

With just the information above we can tell that Moundville was created by a society that was at least a Segmentary Society. In other words, we can tell that the people who built Moundville were not nomadic people. They lived permanently at Moundville. We can tell this because the settlement was protected forests on three sides. The fact that Moundville was built it in a protected area suggests that there was warfare and warfare only occurs once a settlement becomes permanent. This leads us to deduce that they were a Segmentary Society because there was evidence of agricultural as well as hunting found at the sites surrounding Moundville.


We can also infer that Moundville was the social center because there were many smaller sites surrounding Moundville, suggesting that the most people lived in Moundville. The people at Moundville were producing highly sophisticated pottery, which also leads us to believe that it was the center of this society.  This also suggests that there a hierarchy.

If a society has enough people where not everybody has to produce food, then there are people who can devote their time to other jobs. Once that occurs, the society also needs a ruler, which creates a hierarchy. We also know that there was some sort of hierarchy because the mounds were different in size. One can infer that the bigger mounds were made for the elite and the smaller mounds for the peasants. This becomes especially apparent when one takes the artifacts that were buried in the mound into account.

In conclusion, with the information given by the archaeology, we have managed to reconstruct the story of the society that lived at Moundville.



Ojibwa, “Ancient america:Moundville, alabama.  27 nov. 2011. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

N/a. “Ancient Site.” Ancient Site. Moundville Archaeological Park, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.


Further Readings:








Understanding Neolithic Life: Çatalhöyük

Around 7,400 BCE, people first settled in Central Turkey at the site of Çatalhöyük. By 6,500 BCE, the site was a Neolithic urban center. Several construction phases of tightly packed mud brick houses led to the formation of a tall mound at the site. The excavation of the mound and the examination of discovered features and artifacts led to the understanding of what life was like in the Neolithic community and how it developed over time. The site provides great insight into how early farming communities functioned and what activities and items they valued.

A recreation of what Çatalhöyük possibly looked like

The dense settlement was made up of mud brick houses, each with an entrance on the roof.  All of the houses were closely packed together, with zero space dedicated to streets or major pathways.  Evidence of crop cultivation and domesticated animals proves that the last group to occupy Çatalhöyük was a segmentary society of farmers and herders, not a mobile group of hunter-gatherers. It was not a large enough settlement to be considered a chiefdom or state, but still had up to 9,000 residents.  Inside the mud brick houses, there were cooking spaces with ovens and hearths. As agriculture was beginning to become the dominant way of life, food preparation was developing.  More serious cooking tools could be built because people had the ability to settle down and build houses, instead of temporary camps.

The presence of wall paintings and relief sculpture contributes to the understanding of the culture and beliefs of the people at Çatalhöyük. The plastered walls of the houses were used to display painted geometric designs or reliefs of wild animals.  One of the most abundant forms of art found at the site was clay figurines. They were found throughout various areas of the houses, but usually in garbage pits.  The Çatalhöyük people may have used the sculptures to protect against evil spirits or as wish tokens. Another important art form was the installation of animal remains into the main rooms of the houses.  Many bull skulls can be found lining the walls of the rooms, with huge horns sticking out into the living space. The presence of undomesticated animals in the art of the Çatalhöyük people may show a desire to remember the recent past, when hunting was still the main source of food.

Some of the bull skulls found in the houses

The art, organization of houses, and presence of agriculture suggests that the residents of the Çatalhöyük site were in a position in which they could stay in one spot and hold territory. They had stable enough resources to devote time to the arts, but used paintings and installations to connect them to the memories of the past way of life. Çatalhöyük was one of the largest settlements of its time, and by examining the ancient structures and artifacts we can gain insight into how humans lived during the beginning stages of farming and crop cultivation.




Further Reading:

Terracotta Army Archaeology

On March 29, 1974, two farmers in the Shaanxi province of China inadvertently discovered thousands of life-sized terracotta figures. The warriors were created to accompany and protect their emperor in the afterlife, each one exhibiting different characteristics than the last. Thousands of bronze weapons were also dispersed throughout the warriors. By unearthing these artifacts left by the Qin dynasty, modern society is able to learn just how complex and intricate ancient Chinese society was.

Archaeologists rely on the record of Han dynasty historian Sima Qian for answers to the terracotta army. According to Sima Qian, over 700,000 slaves, indentured servants, and prisoners of war were forced to construct the figures. The power and authority that emperor Qin Shi Huang had over his dominion can immediately be inferred from this record. What doesn’t immediately come to mind, however, is how the society functioned during construction of the army. In order for 10 years and the labor of 700,000 people to be justified, there needed to be specialization among the populace.

An overview of the terracotta army. The army is buried in three pits with Pit No. 1 being the largest.

Slaves created the terracotta army, farmers grew the food, and metallurgists crafted the weapons. In other words, the society could not have existed if everyone was creating the army; each person had a specific niche that helped the society as a whole. Because of this, China during the Qin Dynasty can be referred to as one of the first examples of a state society.


To this day, archaeologists are pondering the techniques utilized to create the warriors in such a relatively short period of time. Some hypothesize that the entire army was created by a single artisan. Others say that an assembly line was used to pump out soldiers. A 2014 study conducted by researchers at University College London analyzed ears from 30 warriors to determine if they were different from each other. No two ears analyzed were alike inferring that the soldiers were different, however further testing needs to be done in order to support the theory.

Archaeologists were also puzzled as to how the bronze weapons found in the pits were manufactured. It was believed that an assembly line was used to create the immense amount of weapons, however, a recent study of 40,000 bronze arrowheads show that they were produced in independent workshops. By using X-ray fluorescence, the scientists discovered unique chemical signatures on the arrowheads. When these signatures were placed on a digital map, the scientists were able to determine that each arrowhead came from a single workshop, trumping the idea of an assembly line.

An assortment of bronze weapons found in the pits of the terracotta army.

By studying artifacts, modern society can learn a great deal about life in the past. Modern technology is only enhancing the immense knowledge we can obtain from these artifacts. By simply observing the warriors, we are able to determine the existence of a state society and through X-ray fluorescence, we can debunk the theory of an assembly line. Future developments in archaeology can help us uncover more secrets from the past.


Jarus, Owen. “Terracotta Warriors: An Army for the Afterlife.” LiveScience.  28 Nov. 2016. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Jennifer, Pinkowski. “Chinese terra cotta warriors had real, and very carefully made, weapons.” The Washington Post26 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.


Further Readings:

Biological Anthropology and the Social Construction of Identity

Biological anthropologists believe that bones provide important clues as to the life of an individual. Specifically, they use bones like the pelvis and those in the skull to determine biological sex. However, bones do not tell the entire story. Anthropologists must understand the cultural context in order to provide a more accurate picture of the life of their subjects.

Anthropologists can often tell the sex of a person from a pelvis or the skull. A pelvis that has a broader sciatic notch, an open inlet, and a wider sub-pubic angle is associated with the female sex. Conversely, a pelvis that has a heart-shaped inlet, a narrow sciatic notch, and a smaller angle belongs to someone with a male sex. Another way biological anthropologists determine sex is through a skull. In people assigned female at birth, skulls are smaller and smoother. They have less pronounced brows, more vertical foreheads, smaller mastoid processes, and more pointed chins, whereas people assigned male at birth have larger skulls, more prominent brows, larger mastoid processes, and squarer jaws (Smithsonian, 2014). In this way, skeletons can be extremely useful for biological anthropologists.

Differences in male- and female-sexed bones. From

However, examining skeleton does not always allow anthropologists to understand cultural norms regarding gender, such as the roles of women. First, sex is sometimes unclear, depending on the age of the individual. For instance, sexual dimorphism only becomes more prominent during and after puberty (Smithsonian, 2014). Second, older remains are difficult to analyze for sex. This is because they may be more fragmentary or damaged (Stone, Milner, Paabo, & Stoneking, 1996). Third, even if sex can be determined, it does not always determine gender roles. As Gayle Rubin summarizes, most societies separate roles for women and men, but those roles vary from society to society depending on kinship. In some cultures, men can become wives. In others, women can become husbands (Rubin, 1975, p. 181). As a result, anthropologists must be careful when sexing a skeleton so as not to make illogical generalizations about a culture.

A final point to consider is that sex is not the same as gender. Renfrew and Bahn (2010) ultimately acknowledge that gender is socially constructed (p. 169). While a person can be assigned one sex at birth, they may identify as another gender– or even no gender at all. These people challenge notions of sex. More recent remains of transgender individuals may even have surgeries that obscure skeletal sex markers (James, 2012). Therefore, a skeleton’s sex may be ambiguous or inconsistent with gender identity.

Facial feminization surgery for transgender women often changes the structure of underlying facial bone bones. From

Ultimately, many identities– not just gender– are socially constructed. It is therefore important for anthropologists to complicate the ideas of identity. In terms of gender, anthropologists must analyze sex and its relation to gender and then gender roles in an individual culture. Biological anthropology is an extremely important field, but it has limits. Anthropologists should look beyond skeletal structures to make conclusions about cultures.


James, S. D. (2012, March 15). Feminization Surgery Gives Manly Women the Feminine Touch. ABC News. Retrieved from

Renfrew, C., & Bahn, P. (2010). Archaeology Essentials (2nd ed.). New York, New York: Thames & Hudson Inc.

Rubin, Gayle. (1975). The Traffic in Women: Notes on the “Political Economy’” of Sex. In Rayna R. Reiter (Ed.), Toward an Anthropology of Women (157-210). New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. (2014). Activity: Is the Skeleton Male or Female? Retrieved from

Stone, A. C., G. R. Milner, S. Paabo, & M. Stoneking. (1996). Sex Determination of Ancient Human Skeletons Using DNA. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 99:231-238. Retrieved from

Additional Readings:


San People: The Original Hunter-Gatherers

According to American anthropologist Elman Service’s four-fold classification, a hunter-gatherer group is the base level of societal organization. These bands travel in groups usually less than 100 members and often have kinship ties. The first population of humans in Southern Africa, and likely the world, was the hunter-gatherer San people. The San people, also known as ‘Bushmen’, populated South Africa long before the Bantu nations or Europeans arrived. A detailed analysis of African DNA found the San to be directly descended from the original human ancestors that populated Africa, and eventually spread to populate the rest of the world. The San DNA was found to be the most genetically diverse; indicating that they are likely the oldest continuous population of humans in Africa and thus on Earth. Descendants of these incredible San people continue to live in Southern Africa today, and keep the traditions of their hunter-gatherer lifestyle alive. The study of the San people has offered archaeologists the best model for studying hunter-gatherer lifestyles during the Stone Age. With numerous generations throughout the period, there is much to be studied. San rock art offers valuable insight into beliefs and cultural practices of the time; there have been approximately 20,000 to 30,000 sites of this rock art identified. The oldest of such rock paintings, found in Namibia, has been radiocarbon-dated to 26,000 years old.

The beautiful Namibian rock art of the San people is considered to be one of the longest-enduring art forms. Today, the modern San continue to create this art, just as their ancestors did.

The history of the San lifestyle is well preserved through a rich oral history and the continued study of artifacts and sites of the ancient San people. Cultural practices of the San people including ostrich eggshell beads, shell ornaments, bow and arrow design, and rock art were followed by most other hunter-gatherer groups in South Africa. The unique “click” language of the San people spread and evolved to form other dialects in Africa. The lifestyle of the San people was threatened when the Khoekhoe people migrated into South Africa about 2,000 years ago. This group of herders brought sheep herding culture and a different social organization than that of traditional hunter-gatherers. While a symbiotic relationship between the groups appears to have been established, the subtle conversion of individuals to herding culture weakened the social cohesion of the group.The subsequent immigration of Bantu speaking agro-pastoralists and European colonial agro-pastoralists brought even more challenges.

The modern San people continue to hunt using the traditional practices of their ancestors. The land they hunt on is one of the last places outside of national parks where there are enough wild animals for them to hunt.

A Kalahari San community still exists today in the Siyanda District of South Africa. Some members of the community still wear traditional leather clothing and older members of the community retain some traditional knowledge and skills. The future of the San people is uncertain; the community must decide whether to succumb to external pressures to pursue agricultural or economic development, perhaps at the cost of some of their intellectual and cultural heritage.




Namibian Rock Art

Bushmen Initiation Hunt article

Additional Content:

Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey Documentary

Kalahari San People Today