In Episode 1 of this series, mention was made of the agro-pastoralists (farmers who grew crops and kept livestock) who moved into the Magaliesberg region in about 225 AD. Scholars have categorised them as people of the “early iron age”, as they possessed and made use of the technology needed for smelting and forging iron in order to make tools and weapons. They did not, however, build the more sophisticated settlements which were characteristic of the middle and late iron ages.
It is something of a mystery as to what became of these early iron age people. The dating techniques used by archaeologists indicate that they were present in the Broederstroom area up until about 450 AD. There is then a large gap in the archaeological record, and the next evidence of iron age peoples in the Magaliesberg region is dated at about 1100 AD. The most likely explanation (e.g. by Prof Tom Huffman) seems to be that the early iron age people moved away from the Magaliesberg and that the middle iron age settlements are evidence of the second wave of immigrants who moved southwards from areas further north in Africa. Some scholars, however, including Prof Revil Mason, have maintained that the middle iron age people were direct descendants of those of the early iron age and that we have not yet found the evidence of their continued occupation of the Magaliesberg region from 450 AD to 1100 AD.
The middle iron age people built larger settlements than their early iron age predecessors, in what is known as the “central cattle pattern”. In these settlements, cattle kraals in the centre were surrounded and protected by the individual living areas of the people. This emphasises the value of cattle to the community. The settlements were located close to reliable water sources and areas of good grazing but were not necessarily placed on higher ground. There is also no evidence that these middle iron age people built with stone; boundaries of living areas and kraals seem rather have been constructed using wood from nearby trees.
Scholars are largely in agreement that late iron age people (present from about 1400 AD) were direct descendants of middle iron age people, and that the Tswana communities who still live in the Magaliesberg region today are in turn direct descendants of the late iron age people who were present in the area. The main differences between the middle iron age and late iron age are that in the late iron age, settlements were constructed on higher ground (usually hilltops), and that the walls of living areas and cattle kraals were constructed of stone. These differences point to a period of greater competition between communities, when cattle raiding had become a lot more common. More cattle raiding suggests a period when iron age people had flourished, with significant population growth leading to increased competition for resources.