Early History


The territory of what is now South Africa has great historical significance to the evolution of the human race. Modern humans have lived in the region for over one hundred thousand years. However, ancestors to the human race have lived in South Africa for over two, perhaps as many as three million years. Numerous archeological sites exist in South Africa where various bones and other remains have been found. Not much is known about these ancient ancestors of ours, but they have fascinated generations of archeologists. Furthermore, in 2002 the earliest example of an abstract work of art was found at the Blombus Cave, dated at roughly 70,000 years old. 



In more recent years, at least archeologically speaking, the San and Khoikhoi peoples settled the area. These settlers are the earliest known migrations and separations of genetic homo sapiens. The San and Khoikhoi are distinguished by occupation: the San were hunter-gatherers, while the Khoikhoi were pastoral herders. These groups left East Africa eighty to hundred thousand years ago, eventually settling in South Africa. Grouped together as Khoisan, these peoples lived in South Africa for thousands of years before Portuguese traders came. There are records of the Portuguese and the Khoisan trading metals for livestock during the seventeenth century. 

Another great migration from prehistory is the migration of the Bantu people from northern and central Africa to Southern Africa. Bantu people encroached on the territory of the Khoikhoi people in the early centuries AD. Some of these people settled into the Highveld regions. Bantu people settling near Limpopo founded the Kingdom of Mapungubwe, the first indigenous kingdom in South Africa. The Mapungubwe became a vast, powerful kingdom in the region, trading with people as far away as Arabia, India, and China. There is evidence of linguistic assimilation of KhoiKhoi people with the Mapungubwe, but such contact has not been thoroughly researched. 

Despite thriving in the Limpopo region for nearly four hundred years and trading on a global scale for nearly a century, climate change in the fourteenth century led to the collapse of the Mapungubwe civilization. Scholars believe that this lead to difficulty growing crops and that the people needed to leave the region to survive. They left behind palaces and other settlements. Interestingly, the remnants of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe are believed to have founded the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, which in turn founded the Kingdom of Mutapa