The origin of the Drakensberg San

What was the origin of the Drakensberg San? Recent genetic research undertaken by the University of Pretoria shows that modern man or Homo Sapiens Sapiens may have originated from the Okavango and Zambezi Basin areas in Southern Africa. However, archaeologists also concur that Homo Sapiens originated in Eastern or Southern Africa. Additionally, they agree that modern man migrated deeper into South Africa into the West and Centre. But later into the East. Moreover, they acknowledge that the Drakensberg San are direct descendants of these migrants.

Klasies River Mouth Cave - Photo: John Atherton: Wikimedia Commons

Klasies River Mouth Cave – Photo: John Atherton: Wikimedia Commons

The earliest site of Homo Sapiens Sapiens in South Africa is Florisbad. This is where a modern human skull was dated to 260,000 BP. Other important sites of early Homo Sapiens Sapiens activity include Klasies River Mouth Caves (some 150,000 BP) in the Southern Cape, Nelson’s Bay Cave, the Southern Cape, and Border Cave in KwaZulu-Natal (125,000 BP). As a result, there is a concerted effort to have Klasies and Border Cave declared World Heritage Sites.

Hunter-gathers existed in the Drakensberg at least 25,000 years ago. However, there is not much evidence of their initial existence. It is believed that hunter-gatherers initially visited the Drakensberg for short, fleeting or temporary periods. Then, they intensified their stays from some 8,000 BP in the Southern Drakensberg and 3,000 BP in the Northern Drakensberg. Mazel, a prominent archaeologist, believes that the San of the Northern and Central Drakensberg left that region from 1,500 BP to live in the Thukela Basin. They returned approximately 600 BP.

The rock art of the San in the Matobas of Zimbabwe has been dated to some 12,000 before the present (BP). In the case of the Southern Drakensberg, 8,000 BP and the Central and Northern Drakensberg, 3,000 BP.

The KhoiKhoi or Khoekoen only migrated into the Northern and Western Cape some 2,000 BP. They were pastoralists who coined the term ‘San’. They referred to the San as ‘people of the bush’ or Soaqua or San. The San were hunter-gatherers.

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