Information and history

ID #1660

Archaeological Research and History of Botswana, Southern Africa.

More than 200 archaeological sites have been identified, of which perhaps 100 have been excavated.  Findings show that prehistoric societies existed and prospered. Minerals and ivory were traded through elaborate trading routes while the savannah grasslands provided excellent grazing for cattle herds. Communities were sustained through an abundance of game, fish and plant life.   The Tsodilo and Tswapong Hills are a treasure trove of ancient tools, potsherds and structures and have given scientists a greater understanding of Botswana, which has been continuously occupied for over 100000 years. 

27000 years ago, hunter-gatherers fished in the rivers and hunted on the plains leaving traces of their occupation in the layers of bone fragments, tools and implements.  The first Iron Age settlers arrived in the region about 1200 years ago.  200 years later a second group of settlers arrived with herds of cattle.  Crude smelting kilns reveal that iron ore smelting was practised.  These communities were linked to trade routes throughout Africa to transport goods and raw materials to the Middle East and Asia.

Occupation of some parts of the region by the San (Bushmen, Bushman) was followed by the arrival of the Kgalagadi after whom the Kalahari is named.  Later, in the 16th century, the Tswana arrived from the northeast to settle along the southern and eastern borders where they met and absorbed the Kgalagadi.  The early Batswana lived in peaceful co-existence, opting to create tribal groups in distinct geographic communities.  They chose to live in extended villages where each family was given land to cultivate while common land was used for hunting and grazing.   This remains the basic unit in Botswana society.   Early missionaries who arrived in the 1840’s recorded as many as 20000 people living in places like Molepolole and Serowe – more than the population of Cape Town at the time. Power and control rested with chiefs who governed and directed the affairs of the tribe.  Today Botswana enjoys a non-racial democracy founded on the ideals and customs of former leaders from which has evolved a unique society.

Formerly the Bechuanaland Protectorate, Botswana became a republic within the British Commonwealth in 1966. The western regions are sparsely populated, and a large percentage of the population occupies the more fertile eastern regions.  Cattle ranching is the traditional agricultural activity.   A time chart is as follows:

1400    The Bakgalagadi move into eastern Botswana
1500    The Batswana continue to move westwards to settle in south east Botswana
1830    Mzilikazi flees Zululand, moving northwest.  He attacks and pillages the communities of eastern Botswana before settling near Bulawayo in 1840.
1841    David Livingstone visits Botswana
1854    The battle of Dimawe
1866    The discovery of gold near Tati
1872    Chief Khama III is installed as leader of the Ngwato
1885    Bechuanaland becomes a British Protectorate
1896    Dr Jameson assembles his forces in Botswana for the famous Jameson Raid on the Transvaal
1899    Battle of Crocodile Pools near Gaborone.  Anglo-Boer War from 1899-1902
1921    Sir Seretse Khama born
1922    Chief Khama III dies
1948    Sir Seretse Khama marries Ruth Williams in England but is prevented from returning to Botswana by the British Government. 
1956    Sir Seretse Khama returns to Botswana
1960    New Constitution introduced
1961    Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) formed by Sir Seretse Khama and Quett Masire
1962    Construction of Gaborone, the new capital of Botswana, begins
1965    First direct elections held
1966    Botswana gains independence from Great Britain. Sir Seretse Khama installed as first President.
1967    Discovery of diamonds transforms Botswana’s economy
1980    Sir Seretse Khama dies and is succeeded by Dr Ketumile Masire
1997    Ketumile Masire retires and is succeeded by Festus Mogae as President.  Ian Khama is elected Vice President.            BFArchaeological

Contct:            Department of Tourism
Private bag 0047 Gaborone Botswana
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Last update: 2014-05-11 23:26
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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