The Antiquity of Man

   Home   |   About   |   What is Evolution   |   World Archaeology & Palaeoanthropology   |   North African Archaeology   |   Pseudoscience   |   Recommended Readings   |   Reviews   |   Links   |   Search   |   Contact

Andrew B. Smith. 2005. African Herders: Emergence of Pastoral Traditions. AltaMira Press

Reviews of Andrew's publication are available on the AltaMira website. By their nature, they are brief and merely give an outline of what to expect in the book. While endorsing everything written by Rosen, McIntosh, Vogel (the series editor) and MacEachern, it is hoped that the overview here will provide more insight into the details and arguements provided by Smith.

The chapters by and large are reflective of Andrew's research interests, with the Sahara and East and Southern Africa being comprehensively covered. Unfortunately, West Africa does not receive an equivalent degree of treatment. The chapter titles are:

1. African Herders: An introduction
2. The Material Culture of Nomadic Pastoralists
3. The Advent of Domestication in the Old World
4. Early Domesticated Animals in North Africa
5. Toward a Prehistory of Modern Saharan Pastoralists
6. Domesticated Animals Spread to East and Southern Africa
7. Cattle in Ritual
8. The Future for African Pastoralists

The insightful Foreword by Joseph Vogel sets the scene for an overview of the different socio-economic systems which modern pastoralists are engaged in, and the resulting material culture. The emphasis on the use of perishable materials, and the impact this has on finding pastoral sites in the archaeological record, is particularly important. Bearing this in mind, Andrew subsequently gives an excellent synthesis of early agricultural and animal domestication in the Near East. My complaint here is that it is not made clear the dates are uncalibrated bp dates, and a general reader is likely to erroneously assume he/she merely has to take 2000 years off the given date to arrive at BC. It is my hope that this oversight will be rectified in a future edition.

I particularly enjoyed the discussion of gender amongst African pastoral societies, as this is an issue which has not been receiving enough attention in the archaeological sphere of pastoral studies. I hope this, together with Barbara Barich's work, will act as a spur to other pastoral archaeologists to conduct research into this fascinating, and potentially productive avenue of exploration.

No discussion of Saharan animal domestication would be complete without an analysis of the early versus later cattle domestication debate between Fred Wendorf et al. and Andrew. This book is no different and Andrew presents powerful ecological and anatomical arguments to argue his case that cattle were not domesticated in the 10th millennium b.p., but rather at some time in the mid-late 7th millennium. It is an argument which I have much sympathy with, although I remain unconvinced by the extension of this argument to mean that cattle where brought into North Africa from the Levant over a long enough period of time to have a significant impact. As an aside, there is a disparity between the chronology shown for Paris' work in Niger in Figure 4.12 (page 96) and the chronology expressed in the text.

In moving southwards, Andrew first outlines the current state of knowledge in East Africa and proceeds down to southern Africa. I need to say that my knowledge of East African pastoral archaeology is poor by comparison with North and southern African, and so I do not regard myself as competent to comment on it. However, the time spent by Andrew on discussing the disagreements between him and Karim Sadr over the hunter-gatherer and herder remains at Kasteelberg (Western Cape, South Africa) makes for productive analysis. While Sadr has moved away from his original position of a strict division between hunter-gatherers and pastoralists being able to be discerned in the material record (and even having existed), Andrew goes into a detailed discussion of why he regards such a view as erroneous and to defend his position that such a division is indeed evident at Kasteelberg. Andrew is writing a site report of Kasteelberg for publication in BAR, which is eagerly awaited.

After the high of the previous chapters, his next ("Cattle in Ritual") is disappointing. Andrew failed to cite important pieces of work on cattle ritual in the deserts and their subsequent influence on the Predynastic Egyptians by myself and Stan Hendricx, amongst others. Nor is there any discussion of the volumious literature refutting the suggestions by Gimbutas et al. of "mother goddesses"; works by Lynn Meskell and others are vital in this regard.

Despite my reservations on Chapter 7, and the couple of errors and differences in interpretation in earlier chapters, Andrew's publication fills a gap which was crying out in need. The synthesis is broad-ranging and insightful, and his writing is brilliantly clear. I can only reiterate the words of Scott MacEachern in stating this is "essential reading for specialists in African prehistory", and add that it should be compulsory reading for any layperson or student with a passing interest in the subject.


back to top of page

COPYRIGHT ALL RIGHTS RESERVED ANTIQUITYOFMAN.COM