Bokoni Research Team

Alex Schoeman
Elin Norström
Jan Rijsberg
Jeanette Smith
Peter Delius
Rachel Warren
Tim Maggs
**The second network field workshop was conducted in Bokoni in July 2013 – click here for further details**

Project background

The complex terraced and stonewalled sites of Bokoni in Mpumalanga Province of South Africa comprise the most detailed built footprint of any pre-colonial society in South Africa. The evidence of pre-colonial intensive agriculture in this region forms part of a wider pattern of intensive agriculture in Africa. This stands in stark contrast to traditional models that depict pre-colonial African agriculture as backward, and mostly based on extensive and shifting cultivation. The case of Bokoni offers important evidence of a locally developed farming knowledge within South Africa, which has been lost, or made invisible during the late 19th and the 20th centuries.

The Bokoni project grew out of the South African interdisciplinary Five Hundred Year Initiative, but developed its own dynamic trajectory, with the SIDA- NRF funded phase of the project bringing together South African archaeologists and historians with Swedish historical and physical geographers.

Two distinct research trajectories resulted from this collaboration. The first is continued collaboration between South African archaeologists and Swedish geographers, focussing on palaeoenvironmental reconstruction in order to understand the context of Bokoni farming. The second, funded by the South African African Origins Platform, explores the history of trade in the region, the archaeology of the Bokoni diaspora, and Bokoni agriculture and land management strategies.

Research into these farming strategies focuses on the southern region along the Komati River, where the earliest Bokoni sites are located, and thus probably where the Bokoni system of stonewalled terraces developed. This area has been the site of the Wits University Archaeology Honours field schools since 2011, and these surveys and excavations have significantly advanced our insights into the social aspects of Bokoni village organisation and farming strategies.

Bokoni Publications

Delius, P. & Schoeman, M.H. 2008. Revisiting Bokoni: populating the stone ruins of the Mpumalanga Escarpment. In: Swanepoel, N., Esterhuysen, A., & Bonner, P. (eds) Five Hundred Years Rediscovered: Southern African Precedents and Prospect, 500 Years Initiative 2007 Conference Proceedings: 135-167. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.

Delius, P. & Schoeman, M. 2010. Guest editors. Special Issue: History and Archaeology in Conversation – South Africa meets East Africa Workshop. African Studies 69(2).

Delius, P. & Schoeman, M.H. 2010. Reading the rocks and reviewing red herrings. African Studies 69(2): 235-254.

Delius, P., Maggs, T. & Schoeman, M.H. 2012. Bokoni: Old structures, new paradigms?  Rethinking pre-colonial society from the perspective of the stone-walled sites in Mpumalanga.  Journal of Southern African Studies 38 (2): 399-414.

Coetzee, T. & Schoeman, M.H. 2011. Mapping trade in Bokoni. The Digging Stick 28(1): 7-10.

Maggs, T.M.O’C.  1994/95.  The Early Iron Age in the extreme south: some patterns and problems.  Azania 29/30: 171-178.

Maggs, T. 2008. The Mpumalanga Escarpment settlements: Some answers, many questions.  In:

Swanepoel, N., Esterhuysen, A., & Bonner, P. (eds) Five Hundred Years Rediscovered: Southern African Precedents and Prospect, 500 Years Initiative 2007 Conference Proceedings: 169-181.  Johannesburg: Wits University Press.

Schoeman, M.H. & Delius, P. 2011. A short history of Bokoni. The Digging Stick 28(2): 17-19.

Completed Bokoni postgraduate student research projects

Coetzee, T. 2009. Mapping Bokoni: Applying Geographic Information Systems to the Articulation of Mpumalanga stonewalled Sites with river systems and Pre-Colonial Trade Routes. Honours project. University of Pretoria.

Fearch, C.2012. Shifting spatial relationships in the Komati River Gorge, Mpumalanga. Honours project. University of the Witwatersrand

Hattingh, T. 2013. A phyotoliyh analysis of Bokoni soils. MSc dissertation.   University of the Witwatersrand.

Henshall, T. 2013. Exploring gender relations in Bokoni through a spatial analysis of agricultural practices. Honours project. University of the Witwatersrand

Sjöström, J. 2013.  Late Holocene palaeoenvironmental reconstruction on a peat sequence from norteastern South Africa, using grass phytoliths as main proxy.  Masters Thesis.  Stockholm University.

Solomon, L.L. 2012. Soil Secrets Revealed: Determining the agricultural potential of the Bokoni type sites in the Komati Gorge Valley, Mpumalanga through comparative analysis of terraced and non-terraced soils. Honours project. University of the Witwatersrand.

Bokoni postgraduate student research projects progress

Coetzee, T. A Route Well Travelled: Reconstructing Bokoni trade routes and settlement migrations using Geographical Information Systems. MA dissertation in progress.   University of Pretoria.

Hattingh, T. The phytolith morphology of southern African domesticated plants at different growth stages. PhD dissertation in progress.   University of the Witwatersrand.

Mogashoa, A. In progress. Responsible tourism? Assessing the desirability and feasibility of the tourism potential of the Mpumalanga Bokoni engravings in the Lydenberg area. Honours project in progress.   University of the Witwatersrand

Solomon, L.L. Measuring growth potential: A geo-archaeological study of settlement location selection and associated land management practices in Bokoni, Mpumalanga. MSc dissertation in progress. University of the Witwatersrand.


  1. […] […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: