South of the Zambezi River, along the eastern side of Africa, things get dryer and dryer as you go south, until you finally reach the southernmost end of the continent where things become a little bit moister again.
A couple of thousand years ago cattle keeping people speaking Bantu languages and possessing mainly Banutu cultural traits … the ancestors of the present day Shona, Venda Tswana, Zulu, etc. …. were living in this area, keeping their cattle, and doing all sorts of interesting stuff.
As climate fluctuated year to year and decade to decade, there moved north and south a kind of line … an uneven line following topography and affected by numerous other forces, a line as hard to define or keep track of as the shadow of a train running down the track, cast on the nearby forest … that determined where, if you were a Bantu cattle keeping group, you could live vs. not live. This was essentially the line that divided areas wet enough for enough of the year to reliably grow sufficient grass for the cattle to graze (to the north, more or less) vs. areas where the rainfall was insufficient, or insufficiently regular, for this to happen (to the south, more or less).
It stands to reason that cultures that lived near this line would experience significant fluctuations in all sorts of areas of life. Cattle meant food, but cattle also meant wealth. This line could be though of as a sort of depression/recession vs. good economy line. Imagine such a line wafting back and forth across Europe. One day you are on the correct side of the line and everything is fine, then a couple of years later the line moves and the country you live in is destine to experience two or three decades in which the money is always worth a tenth of what it otherwise might be worth.
So what’s a culture to do? Invent religion, of course! Or, more realistically, adapt the religious modality to at least attempt to address variability in rainfall.
Well, the modern cultures of the region have ritual practices that many believe can be seen in the archaeological record, and some of those practices involve rain (or the lack thereof). And this has led to a very interesting research outcome about to be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Continue reading A Cultural Climate Measure from Iron Age Africa