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Botswana Archaeology

Archaeology of the Pans

There is evidence of ancient cultures in the region. A profusion of worked flint tools-mostly arrowheads and spearheads can be found lying on the shoreline of the Makgadikgadi Pan, suggesting that Palaeolithic hunting cultures once thrived in the old lake system. More recent, any time from 20,000 years ago to now, are the San (bushman) 'pits' that litter the area. Some of these are holes dug through the rocky soil to permanent water-natural wells; others were intended as blinds from which to ambush game coming to drink from them. Most of the 'pits' were still in use up to 50 years ago, before the San were pushed out of the region.


On Kube Island, towards the western shore of Sowa Pan, are the remains of large crescent-shaped stone walls, lying between a natural litter of large boulders and baobab trees. Who built it and why is it unknown. The current opinion is that it is somehow connected with the medieval Zimbabwean cultures -but that was long after the pans had become dry, and what could have been the attraction of building there? Yet the finding of pottery shards and ostrich-eggshell jewellery suggests firmly that the place was inhabited. Somehow its air of unsolved mystery is fitting in the great silence of the pans.

From an adventure traveler's perspective, the main attraction, after self -guided tour by four explorations of the area, are the quad-biking trips to the pans, game migrations and archaeological sites offered by Jack's Camp, the only lodge right in the Makgadikgadi. There are plans afoot to expand these to Nxai Pan and to make them available to backpackers from a proposed lodge at Gweta, the small settlement north of the pans that gives access to the area from the tar road between Francistown and Maun.

The Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans

Between the Delta and the Central Kalahari lie several vast salt pans-great shallow depressions that were once full several years ago, lakes filled by the Okavango, Zambezi and Chobe rivers, before geological shifts altered the rivers' courses and drained the lakes. Even today, during the rains, the pans do fill a little partly from the seasonal flow of the Boteti River, and outflow of the Okavango Delta. When this happens, thousands of flamingos descend on the pans, as do great herds of zebra, bringing predators and other game with them.

To give an idea of the pans' scale, the Makgadikgadi Pan, in fact divided into two, Sowa Pan and Ntwetwe, still covers 12,000 square kms of the great lake's estimated original size of 80,000 square km. Nxai Pan, originally part of the same lake system and lying about 50km northwest of Makgadikgadi, covers around 2000 square km and has a more permanent game population, including elephant, giraffe and the big predators. Nxai is known as a good place to photograph leopard. Okavango Delta

The sense of isolation and space out on the pans is indescribable. Makgadikgadi has only one permanent camp, Jack's Camp, from which you can travel out on the pans during the dry season by quad-bikes, getting far out towards the center where you cannot see the shoreline. But there are other, stranger attractions. Several 'islands' dot the pans, usually grown over with tall palms similar to those in the Okavango, despite the general lack of water, or baobab trees. One island, just south of the main section of Nxai Pan, known as Baine's Baobabs, is a particularly startling sight amid the surrounding barrens, and has become one of the most photographed landmarks in southern Africa.

Tswapong Hills

Some of the earliest traces of Bantu-speaking people in southern Africa have been found in the characteristic long and winding gorges at Tswapong. Many of these gorges are littered with fragments of beautifully made and decorated pottery from almost two millennia of man's occupation. There are hundreds of collapsed and buried iron smelters and other evidence that the art of iron smelting was practiced in these gorges from as early as 350 AD. Carbon dates extend from approximately that period to modern times indicating the long continuity of human occupation in the area.

Last Updated on Sunday 22nd November 2009

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