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Zambia Archaeology

Pre-colonial history

From the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi to the shores of Lake Tanganyika, Zambia has a great variety of archaeological sites that provide evidence of human occupation dating back to the Stone Age. Many of these sites have been documented and preserved by the National Heritage Conservation Commission of Zambia, although hitherto most have been neglected as a source of tourist interest.


Tools found in the Zambezi Valley below Victoria Falls are comparable with those from East Africa dated up to 2.5 million years ago. There is evidence at the same sites of hominid advancement and a gradual improvement in tool-making until 70 000 years ago.

Kalambo Falls

Kalambo Falls is located above Lake Tanganyika and there is evidence of fire-making from the same time and at the Broken Hill mine, now Kabwe, perhaps Zambia's most famous archaeological discovery was made - Homo rhodesiensis, a skull that became known as Broken Hill Man and also dates from this period. Perhaps under the influence of environmental change, these early Stone Age hominids spread out from the river valleys and occupied caves on the open plateau about 50 000 years ago.

The steady evolution of the species can be traced in Zambia by the refinements of tool making until the appearance of modern man - evidenced in another discovery at Broken Hill of a jawbone that more closely resembles our own than that of the previously discovered skull.

Stone Age progressed through further environmental changes and an increase in population until most of the region was occupied. While tradition holds that these Stone Age dwellers in caves and rock shelters were Khoisan people, or Bushmen, there is some evidence to suggest that they were rather of Negroid stock. But Bushmen Stone Age cultures did survive until comparatively recently, particularly in southwestern Zambia.

Excavations near Sesheke on the upper Zambezi have unearthed pottery shards of an Iron Age culture as young as 310 BC; no longer simply hunter-gatherers, the people practiced agriculture, kept stock and settled in villages of wattle and daub. Iron working appears to coincide with immigration of large numbers of Bantu-language speaking people.

This Bantu colonization seems to have occurred in three waves coming from three directions. The first movement edged up the Zambezi Valley from the east, moving as far as Sesheke three centuries before Christ. In the 6th century AD another wave migrated down the Zambezi from the north. Both of these migrations brought cattle with them. Then in the 9th century a large group moved down from the Congo Basin. These people did not own cattle but began to assimilate the peoples who had preceded them, and by the 11th century they found themselves in the majority. Smelting of both iron and copper was well under way and with the development of wealth and power nation-states emerged in the kingdoms of the Kazembe, Lunda, Lozi and Chewa.

Archaeological digging in the 1960s showed that the low mounds around the spring result from Late Stone Age habitation on the site between the second and third millennia BC. Several skeletons of these early inhabitants were discovered in the excavation, giving detailed evidence of their hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Nowadays game comes to lick tentatively at the salts deposited where the sulphurous waters seep and trickle into lush meadows at the edge of the Kafue Flats.

Last Updated on Monday 23rd November 2009

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