African Archaeological Review

, Volume 23, Issue 3–4, pp 45–53 | Cite as

Goats (Capra hircus), the Khoekhoen and Pastoralism: Current Evidence from Southern Africa

  • S. Badenhorst
Original Article


The current archaeological evidence for the presence of goats among herder societies in southern Africa is reviewed. Presumably, the Khoekhoen obtained goats from Bantu-speaking farmers, but the exact timing of diffusion is still unknown. Archaeological evidence for the presence of goats in the Western Cape remains, to date, elusive, despite historical reference to goats. It is very often impossible to distinguish sheep from goat based on fragmentary archaeological remains such as those commonly found in southern Africa. Intrinsic physiological characteristics make goats suitable farm animals, and they may commonly have acted as sheep-leaders during prehistoric times, a practice noted amongst the Khoekhoen during the early part of the 19th century. Acting as sheep-leaders might have required herders to deliberately keep goat numbers low. There are few depictions of goats in southern African rock art.

Résume La preuve archéologique actuelle pour la présence de chèvres parmi les sociétés de berger dans Afrique méridionale est réexaminée. Vraisemblablement, le Khoekhoen a obtenu des chèvres de fermiers parlant Bantu, mais le moment exact de diffusion est toujours inconnu. La preuve archéologique pour la présence de chèvres dans les restes de Cap de l’ouest, dater, insaisissable, malgré la référence historique aux chèvres. C’est très souvent impossible de distinguer le mouton de la chèvre basée sur les restes archéologiques fragmentaires tels que ces ordinairement trouvé dans Afrique méridionale. Les caractéristiques physiologiques intrinsèques font des chèvres les animaux de ferme convenables, et ils ont pu servir ordinairement des mouton-dirigeants pendant les temps préhistoriques, une pratique réputée parmi le Khoekhoen pendant la première partie du 19e siècle. Servir des mouton-dirigeants pourrait avoir exigé que les bergers aient exprès gardé le niveau bas de nombres de chèvre. Il y a peu de représentations de chèvres dans l’art de rocher Africain méridional.


Goats Sheep Pastoralism Khoekhoen Southern Africa Later Stone Age 



I would like to thank: Dr. Ina Plug, Dr. Jan Boeyens and Ms. Maria van der Ryst (all from the University of South Africa) as well as Dr. Catherine D’Andrea (Simon Fraser University) for taking the time to make valuable suggestions on earlier drafts. Anonymous referees provided helpful comments, and editorial support was provided by Prof. Fekri Hassan and Dr. Aloisia de Trafford. Dr. Carmen Tarcan (Simon Fraser University) translated the abstract to French. Dr. L. Jacobson (McGregor Museum) and B. Woodhouse informed me of additional rock art sites with goat depictions. Shannon Wood assisted me to produce the map.


  1. Albrecht, M., Berke, H., Eichhorn, B., Frank, T., Kuper, R., Prill, S., et al. (2001). Oruwanje 95/1: a late Holocene stratigraphy in northwestern Namibia. Cimbebasia, 17, 1–22.Google Scholar
  2. Avery, G., Cruz-Uribe, K., Goldberg, P., Grine, F. E., Klein, R. G., Lenardi, M. J., et al. (1997). The 1992–1993 excavations at the Die Kelders Middle and Later Stone Age cave site, South Africa. Journal of Field Archaeology, 24, 263–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Badenhorst, S. (2002). The ethnography, archaeology, rock art and history of goats (Capra hircus) in southern Africa: an overview. Anthropology Southern Africa, 25(3–4), 96–103.Google Scholar
  4. Badenhorst, S. (2003). The archaeofauna from iNkolimahashi Shelter, a Later Stone Age shelter in the Thukela Basin, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Southern African Humanities, 15, 45–57.Google Scholar
  5. Badenhorst, S., & Plug, I. (2001). Appendix: The faunal remains from Mmatshetshele, a Late Iron Age site in the Rustenburg district. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 56(173–174), 55–56.Google Scholar
  6. Badenhorst, S., & Plug, I. (2002). Appendix: Animal remains from recent excavations at a Late Iron Age site, Simunye, Swaziland. Southern African Humanities, 14, 45–50.Google Scholar
  7. Badenhorst, S., & Plug, I. (2003). The archaeozoology of goats, Capra hircus (Linnaeus, 1758): their size variation during the last two millennia in southern Africa (Mammalia: Artiodactyla: Caprini). Annals of the Transvaal Museum, 40, 91–121.Google Scholar
  8. Balasse, M., & Ambrose, S. H. (2005). Distinguishing sheep and goats using dental morphology and stable carbon isotopes in C4 grassland environments. Journal of Archaeological Science, 32, 691–702.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Barnard, A. (1992). Hunters and herders of southern Africa. A comparative ethnography of the Khoisan peoples. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Beinart, W. (2003). The rise of conservation in South Africa. Settlers, livestock, and the environment. 1770–1950. Oxford, Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Belanger, J. (1995). Raising milk goats the modern way. Vermont, Storey Communications.Google Scholar
  12. Bird, W. (1966). State of the Cape of Good Hope in 1822. Cape Town, C. Struik.Google Scholar
  13. Boessneck, J., Müller, H., & Teichert, M. (1964). Osteologische underscheidungsmerkmale zwischen schaft (Ovis aries Linné) und zwiege (Capra hircus Linné). Kühn-Archiv, 78, 1–129.Google Scholar
  14. Brain, C. K. (1967). Hottentot food remains and their bearing on the interpretation of fossil bone assemblages. Scientific Papers of the Namib Desert Research Station, 32, 1–11.Google Scholar
  15. Brain, C. K. (1969). The contribution of Namib Desert Hottentots to an understanding of Australopithecine bone accumulations. Scientific Papers of the Namib Desert Research Station, 39, 13–22.Google Scholar
  16. Brain, C. K. (1981). The hunters or the hunted? An introduction to African cave taphonomy. Chicago, Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Brink, J. S., & Holt, S. (1992). A small goat, Capra hircus, from a Late Iron Age site in the eastern Orange Free State. South African Field Archaeology, 1, 88–91.Google Scholar
  18. Brown, A. S., & Brown, G. G. (1934). The South and East African year book and guide with atlas and diagrams. London, Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company.Google Scholar
  19. Carr, M. J., Carr, A. C., & Jacobson, L. (1978). Hut remains and related features from the Zerrissene Mountain area: their distribution, typology and ecology. Cimbebasia Series B, 2, 235–258.Google Scholar
  20. Clutton-Brock, J. (1997). Animal domestication in Africa. In: Vogel, J. O. (ed.), Encyclopedia of precolonial Africa. Archaeology, history, languages, cultures, and environments. (pp. 418–424). London, AltaMira Press.Google Scholar
  21. Cruz-Uribe, K., & Schrire, C. (1991). Analysis of faunal remains from Oudepost I, an early outpost of the Dutch East India Company, Cape Province. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 46, 92–106.Google Scholar
  22. De Boom, H. P. A. (1950). Die onderskeiding tussen skaap- en bokbene/Differentiating between bones of the sheep and the goat. The Nongqai, July, 801–813.Google Scholar
  23. Elphick, R. (1979). The Khoisan to c. 1770. In: Elphick, R., & Giliomee, H. (eds.), The shaping of South African society 1652–1820. (pp. 3–40). Cape Town, Longman.Google Scholar
  24. Frey, K. (1955). Die Nie-Blanke volkere van Suidwes-Afrika. Johannesburg, Suid-Afrikaanse Uitsaaikorporasie.Google Scholar
  25. Gifford-Gonzalez, D. (2000). Animal disease challenges to the emergence of pastoralism in sub-Saharan Africa. African Archaeological Review, 17(3), 95–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hailey, M. (1957). An African survey. A study of problems arising in Africa south of the Sahara. London, Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Hall, M., Malan, A., Amann, S., Honeyman, L., Kiser, T., & Ritchie, G. (1993). The archaeology of Paradise. In: Hall, M., & Markell, A. (eds.), Historical Archaeology in the Western Cape. (Goodwin Series 7, pp. 40–58). South African Archaeological Society.Google Scholar
  28. Hall, S. (1992). Appendix 5: Faunal remains from Toteng sites 1 and 3. In: Campbell, A. C. (ed.), Southern Okavango integrated water development study: archaeological survey of proposed Maun reservoir. (pp. 16–33). Gaborone: Department of Water Affairs.Google Scholar
  29. Halstead, P., & Collins, P. (2002). Sorting the sheep from the goats: morphological distinctions between the mandibles and mandibular teeth of adult Ovis and Capra. Journal of Archaeological Science, 29, 545–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Henshilwood, C. S., Sealy, J. C., Yates, R., Cruz-Uribe, K., Goldberg, P., Grine, F. E., et al. (2001). Blombos Cave, Southern Cape, South Africa: preliminary report on the 1992–1999 excavations of the Middle Stone Age levels. Journal of Archaeological Science, 28, 421–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hocking, A. (1975). South African farming. Cape Town, Macdonald.Google Scholar
  32. Klein, R. G. (1986). The prehistory of Stone Age herders in the Cape Province of South Africa. (Goodwin Series 5, pp. 5–12). South African Archaeological Society.Google Scholar
  33. Klein, R. G., & Cruz-Uribe, K. (2000). Middle and Later Stone Age large mammal and tortoise remains from Die Kelders Cave 1, Western Cape Province, South Africa. Journal of Human Evolution, 38, 169–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lee, R. B. (1984). The Dobe !Kung. New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  35. Manhire, A. H., Parkington, J. E., Mazel, A. D., & Maggs, T. M. (1986). Cattle, sheep and horses: a review of domestic animals in the rock art of southern Africa. In: Hall, M., & Smith, A. B. (eds.), Prehistoric pastoralism in southern Africa. (Goodwin Series 5, pp. 22–30). South African Archaeological Society.Google Scholar
  36. Markell, A. B. (1993). Building on the past: the architecture and archaeology of Vergelegen. In: Hall, M., & Markell, A. (eds.), Historical Archaeology in the Western Cape. (Goodwin Series 7, pp. 71–83). South African Archaeological Society.Google Scholar
  37. Mitchell, P. (2002). The archaeology of southern Africa. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Mönnig, H. O., & Veldman, F. J. (1976). Handbook of stock diseases. Cape Town, Tafelberg.Google Scholar
  39. Odendaal, F. H., Van Eck, H. J., Snyman, H. W., van S. Bruwer, J. P., Quin, P. J., & Claasen, C. J. (1964). Verslag van die kommissie van ondersoek na aangeleenthede van Suidwes-Afrika/Report of the commission of enquiry into South West Africa affairs. Pretoria, Government Printer.Google Scholar
  40. Osterhoff, D. R., Couvaras, S., Genis, E. C., & Van Niekerk, H. P. (1979). Soötegniese data. Pretoria, Butterworth.Google Scholar
  41. Palmer, A. R., & Hoffman, M. T. (1997). Nama-karoo. In: Cowling, R. M., Richardson, D. M., & Pierce, S. M. (eds.), Vegetation of southern Africa. (pp. 167–188). Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Payne, S. (1985). Morphological distinctions between the mandibular teeth of young sheep, Ovis, and goats, Capra. Journal of Archaeological Science, 12, 139–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Percival, R. (1969). An account of the Cape of Good Hope. New York, Negro University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Plug, I. (1979). Appendix: Striped Giraffe Shelter faunal report. In: Wadley, L. Big Elephant Shelter and its role in the Holocene prehistory of central South West Africa. Cimbebasia, 3, 1–76.Google Scholar
  45. Plug, I. (1988). Hunters and herders: an archaeozoological study of some prehistoric communities in the Kruger National Park. Unpublished D.Phil. et Litt. dissertation. Pretoria, University of Pretoria.Google Scholar
  46. Plug, I. (1996). Domestic animals during the Early Iron Age in southern Africa. In: Pwiti, G., & Soper, R. (eds.), Aspects of African archaeology. Papers from the 10th Congress of the PanAfrican Association for Prehistory and Related Studies. (pp. 515–520). Harare, University of Zimbabwe Publications.Google Scholar
  47. Plug, I., & Badenhorst, S. (2001). The distribution of macromammals in southern Africa over the past 30,000 years. Transvaal Museum Monograph no. 12. Pretoria, Transvaal Museum.Google Scholar
  48. Plug, I., & Badenhorst, S. (2002). Appendix B: Bones from Muozi Midden Trench II. In: Soper, R. (ed.), Nyanga: ancient fields, settlements and agricultural history in Zimbabwe. (pp. 242–248). London, Memoirs of the British Institute in Eastern Africa 16.Google Scholar
  49. Prummel, W., & Frisch, H. (1986). A guide for the distinction of species, sex and body side in bones of sheep and goat. Journal of Archaeological Science, 13, 567–577.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Ramsay, K., Harris, L., & Kotzé, A. (2000). Landrace breeds: South Africa’s indigenous and locally developed farm animals. Pretoria, Farm Animal Conservation Trust.Google Scholar
  51. Reitz, E. J., & Wing, E. S. (1999). Zooarchaeology. Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Robbins, L. H., Campbell, A. C., Murphy, M. L., Brook, G. A., Srivastava, P., & Badenhorst, S. (2005). The advent of herding in southern Africa: early AMS dates on domestic livestock from the Kalahari Desert. Current Anthropology, 46(4), 671–677.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Rowley-Conwy, P. (1998). Improved separation of Neolithic metapodials of sheep (Ovis) and goats (Capra) from Arene Candide Cave, Liguria, Italy. Journal of Archaeological Science, 25, 251–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sadr, K. (1997). Kalahari archaeology and the Bushman Debate. Current Anthropology, 38(1), 104–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sadr, K., Smith, A., Plug, I., Orton, J., & Mütti, B. (2003). Herders and forgers on Kasteelberg: interim report of excavations 1999–2002. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 58(177), 27–32.Google Scholar
  56. Sealy, J., Maggs, T., Jerardino, A., & Kaplan, J. (2004). Excavations at Melkbosstrand: variability among herder sites on Table Bay, South Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 59(179), 17–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Schapera, I. (1930). The Khoisan peoples of South Africa. London, George Routledge and Son.Google Scholar
  58. Schapera, I., & Farrington, E. (1970). The early Cape Hottentots described in the writing of Olfert Dapper (1668) Willem Ten Rhyne (1686) and Johannes Gulielmus De Grevenbroek (1695). Westport, Negro University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Scholes, R. J. (1997). Savanna. In: Cowling, R. M., Richardson, D. M., & Pierce, S. M. (eds.), Vegetation of southern Africa. (pp. 258–277). Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Schrire, C., Cruz-Uribe, K., & Klose, J. (1993). The site history of the historical site at Oudepost 1, Cape. In: Hall, M., & Markell, A. (eds.), Historical Archaeology in the Western Cape. (Goodwin Series 7, pp. 21–32). South African Archaeological Society.Google Scholar
  61. Schweitzer, F. R. (1975). Archaeological evidence for sheep at the Cape. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 29, 75–82.Google Scholar
  62. Schweitzer, F. R., & Wilson, M. L. (1982). Byneskranskop 1, a Late Quaternary living site in the southern Cape Province, South Africa. Annals of the South African Museum, 88(1), 1–203.Google Scholar
  63. Seddon, J. D., & Vinnecombe, P. (1967). Domestic animals, rock-art and dating. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 22(3), 112–114.Google Scholar
  64. Shaw, M. (1974). Material culture. In: Hammond-Tooke, W. D. (ed.), The Bantu-speaking peoples of southern Africa. (pp. 85–131). London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  65. Smith, A. B. (1993). Different facets of the crystal: early European images of the Khoikhoi at the Cape, South Africa. (Goodwin Series 7, pp. 8–20). South African Archaeological Society.Google Scholar
  66. Smith, A. B., Halkett, D., Hart, T., & Mütti, B. (2001). Spatial patterning, cultural identity and site integrity open sites: evidence from Bloeddrift 23, a pre-colonial herder camp in the Richtersveld, Northern Cape Province, South Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 56(173–174), 23–33.Google Scholar
  67. Thom, H. B. (1958). Journal of Jan van Riebeeck Volume III 1659–1662. Cape Town, AA Balkema.Google Scholar
  68. Voigt, E. A., & Von den Driesch, A. (1984). Preliminary report on the faunal remains from Ndondondwane, Natal. Annals of the Natal Museum, 26(1), 95–104.Google Scholar
  69. Webley, L. (1986). Pastoralist ethnoarchaeology in Namaqualand. In: Hall, M., & Smith, A. B. (eds.), Prehistoric pastoralism in southern Africa. (Goodwin Series 5, pp. 57–61). South African Archaeological Society.Google Scholar
  70. Wilmsen, E. N. (1989). Land filed with flies. A political economy of the Kalahari. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  71. Wilmsen, E. N. (1991). Pastoro-foragers to “Bushmen”: transformations in Kalahari relations of property, production and labor. In: Galaty, J. G., & Bonte, P. (eds.), Herders, warriors and traders. Pastoralism in Africa. (pp. 248–263). Oxford, Westview Press.Google Scholar
  72. Woodhouse, H. C. (1972). Rock-paintings near Middelburg, Transvaal. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 27, 84–89.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologySimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

Personalised recommendations