Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 11, Issue 12, pp 6737–6750 | Cite as

Investigating the utilisation of woody plant species at an Early Iron Age site in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, by means of identifying archaeological charcoal

  • Alisoun HouseEmail author
  • Marion K. Bamford
Original Paper


Ndondondwane in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, is an Early Iron Age site of a single, short-term occupation within the time period A.D. 750 to A.D. 950. This makes it a unique and ideal site to study cultural and social settlement organisation in this region. The site has been extensively excavated for archaeological research and a vast assemblage of charcoal retrieved. The charcoal assemblage was collected from three Cultural Horizons and each was analysed separately. This paper, the first to analyse the charcoal from this site, deals with charcoal collected from the deepest horizon represented by the livestock byre (Dung Area). Charcoal specimens were examined using reflective light microscopy to identify their characteristic anatomical features in order to determine the taxonomic group they represent. The majority of the charcoal from this layer was identified to six distinguishable species representing the genus previously known as Acacia, indicating this thorny wood was preferentially selected for constructing the byre and providing evidence for the usage of specific woody species for a particular purpose. In order to distinguish between the closely related species, a combination of morphological features was chosen and a comparison to modern charcoal reference samples and published wood anatomy descriptions were made. An attempt has been made to document the differences, as members of this genus are difficult to differentiate in terms of wood anatomy alone.


Archaeobotany Anthracology Charcoal analysis Early Iron Age Ndondondwane Wood usage 



We are deeply grateful to Professor Haskel Greenfield for providing the charcoal samples for analysis and initiating the project. We would like to express our gratitude to PAST for funding the collection of modern samples for the comparative database.

Funding information

This study was funded by the National Research Foundation – African Origins Platform (grant number 9823).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Evolutionary Studies InstituteUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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