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The Ash Heaps of Kweneng, South Africa


Unusually large ash heaps are a remarkable Late Iron Age feature of Kweneng, near Johannesburg. They are not randomly distributed across the site. What can a spatial analysis of their distribution tell us about their significance? Our results show that the prominent ash heaps of Kweneng are principally associated with only one of the three styles of stone-walled architecture found at this site. They also show that the ash heaps were associated with wealth in cattle. Furthermore, there is a clear spatial association with stone-lined avenues or roads, possibly cattle drives. The spatial analysis indicates that the prominent ash heaps of Kweneng were not ordinary household rubbish dumps. We propose that, by the terminal phase of occupation at Kweneng, they had become a significant part of a vast stage where the extraordinary wealth of this Sotho-Tswana city was displayed. Built of a supernaturally potent substance, the prominent ash heaps elevated and displayed the elite of Kweneng along the route of the cattle processions, which daily celebrated the wealth of the polity.


Des amas de cendres inhabituellement grands sont une caractéristique remarquable de la fin de l'âge de fer à Kweneng, près de Johannesburg. Ils ne sont pas répartis au hasard sur le site. Que peut nous apprendre une analyse spatiale de leur distribution? Nos résultats montrent que ces amas de cendres proéminents de Kweneng sont principalement associés à un seul des trois styles d'architecture en pierre sèche trouvés sur ce site. Ils montrent également que les amas de cendres étaient liés à la richesse en bétail. En outre, il existe une association spatiale clair avec des avenues ou des routes bordées de pierres, possiblement des voies où cheminait le bétail. L'analyse spatiale indique que les amas de cendres proéminents de Kweneng n'étaient pas des dépotoirs ordinaires d'ordures ménagères. Nous proposons que, par la phase terminale de l'occupation de Kweneng, ils étaient devenus une partie remarquable d’une vaste scène pour afficher l'extraordinaire richesse de cette ville Sotho-Tswana. Construits d'une substance d’une robustesse surnaturelle, ces amas de cendres proéminents valorisaient et exhibaient l'élite de Kweneng tout au long de la route des processions de bétail, qui célébraient ainsi quotidiennement la richesse du régime.

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Fieldwork was kindly permitted by the management of the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve and the neighboring landowners, whose cooperation with this research project is gratefully acknowledged. Over the years, many Wits University postgraduate students helped with the Kweneng surveys, both remotely and on the ground. Their assistance is gratefully acknowledged. The helpful comments of two anonymous reviewers are greatly appreciated.


Funding for the Kweneng project was provided by the South African National Research Foundation grant numbers 77578 and 85978 and by the Faculty of Science at the University of the Witwatersrand.

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Correspondence to Karim Sadr.

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Chingono, P.H., Sadr, K. The Ash Heaps of Kweneng, South Africa. Afr Archaeol Rev (2022).

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  • Late Iron Age
  • South Africa
  • Kweneng
  • Ash heaps
  • Cattle drives