The Keimoes kite landscape of the trans-Gariep, South Africa

Abstract

Here we present the recently discovered desert kites of South Africa in terms of landscape-based data derived from LiDAR scanning that enable us to compare the morphometric and topographic characteristics of the individual kite funnels. We report on a least-cost-path analysis, and use both older and younger ethno-historical and ethno-archaeological observations to help understand possible animal and human interaction with the Keimoes kite landscape. Our results highlight the hunters’ understanding of animal behaviours and migration patterns, and the minimum requirements for funnel construction. We show that all the sites were constructed within 2 km of seasonal water pans, and that elevation relative to the surrounding landscape was key to the placement of the kites. We further found that the Keimoes kite landscape was probably one of complex inter-connectedness, with dynamic human land-use patterns interlaced with concepts of inheritable custodianship across generations. The Keimoes kite funnels are most similar to those of the Negev Desert in the Levant, and demonstrate (against long-held opinion) that southern African hunter-gatherers in arid regions intentionally modified their landscape to optimise the harvesting of ungulates such as migrating gazelle—in this case the local, desert-adapted Springbok. Our landscape approach provides a nuanced understanding of these features within the southern African context.

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Data availability

Data are housed at the Palaeo-Research Institute, University of Johannesburg.

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Acknowledgements

Aerial LiDAR scanning was conducted by Southern Mapping and was funded by an African Origins Platform grant (98815) awarded by the National Research Foundation of South Africa to Marlize Lombard. We thank Emma Loftus for help with the radiocarbon date calibrations, Ampie Vlok for conversations about the northern Nama Karoo landscape, Jeremy Hollmann for his rock art expertise, and Anders Högberg and Per Ditlef Fredriksen for useful discussion on the application of LiDAR scanning during the early stages of the Keimoes Kite Project. This manuscript further benefitted from reviewer and editorial suggestions, but mistakes and omissions remain our own.

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Funding

The aerial LiDAR scanning was conducted by Southern Mapping and was funded by an African Origins Platform grant (98815) awarded by the National Research Foundation of South Africa to M. Lombard.

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Correspondence to Marlize Lombard.

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Lombard, M., Lotter, M.G., van der Walt, J. et al. The Keimoes kite landscape of the trans-Gariep, South Africa. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 13, 90 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-021-01328-x

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Keywords

  • Desert kites
  • LiDAR
  • Later Stone Age
  • San hunter-gatherers