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Fishing in the Lesotho Highlands: 26,000 Years of Fish Exploitation, with Special Reference to Sehonghong Shelter

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image of Journal of African Archaeology

Significant numbers of fish bones have been identified from three Later Stone Age sites in the Lesotho Highlands. They comprise two rock-shelters on the Sehonghong River, Sehonghong and Pitsaneng, and one open-air campsite on the banks of the Senqu River, Likoaeng. Pitsaneng was occupied during the second millennium AD and Likoaeng for much of the Postclassic Wilton, ca 4000-1200 bp. Sehonghong, in contrast, has a history of fish exploitation spanning at least 26,000 years, from before the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) to the second millennium AD. Fish were identified from all levels of this site, but three distinct periods can be distinguished when fishing was of particular importance, namely around 20,000 bp, 12,200 bp and again after 1700 bp. The same five species were identified throughout the deposits. Labeobarbus aeneus overwhelmingly dominates all the assemblages, but Labeo capensis and Austroglanis sclateri may have become more important during the Holocene. Standard Length estimates reveal that fishes caught during the Holocene were mostly of pre-breeding size, whereas the fishes caught during the Pleistocene were mostly of breeding age. Sehonghong and Pitsaneng show similarities in the relative abundances of different fish, but present a marked contrast with Likoaeng. The likely ages of the fish also differ. Overall, the Sehonghong sequence confirms the late Pleistocene antiquity of fishing in the interior of southern Africa and helps contest suggestions that fishing only became important in the late Holocene.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Anthropology & Archaeology, University of South Africa ; 2: School of Archaeology, University of Oxford, St Hugh’s College


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