Department of Archaeology and Ancient History

Karl-Johan Lindholm

African land-use histories
My main research interest is to work with developing theory and method that help to explain fragmented remains of past land-use in African landscapes. A related interest is to explain the dynamics of dif­ferent land-use practices and how they have developed and interacted over time for coping with an unpredictable socio-environmental universe, which mediated the shaping of landscapes, at the same time as it imposed constraints to it. My ambition is to contribute with an archaeological perspective which is relevant to current environmental discussions in Africa concerned with land degradation, nature conservation and sustainability.

Previous research
In September 2006 I successfully defended my Ph.D. in African Archaeology with the dissertation; Wells of Experience. A pastoral land-use history of Omaheke, Namibia, published in Studies in Global Archaeology 9, African and Comparative Archaeology, Dep. of Archaeology and Ancient history, Uppsala University. Through my PhD studies I have become familiar with current research on cultural landscapes, environmental change, applied archaeology and historical ecology. In addition to doctoral training courses in archaeology I have participated in courses and seminars at the Department of Rural Development studies, Swedish University of Agricultural Science (SLU) and at the Centre for Environment and Development Studies Doctoral School (CEFO), Uppsala University. My PhD research was carried out as part of the inter-regional research projects Human Responses and Contributions to Environmental Change in Africa (HRAC) and Global Urban Landscape Dynamics (GULD).

My approach to archaeology takes a long-term perspective on remains derived from the knowledge and prac­tice of specific social groups in interaction with their environment. The purpose of my PhD research was to construct an alternative approach to the archaeology of livestock herding in the north-western Kalahari in order to refine the current understanding of the areas unrecorded land-use history. In doing this I departed from current discussions in African rangeland ecology stressing that the main constraint for land use in semi-arid environments are variable rainfall and reoccurring quasi-drought conditions. However, despite the apparent lack of equilibrium under climatic variation in some parts of the system, other parts seem to be regulated in a density-dependent manner at certain periods. Especially important for my research, were water sources which maintain constancy over the dry season and are associated with vegetation that provides fodder and browse for livestock.
By reviewing recent ecological research, historical and anthropological accounts and previous archaeological research, I established a link between livestock herders’ procurement of dry season key resources and the practice of digging wells. On this basis, I suggested that artificial wells are useful indicators of pastoral land use in the Kalahari. In order to test this proposition I used a research approach including archaeology, historical sources (written in German, English and Afrikaans), soil and vegetation ecology, local place names and the knowledge of the people who keep livestock in the region today. The archaeological survey revealed 40 well sites, including nearly 200 well structures that have all been used for watering livestock, in an area conventionally described as unsuitable for livestock herding.
In my study, I could date some of the wells by archaeological methods and by tracking place names in historical and oral accounts. The dates pointed to a use in the period 16th century to the first half of the 20th century, although I have found a few indications that point to an earlier origin.

The wells allowed the tracking and the reconstruction of a pastoral landscape that predated the colonial era. I proposed that the establishment of metal using agropastoral communities and the development of larger social aggregations in the more productive areas of the Kalahari resulted in expansion and establishment of livestock posts, based on the wells, into the more marginal grasslands of the Kalahari. This together with long-distance trade stimulated socio-economic diversification and specialisation. Furthermore, the wells could be used to identify changes in land-use that took place during the twentieth century, after the major disruptions of the rinderpest and the colonial wars. This time period involved that livestock herding was more or less abandoned in large parts of north-western Kalahari. Other areas saw a considerable intensification associated with the construction of Native Reserves. The reserves concentrated people and livestock from large areas of Namibia, which at this time was set aside to farmland for newly arrived European settlers and nature conservancies.

It is evident that my study was based on the principle that pastoral livestock cannot sustain the dry season without dry season resources and that this implies an equilibrial relationship. However, in addition I argued that the wells nurture several more aspects than just simple ‘adaptations’ to an external environment, as the practice observed in the well areas not only reflects the ambition to use these places. For example, I observed that some features of the vegetation structure near the wells, especially the larger trees, derive from a modification of the pre-existing savanna vegetation. The well areas can for this reason be understood as structured by a longer term strategy for managing key habitats in the savanna mosaic. In this process distinctions between the natural and the cultural landscape cannot be easily drawn. For this reason I argued that historicity, defined as the reproduction of landscape structures; based on practice over the long term, is a vital part of the patchy vegetation mosaics within an ecosystem at disequilibrium. In addition, the long continuity of place names and an active oral tradition can be understood as parts of the same management strategies with purpose of gaining and maintaining user rights to certain places in the landscape. Since key habitats of the savanna mosaics are accommodated within cultural landscape and are actively used and maintained over the long-term I would stress they are crucial for research on the historical ecology of landscape change in Africa.

My research has relevance for modern debates in Namibia concerned with the socio-environmental transformations that accompanied the colonial era, e.g. the colonial wars of 1904-07, the ethnically constituted land reforms (1896-1964), contradicting notions of the current status of the environment in the previous reserves and moreover past and current socio-economic relations between different linguistic groups in the region. With modifications, the approach I developed in the Kalahari can be applicable for historical ecological research elsewhere in southern and eastern Africa.

Relevant publications
2006b. Wells of Experience. A pastoral land-use history of Omaheke, Namibia. Studies in
Global Archaeology 9. Department of Archaeology and Ancient history. Uppsala:
Uppsala University.
Available online at:
2006a. Can wells serve as archaeological indicators for livestock herding? In
The African Archaeology Network: Research in progress, Studies in the African Past 5,Kinahan, J. & J. Kinahan (eds), 21-39. Dar es Salaam: Dar es Salaam University Press.
2003. Both and more; a cognitive approach to environment. In Pre-circulated papers for
the Global Urban Landscape Dynamics and Resource Use symposium, Sinclair, P.
J. J. (ed). Department of Archaeology and Ancient History. Uppsala: African
and Comparative Archaeology.
Available online at: http://www.arkeologi.uu.se_copy/afr/symposium/abstracts/Kalle.pdf
1998. Jägare-Samlare i arkeologisk forskning [Hunter-Gatherers in archaeological
Research]. In Förmedling [Intermediation], Kontaktstencil 41, Hamari, P. (ed), 69-
78.Helsinki: Helsinki University
Lindholm, K-J. & P. Vogel 1997. Samhälle-Boplats. En tvärkulturell undersökning av
mobila jägare-samlare och deras boplatser [Society-settlement. A cross-cultural
study of mobile hunter-gatherers and their settlements]. In: Jeger-Samlere [Hunter-
Gatherers], Kontaktstencil 40, Dahl, K., M. Krogh & I. Sommerseth (eds), 73-86.
Tromsø: Universitetet i Tromsø
Lindholm, K-J. & P. Vogel 1996. Omedelbarhetens Landskap. En tvärkulturell
undersökning av jägare-samlares kulturlandskap [The landscape of immediacy. A
cross cultural studyof the cultural landscapes of hunter-gatherers]. CD-uppsatser/MA thesis, Department of Archaeology. Uppsala: Uppsala University