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Rediscover a forgotten world

- By Wits University

While it has been claimed that technological  and  agricultural innovation  came to Southern Africa through colonisation, recent archaeological and historical  research, particularly in the area known as Bokoni in Mpumalanga, has shown  new  technologies such as stone building  and terracing as well  advanced farming techniques which long preceded colonisation.

In the latest National Research Foundation Science for Society lecture titled Bokoni – Rediscovering a Forgotten World, Wits’ Professor Peter Delius and Dr Alex Schoeman will explore the emergence of societies which made extensive use of stone walling and terracing in the process of creating intensive farming systems. These systems contradict the notion that African farmers were unskilled, inefficient and uninvolved in markets.

Delius, based at the Wits History Department and Schoeman, a senior lecturer in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, will be the keynote speakers.

The lecture will be preceded by the first public screening of the vivid and thought provoking documentary Forgotten World, which will take place from 16:30 to 17:30.

Delius elaborated that 500 years ago a new society emerged on the Mpumalanga escarpment which was remarkable for its high levels of innovation and scientific knowledge.

“It eventually encompassed over 10 000 square kilometres which were covered with vast complexes of stone walling, terraces and roads. It provided the basis for a system of intensive farming finely tuned to the environment and linked to long distance trading systems which spanned southern Africa and connected to the ancient networks of Indian Ocean commerce.

“It was the largest intensive farming system in pre-colonial southern and eastern Africa. It mocks the common notion that Africans were isolated unproductive cultivators,” explained Delius.

Delius said that by the 1830’s these societies have collapsed and the myriad stone structures stood abandoned and forlorn. “Over time it became an forgotten world neglected by academics and heritage practitioners.”

However, over the past decade an interdisciplinary team of researchers emanating from Wits has rediscovered this world and achieved new understandings of how and why it rose and fell.

Join the lecture on this remarkable forgotten world:

Date: Thursday, 11 June 2015

Time: Documentary: 17:30 until 18:30; Lecture: 18:45

Venue: Senate Room, 2nd Floor, Senate House, Braamfontein Campus East