Is Niche Construction Theory Relevant to the Proposed Adoption of Domesticates by Hunter-Gatherers in Southern Africa?

Parsons, Isabelle
March 2015
African Archaeological Review;Mar2015, Vol. 32 Issue 1, p35
Academic Journal
Potential mechanisms by which domestic animals came to be herded by stone-tool users in southern Africa after 2 ka include demic and/or cultural diffusion. Neither theory is unproblematic, but robust archaeological evidence for immigrant stone-tool-using herders in the region continues to be sought. In the meantime, it seems useful to consider how cultural diffusion, or the adoption of herding practices by local hunter-gatherers, might have occurred in theory. It has been suggested that the domestication of plant and animal species by human societies represents prime archaeological evidence of humans enhancing their environment through integrated strategies of ecosystem engineering, or niche construction. This paper suggests that niche construction theory may also shed light on the proposed adoption of domestic species by southern African hunter-gatherers. To do so, it considers evidence for other niche construction activities in the local archaeological and ethnographic records. These activities include the deliberate and controlled burning of vegetation, and landscape modification strategies that limit or control a particular species' movement.


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