A Natural Wonder
The Zambezi River
The Victoria Falls
Ecology of the Victoria Falls
Formation of the Victoria Falls
People of the Victoria Falls
Enter the Ndebele
Discovery of the Victoria Falls
In Livingstone's Footsteps
Development of the Rhodesias
Development of the Railway
Development of Tourism
Development of Victoria Falls Town
Recent History
Further Information
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To The Victoria Falls

People of the Victoria Falls

Early peoples of the Victoria Falls region

Archaeological sites found around the falls area have yielded Homo habilis stone artefacts that date back to some 3 million years. Middle Stone Age tools (50,000 years) and Late Stone Age weapons and digging tools (10,000 and 2000 years ago) have also been found.

Iron-using Khoisan hunter-gatherers displaced these Stone Age people and in turn were displaced by Bantu tribes such as the southern Tonga people known as the Batoka/Tokalea.

Early History

The Zambezi has been a focal point for human settlement ever since mankind began to evolve. Evidence of occupation by early man has been found along most of the river. However, one of the largest concentrations of prehistoric sites is at the Victoria Falls.

Tools representing a near-continuous record of man’s evolution spanning two million years have been preserved in the sands and gravels at the Falls, to be excavated by archaeologists. The earliest are merely pebbles with a flake struck off to form a crude cutting or scraping edge. Later come the hand-axes and more skilled workmanship of the Middle Stone Age and finally the ‘microlithic’ (small-stone) barbs and arrowheads of the Late Stone Age.

Stone-Age Traditions

Along the Zambezi Valley, in the vicinity of the Victoria Falls, there are records of man's presence right back to these earliest recognised cultural traditions. Some of the oldest Stone-Age sites in Zambia are around the Livingstone area, particularly on the ridges overlooking sections of the Batoka Gorge, although these are often buried under subsequent deposits.

The Victoria Falls area is rich in early Stone Age sites: tools found in various places are of the Oldowan industry type, referring to a group of people in the Olduvai Gorge of Tanzania. These early hominids are classified as Homo habilis and lived in vicinity of the Falls about two and a half million years ago. Archaeological sites around the Falls have yielded stone artefacts from 3 million years ago.

Many of these archaeological sites used to be on the river's edge, but in the last two million years the waterfall has eroded back through the rock and moved about 20km, to its present location, creating the gorge we know today and leaving the archaeological remains high and dry.

Archaeological sites around the Falls have yielded many stone artefacts including 50,000-year-old Middle Stone Age tools and Late Stone Age (10,000 and 2,000 years old) weapons, adornments and digging tools.

Climatic conditions have been such that all perishable remains such as wood or bone artefacts, have long since disappeared, and only non-perishable, stone, implements remain for archaeological interpretation.

Whilst there is much evidence of Stone Age settlements, it was the Iron Age culture which dominated in the region with the first settlers arriving in the first millennium A.D. These people – the Bantu – are the ancestors of many of the people living in Victoria Falls today.

Iron-Age Traditions

Iron-using tribes from the north subsequently displaced these Stone Age people. Bantu-speaking people from the north established their chiefdoms in the area during the period known as the 'Bantu expansion', a millennia-long series of migrations of speakers of the original proto-Bantu language.

Evidence from the region suggests the use of iron-age technology, and associated cultural developments such as the development of pastoral agriculture, settled village communities and tribal social structure, became widely introduced early in the first millennium AD, displacing established stone-age cultures.

These people practiced a wide variety of crafts, including pottery-making, the smelting of metal ores and the working of artefacts from iron and copper. Locally available iron ore was smelted and light wood-working tools and arrowheads were manufactured. A small number of stone tools, and wood and bone, were probably also used. However the lack of certain commodities, such as salt, iron ore or potting materials, led to extensive trading. Copper, in the form of ornaments and currency bars, is known from several sites in the region, and as copper ore deposits are unknown here, it is clear that the metal was brought to the area by means of trade.

Numerous Iron Age sites are scattered along the river, including the well-known Ingombe Ilede burial near Chirundu which showed, by the richness of the burial goods, that external trade had reached this far up the Zambezi by the sixth century AD.

The Lozi of the Upper Zambezi, and Tonga of the Middle river, are from Bantu speaking traditions.

Kalomo Tradition

Prior to the latter half of the seventh century AD, there is little evidence of large permanent villages along the Zambezi Valley itself. Instead, iron-age agriculturalists established themselves in wetland dambos and grassland areas in headwater areas of tributaries on the Batoka Plateau to the north of the river, away from the valley itself, and developing distinct cultural influences known as the Kalomo Tradition. After the tenth century evidence indicates a dwindling size and number of settlements in the Falls region.

An important cultural development was the production of clay pottery which evolved into culturally distinct styles, and which has allowed archaeologists to identify the spread of specific influences, such as the Kalomo Tradition, and its penetration of the Batoka highlands from origin among early Iron Age people of the Zambezi Valley. By the beginning of the tenth century both the Victoria Falls region and the Batoka plateau were occupied by a culturally homogenous population and culture.

It has been suggested that the river itself played only a small part in the lives of these early people, other than as a source of fish, as the valley floor is mostly composed of thin scoured soils or heavier clays which did not attract the iron-age agriculturalists.

Early Tonga Tradition

By the early 12th century, settlements in the region began to absorb new cultural influences and people spreading southwards. These influences are early indicators of later Tonga culture, and create the generalised 'Early Tonga Tradition' from which these cultures evolved.

Results from archaeological investigations in the Falls region suggest continuous occupation since the 12th century by a cultural population at least party ancestral to present-day Tonga-related Leya inhabitants.

Early Tonga people apparently co-existed with Kalomo Tradition peoples already resident in the region. From the 12th century onwards there are no examples of Kalomo Tradition settlements without Early Tonga influences. Communities extended south to the edge of the Zambezi Valley sand-scarps, exploiting different soil types and eco-zones.

Notable developments include the manufacture of figurines in the form of clay effigies of either human or animal figures, often placed in pits near baobab trees in the centre of village settlements. Increased frequency of iron hoe-blades associated with these sites suggest an increase in smithing activity or in farming.

By the middle of the second millennium AD, the roots of contemporary local cultural tradition had established itself in the region.

Next page: The San

Life and Death at the Old Drift, Victoria Falls 1898-1905

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'To The Victoria Falls' aims to bring you the wonder of the Victoria Falls through a look at its natural and human history.

This website has been developed using information researched from a wide variety of sources, including books, magazines and websites etc too numerous to mention or credit individually, although many key references are identified on our References page. Many of the images contained in this website have been sourced from old photographic postcards and publications and no infringement of copyright is intended. We warmly welcome any donations of photographs or information to this website.

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