Historical archaeobotany provides an empirical record of sometimes hidden livelihoods, particularly when documentary records are lacking. This paper reports on the wide range of plant taxa identified from the excavation of Historic Cave, Makapan Valley, South Africa, the site of a siege that took place in AD 1854. Growing tensions between Dutch settlers and chiefdoms in the northern regions of the country precipitated what appeared to be a premeditated, well-coordinated attack on the settlers by the Ndebele. In anticipation of settler retaliation, the Kekana Ndebele fortified a cave and furnished it with supplies. However, the Dutch settlers and their auxiliaries placed the Kekana under siege, causing thousands to die. The well-preserved remains of their stores provide a unique record of domestic and wild foods, cultivated and collected by the Ndebele in the mid-nineteenth century. This study gives historic depth to some of the farming practices recorded during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in South Africa and provides an indication of the knowledge and wide use of fruiting trees in the area. The presence of a diviner-herbalist hints at the more complex way in which food and plant material may have been regarded and utilized.
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Vol. 37 • No. 1