Prehistoric Kalahari Desert Settlements
A view of Sowa Pan at sunset from Kubu Island, Botswana
Pointing out my area of research on a map of Botswana
Field assistants taking a break behind an Early Iron Age stone structure near Mosu, Botswana
On the edge of the Mosu Escarpment, with Sowa Pan in the distance
2008 survey crew, Mosu Escarpment, Botswana
Species that were hunted for food in prehistory continue to populate southern Africa's natural areas
Map of Africa, with southern Africa and Botswana outlined
About the project

Description of the project and research questions being asked

How did farmers survive in a desert? Agricultural settlements were established in several parts of the Kalahari in modern-day Botswana starting around 500 AD, and it is thought that these prehistoric farmer-herders would have had to use many different strategies to provide for themselves. Many of these settlements still have not been thoroughly researched. This project will seek to understand the way the unique resources of the Makgadikgadi Pans, a giant salt pan complex in northeastern Botswana, may have contributed to the social and economic development of the community in this area that grew cereals, kept sheep and goats, and traded with other regions of southern Africa for a century or more.

This project is the reseach component of my doctoral dissertation and will be the first time I direct my own archaeological expedition.

Why this matters and should be exciting to backers

Communities in southern Africa during the Early Iron Age existed hundreds of kilometers apart, often separated by harsh terrain, and people here at this time had no transportation technology or pack animals, yet they managed to share languages, cultural traditions, and trade gold and other valuable goods with each other as well as with civilizations across the Indian Ocean. Even so, each area gradually developed some of its own traditions. The causes of variation as well as of similarity in social, cultural and economic processes during the Early Iron Age of southern Africa are still not completely understood. My project looks to add additional lines of evidence to evaluate the behavioral models that currently predominate the study of this time period.

Furthermore, this project will contribute to the understanding of, and preservation of the Mosu Escarpment, which has been submitted to UNESCO by the Republic of Botswana for World Heritage status, and will also provide University of Botswana archaeology students an opportunity for fieldwork, mentoring, and material for thesis topics.

What your money can do

Contributions to this project will help pay for stipends for my field assistants, buy archaeological equipment, and cover the cost of dating radiocarbon samples. Although I have received a research grant from the National Science Foundation, the grant amount falls short of my total research costs, and I'm hoping to pull together enough funds to make up the difference. Any amount is appreciated!

Potential discoveries

This research will contribute information on the settlement patterns, technology, and diet of people who farmed, hunted, and herded in the last centuries of the first millennium AD in Botswana. I'll be searching for plant and animal remains, housing and other structures, and evidence of land use. I'll also evaluate the possiblity that hunter-gatherers were involved in the farming/ herding economy, and what implications this might have for the social and cultural development of farming and hunting socities alike.


I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Michigan State University, specializing in Later Holocene southern African archaeology. I have always loved archaeology (at the age of four, I informed my parents I would grow up to become an archaeologist!). I came to the study of southern Africa through a research assistantship in my first years of graduate school at Michigan State, during which I assisted in preparing publications about the anthroplogy of southern African hunter-gathers. The more I learned about this region and the people who have lived there, the more intrigued I was. This research expedition will be my third long-term visit to Botswana, and will be the first time I lead an archaeological project on my own.

Additional Links

This research is conducted in partnership with the National Museum, Monuments and Art Gallery of Botswana ( and the University of Botswana (

For more information about the archaeological heritage of Botswana, please visit

For more information about visiting Botswana, please visit

I can be contacted at

Saturday September 08, 2012
Backer only update
Tuesday August 07, 2012

Well, the project is well underway and I am thrilled to say we are finding the kind of materials and information that I'd been hoping for! The site we've been working on is a hilltop protruding from the Mosu escarpment that overlooks the junior secondary school (which we happen to also be camped near, though we still need to take the truck to access the site). So far we've collected many kilograms of the kind of ceramic sherds that tell us this site is from the era I meant to research (always a good thing!) and we've been collecting bone, charcoal, and seed samples for radiocarbon dating.  Last week we finished surveying the site, and this week we'll put in some small excavation units in a few places where we found quite a lot of stuff, such as ceramic and bone middens.

I drove down to Gaborone for a long weekend to get some vital errands done (and enjoy sleeping in a real bed for a few days!) and I head back up to Mosu this morning. Onwards and upwards!

Thanks for reading, and for your support!

Friday July 06, 2012

I've been in Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana, for three full days now. I'd been fortunate enough to catch a ride up here from Johannesburg with a friend/colleague who is a faculty member at the University of Botswana. (This means I was able to save money by cancelling the car rental I'd planned!).

So far I have met with my crew twice, met with the other archaeologists doing fieldwork with a connection to University of Botswana, stopped over at the Botswana National Museum to say hello at the archaeologists there, and had dinner with a friend (who is also an archaeologist) and her student. This town is full of archaeologists!

If it sounds like all I've done is gad about exchanging greetings, fear not - a whole lot of information has been changing hands along with those greetings. Well, mostly it has flowed from them to me, since I am by far the newcomer here. You'd think that, hey, I am finally in the country, I've got my crew, I've brought lots of stuff, I'm ready to dig! But, as I explained to my student workers the other day, I am learning that running a project is a lot like pulling in, and connecting together, the strands from a thousand disparate webs and weaving them into your own web.

By this point, it's mostly stuff. I still need LOTS of stuff that I didn't bring with me from the States - buckets, shovels, screens and sieves. The meat-and-potatoes equipment of fieldwork. I'll be shopping today, and tomorrow, and probably also Sunday, and on Monday, if the timing works out right, I'll be making a stop at another museum in another town to pick up some borrowed equipment. I also need, at some point, to pick up my students' equipment.


I suppose I should be pleased with that - after all, my job is to study material culture!

Monday June 25, 2012

Just a few more days until I head out! I arrived home from Toronto last night after attending a conference of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAfA). I was able to tell my colleagues all about my project and, of course, about the wonderful support I have received from Petridish and the contributors! I am trying to spread the word about this website, and people seemed pretty excited to hear about it, so let's hope we start seeing more archaeological projects on here in the future.

I'm off now to Home Depot for trowels and other last-minute supplies. The combination of places I need to go and things I need to get for fieldwork is pretty odd!

Saturday June 16, 2012

Today I checked out my archaeology equipment donation from Cultural Resource Technologies, Inc. - very excited to use this stuff in the field!!! You can take a look at . The black and white items are photographic scales of various sizes (for variously-sized objects), and the yellow square is a meter-square drawing scale - very useful for mapping excavation units.

CRT Inc. is a small Michigan-based business that makes archaeological equipment by hand. I'm proud to promote their products!

Friday June 15, 2012

I was thrilled to log on this morning and find that my project has reached its $500 goal! HUGE thanks to everyone who has contributed!

This great news comes as I am in the final stages of preparation to head overseas and begin research. I get on a plane in exactly two weeks - eek! I feel like I still have so much to do, especially when it comes to packing - how am I going to fit my tools, equipment, and personal gear into only three pieces of luggage!?

Once again, thank you to everyone who has pledged money to back this project. I cannot express how grateful and overwhelmed I am to see so much support.

Please help spread the word about this website and the great work it does supporting scientific endeavors. Your friends will be impressed that you're helping SCIENCE!

Wednesday June 06, 2012

I've gotten my crew together! Well, remotely, anyhow. A colleague at the University of Botswana has very kindly done the on-the-ground legwork of hiring experienced excavators for me. She also asked if I'd be willing to take on a few undergraduate students to help them gain additional field experience. This is big news, since I'd been planning for a very small crew.

I'm very pleased to take the students along, since promoting home-grown research efforts in Botswana through international collaboration has been one of the goals of my project from the outset. I look forward to seeing what they do.

I really cannot say enough good things about the support I have gotten from my archaeological colleagues in Botswana and South Africa. They've been with me from day one (which was in 2008), when I quite literally just walked in the door of the Botswana National Museum and asked if I could talk to someone about doing research there. I am proud to partner with them as well as the University of Botswana for my research.

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This project was successful!
$1 +
Suggest your own reward, for any amount, and I will see what I can do to make it happen! (Sorry, I cannot give away or sell archaeological artifacts).
$2 +
Donate $2 or more and receive a hand-written thank-you note and a one-of-a-kind photograph (of my research in progress, of an artifact, or of something else of your choice)!
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$50 +
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