Namibia's earliest inhabitants
Palaeontologists looking for evidence of the first ancestors of the human race have excavated a number of sites in southern Africa. The earliest remains yet identified are Stone-Age tools dated at about 200,000 years old, which have been recovered in gravel deposits around what is now the Victoria Falls. It is thought that these probably belong to Homo erectus
, whose hand-axes have been dated in Tanzania to half a million years old. These were hunter-gatherer people, who could use fire, make tools, and had probably developed some simple speech.
Experts divide the Stone Age into the middle, early, and late Stone Ages. The transition from early to middle Stone-Age technology – which is indicated by a larger range of stone tools often adapted for particular uses, and signs that these people had a greater mastery of their environment – was probably in progress around 125,000 years ago in southern Africa.The late Stone Age is characterised by people who used composite tools, those made of wood and/or bone and/or stone used together, and by the presence of a revolutionary invention: the bow and arrow. This first probably appeared about 15,000 years ago, by which time the original Namibians were already roaming the plains of Damaraland and painting on the rocks at Twyfelfontein.
Africa's iron age
Around 3000BC, late Stone-Age hunter-gatherer groups in Ethiopia, and elsewhere in north and west Africa, started to keep domestic animals, sow seeds, and harvest the produce: they became the world's first farmers.
By around 1000BC these new pastoral practices had spread south into the equatorial forests of what is now Congo, to around Lake Victoria, and into the northern area of the Great Rift Valley, in northern Tanzania. However, agriculture did not spread south into the rest of central/southern Africa immediately. Only when the technology, and the tools, of iron-working became known did the practices start their relentless expansion southwards.
The spread of agriculture and iron-age culture seems to have been a rapid move. It was brought south by Bantu-speaking Africans who were taller and heavier than the existing Khoisan-speaking inhabitants of southern Africa.