Prehistoric Settlement Patterns in the Senqunyane Valley Lesotho

Prehistoric Settlement Patterns in the Senqunyane Valley, Lesotho

There are 54 archaeological and rock art sites from south-central Lesotho in Africa, suggesting that hat MSA (Middle Stone Age), LSA (Late Stone Age) and Iron Age settlement patterns reflect differing adaptations.

Archaeologists have been well aware for a long time that settlement patterns are a key way of understanding cultural adaptions and by using this method in Africa, our knowledge of ancient cultures will greatly increase.

During a rock art survey directed by P. Vinnicombe in 1976, he identified 54 sites in Lesotho; most of these are small sites and not really used in archaeological studies. However, these small sites offer a wealth of information, especially in settlement patterns.

“The first habitation in the valley occurred during the Middle Stone Age (MSA), the MSA is followed by the Later Stone Age (LSA) and then the Iron Age (IA). There appear to be population increases associated with settlement pattern changes through each successive phase of occupation in the valley. The MSA is characterized by open sites, the LSA by sites in rock shelters, and the IA by hut foundations in rock shelters and small open villages. Occupied and unoccupied painted rock shelters show that the main Senqunyane Gorge was preferred for painting by LSA groups, and a few Basuto paintings were discovered in main gorge rock shelters as well”.

The archaeologists focused on the areas with Cave Sandstone, with the main and side gorges excavated and surveyed intensely. Vinnicombe has stated that some open sites may have been missed due to sporadic survey coverage in the open grassveld and that the mountains were not excavated either.

The surveys showed that the LSA groups occupied more shelters than the previous groups, with few open sites that may indicate temporary sites or areas where special activities took place. This pattern is indicative of a radiating/rotating settlement pattern dichotomy.

Archaeologists came to the conclusion that of a radiating MSA mobility pattern and a rotating LSA mobility pattern is suggested for the Senqunyane Valley. “The distribution of San painted sites suggests that the main Senqunyane Gorge was utilized more often for painting than side gorges. Side tributary gorges have occupied shelters with no paintings while all utilized shelters in the main gorge are painted”.

Although deciphering settlement patterns are not an easy thing to unravel, they are an essential guideline for aiding future research into the ancient cultures who inhabited the area thousands of years ago.


Bousman, Britt (1988) Prehistoric Settlement Patterns in the Senqunyane Valley, Lesotho, The South African Archaeological Bulletin, South African Archaeological Society.