Objectives: By the end of this subtopic learners should be able to:
  1. Identify the changes from Late Stone Age to Early Iron Age.
  2. Explain the economic, political and social changes from Early Late Stone Age to Early Iron age.
  3. Evaluate the impacts of these changes on the population and environment.

  • A transition is a change from one stage or state to another.
  • The transition of late Stone Age to early Iron Age was brought by the spread of iron tools.
  • The transition brought changes economically, politically and socially for the people of early societies.
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  • The Stone Age people included the San and the Khoikhoi before the advent of iron in Southern Africa.
  • The history of this period was gathered through oral tradition, written records and mainly archaeology.
  • The people of the late Stone Age used simple stone tools such as the hand axes, microliths, spears, cleavers, flakes and digging sticks.
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  • Their main method of production was hunting and gathering.
  • They gathered wild fruits and berries and hunted animals such as elephants, kudus and buffalo.
  • The Stone Age people were nomadic and lived in caves due to lack of food security.
  • They practiced division of labour with men hunting while women gathered wild fruits and reared children.
  • They practiced family planning methods so as to be able to cope with their nomadic lifestyle and often lived in small groups of not more than fifty.
  • They solved disputes communally and the elders were the leaders of each group.


  • The dawn of early Iron Age states was as a result of the merging of the Bantu people and the San people that they incorporated upon arriving in Southern Africa.
  • The transition to Iron Age in Southern Africa came gradually around 1000 AD.
  • The introduction of iron into Southern Africa led to the total transformation of life economically, socially and politically. 
  • The Bantu people migrated from North-Central Africa and brought revolutionary iron tools such as hand axes, knives, fish hooks as well as spears which were more efficient.
  • Some key improvements included fixed settlement, the creation of organised states and the start of mining, hunting and trade.
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  • The advent of iron emerged a new group of skilled man. 
  • These were blacksmiths, miners, iron smelters as well as traders among others.
  • The iron tools introduced included spears, hoes, knives and axes which were used in farming, mining and hunting.
  • The introduction of iron drastically changed the civilisation of the primitive people.
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Improved agriculture

  • The early Iron Age era ultimately came with a new way of farming.
  •  Iron tools such as the axes allowed clearing of large tracts of land to allow large scale farming while hoes were used for tilling and weeding. 
  • They grew grass crops such as sorghum and bulrush millet.
  • This increased food production and sustained the population.
  • As a result, the diet improved and there was more variety of meals such as sorghum, millet, melons and beans.
  • This improved nutrition and meant that people could now live longer and as a result led to overpopulation.
  • They also practiced new farming methods such as the slash and burn method.

Domestication of animals

  • The coming of iron brought in the domestication of animals such as chickens, dogs, cats and cattle.
  • The most important of these were cattle, which were slaughtered on important occasions such as appeasing of the spirits.
  • This brought about pastoralism as they were herdsman.
  • Cattle were a symbol and store of wealth.
  • This supplemented their diet as cattle provided meat and milk.
  • Cattle were useful for lobola/roora, hides and manure.
  • Cattle were owned by wealthy people that later were able to change their economic wealth to political dominion.
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Increased trade

  • Trade was done internally among tribal groups as well as externally with the Swahili and the Arab traders at the coast.
  • Internally they traded using grain for hoes or grain for milk.
  • Mainly it was the upper class that gained from internal trade as they took advantage of their wealth to abuse the poor.
  • Internal trade was useful as it helped to unify the people and promoted interdependence.
  • The main trading commodities locally were copper iron as well as grain.
  • Meanwhile, externally the main exports were gold, ivory and iron.
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  • With a new political system, an organised army, as well as control of economic activities, emerged.
  • This resulted in the formation of larger organised states.
  • Some of the towns that existed in the early Iron Age period included Gokomere, Mapungubwe, Malipati, Zhizo and Ziwa.
  • The smaller social groups of the San and the use of elders as chiefdom leaders were replaced by Kings assisted by a royal council and the ruling class.
  • States were formed from the smallest unit going upwards starting from the individual families, clans, lineages and villages, districts and provinces.
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 New political system

  • With a thriving economic organisation, this led to the formation of well organised political systems.
  • The rich and wealthy owners of cattle, gold, ivory and land were able to transform their economic authority into political power.
  • They made rules for the society and used measures such as tribute as well as a standing army to control the subjects.
  •  The former culture of togetherness was overtaken by the division between the rich and the poor.
  • Consequently, states such as Mapungubwe, which had the ruling class and subjects, were formed.


Permanent residence

  • Iron tools also made it possible to open virgin lands reducing competition for farming lands as well as settlement space.
  • Food security and accumulation of personal wealth such as cattle forced people to settle in one area.
  • People built huts made of dagga wooden poles and grass.
  • The villages were also influenced by the growth of mining, hunting and agriculture industry.
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  • The early Iron Age transition introduced by the Bantu brought both positive and negative effects as they greatly impacted the way of life and civilization of Southern Africa and Africa as a whole.


  • The improvements in agriculture brought food security and promoted permanent settlements.
  • Food security and permanent settlements allowed for the creation of clans, villages, provinces and eventually states.
  • The formation of states led to more organised governance with rules, an army and a common culture and norms. This allowed for people to thrive.
  • There was internal and external trade using grain, ivory and gold.
  • The new iron weapons allowed for better defense systems and improved security from other tribes and wild animals
  • Hunting became less burdensome and easier to hunt down and slaughter larger animals.
  • Division of labour based on trade allowed for more productivity in different areas and promoted interdependence.


  • There was more and bloodier warfare due to the invention of deadly weapons.
  • There was exploitation of man by man as the rich used their economic power to gain political dominion.
  • As the population grew there was rapid depletion of resources such as land, gold and ivory as people sought wealth and survival.
  • There was increased abuse of women and children as they were seen as property just like livestock. They were given more difficult tasks such as cooking, child rearing and agriculture.