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Bosutswe (Botswana)

Toutswe Culture Site at the Edge of the Kalahari Desert


African Iron Age Site of Bosutswe, Botswana

African Iron Age Site of Bosutswe, Botswana

James R. Denbow (c) 2006

Bosutswe is the name of a deeply stratified Toutswe culture site, located on the Motloutse river (tributary to the Zambezi River) at the eastern edge of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. Occupied between AD 700 and 1700, the site contains over 200 stone features including grain bin foundations, stone granary platforms and seven semi-circular stone walls.

Bosutswe: Don't Point Here

Bosutswe means "the place you must not point at (or you will be bewitched and die" in the Tswana language; an earlier name for it is Galesupiwe. The site is known to contains Toutswe culture (700-1200), and Lose culture habitations (1200-1650). Pottery at Bosutswe include ochre-burnished serving bowls identified (along with glass beans and cowry and conus shells) as evidence for trade connections with Mapungubwe during the Toutswe habitation. High status bronze jewelry, lead ingots, and copper from Bosutswe is from the Lose period.

Houses at Bosutswe were thatched pole and mud adobe structures during the Toutswe period, and larger, more substantial double-walled hosues with verandas during the Lose period. Chickens, cattle and hunted game dominated the foods of the Toutswe, while domesticated sorghum, millet and cowpeas were cultivated by the Lose period.

Metal Working at Bosutswe

Evidence for the use of metals by the first millennium AD has been discovered at Bosutswe, including gold, copper, bronze, brass, lead and iron. An iron bloomery was identifed at the site, based on the presence of typical bloomery semleting process. Bronze dross discovered at the site suggests that at least some re-working of bronze objects occurred at Bosutswe; and it is likely that copper was worked there as well.

Archaeology at Bosutswe

Bosutswe was first identified in the 1930s, but 'lost' again to authorities. In 1982, James Denbow rediscovered the site after talking to local people and in 1990 he and Ed Wilmsen excavated and found nearly 4 meters of deposits, much of which is composed of the adobe mud remnants of huts and grain bins built between 1200 and 1700. In 2001 and 2002, Denbow conducted additional excavations, and reported in the references listed below.


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com Guide to the African Iron Age, and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Denbow J, and Miller D. 2007. Metal Working at Bosutswe, Botswana. Journal of African Archaeology 5(2):271-313.

Denbow, James and Nonofho Mathibidi. n.d. Preliminary Field Report: Bosutswe 2001 to 2002.

Denbow J, Smith J, Ndobochani NM, Atwood K, and Miller D. 2008. Archaeological excavations at Bosutswe, Botswana: cultural chronology, paleo-ecology and economy. Journal of Archaeological Science 35(2):459-480.

Wilmsen EN, Killick DJ, Rosenstein DD, Thebe PC, and Denbow J. 2009. The social geography of pottery in Botswana as reconstructed by optical petrography. Journal of African Archaeology 7(1):3-39.

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