Champagne Castle, Eland Cave, Mfongosi, and Newcastle

Overarching period: Iron Age South Africa 200 - 1700 AD
Specific period: Late Iron Age South Africa 1500 to 1830 AD
Carbon dating: 282 to 533 years old
Location: Champagne Castle 29.02° South, 29.33° East
Eland Cabe 29.37° South, 29.58° East
Mfongosi 28.71° South, 30.84° East
Newcastle 27.71° South, 29.30° East
Site location country: South Africa
mtDNA haplogroups: L
Y haplogroups: -

Headrest A Zulu wooden headrest [20] Shield A Zulu Shield [21]

Iron Age South Africa:

The history of the Zulus is strongly intertwined with the history of Bantu expansions and the appearance of agriculture in Africa. The Bantu peoples are connected by language, and the origins of agriculture in West Africa, which developed between 2,000 and 4,000 years ago in an area that roughly falls within present-day Nigeria [1-2]. Early agricultural group have shown up in the archaeological record around Lake Chad, with the Nok Culture, which produced terracotta figure heads, being the most well-known people associated with the period [3-4].

Expansions of Bantu people across Africa appear almost as early as the appearance of agriculture itself, around 4,000 years ago, with evidence for Bantu-related tools appear in Cameroon [5-6]. They often displaced other ethnic groups, such as the Afro-Asiatic peoples in the east and the Khoisan speakers in the South. It is thought that there may have been several waves of expansion, with an expansion around 2,000 years ago associated with the arrival of bananas and cereals across western and southern Africa [7]. Iron smelting begin appearing in association with Bantu-speaking regions around 3,000 years ago and there is archaeological evidence for furnaces appearing [8].

Bantu agriculturalists moved into East Africa during these expansions as well, where they found fertile lands in what is present-day Kenya [9]. These East African people eventually expanded south into South Africa by 300 AD [10]. There, a large kingdom developed of a people we now know as the Zulus. The Zulus are famous as the major African nation that took on the British during the colonial era, and were ultimately defeated in the 19th century [11].

The Zulus:

The tribes of Bantu-speakers that arrived in Southern Africa in the first millennium AD eventually formed into powerful Kingdoms during the middle ages, known as the Nguni tribes. In 1709, they had formed into what was the Zulu peoples under the leadership of Zulu kaMalandela [12]. In the latter half of the 18th century, the Zulus expanded to hold territories covering a large region of the south-eastern coast of present-day South Africa, known as the Mthethwa Paramountcy, or Mthethwa Empire [13]. The Mthethwa were a confederation of tribes that traded ivory with the Portuguese [14]. They remained an independent state during British colonial expansion in the area when they consolidated under the leadership of Shaka kaSenzangakhona, who became king of the Zululands and ruled during eary 19th century [15]. The British conquered the Zulus in 1879, and this area would later become the KwaZulu-Natal province, the homeland of the Zulus during Apartheid.

The Individuals from Champagne Castle, Eland Cave, Mfongosi, and Newcastle:

The four individuals in this sample, all of whom were female, came from four separate sites in present-day South Africa, these being Champagne Castle, Eland Cabe, Mfongosi, and Newcastle. Champagne Castle and Eland Cave are located within Maloti-Drakensberg Park in the west of the Kwa-Zulu territory. The site of Mfongosi is located 48 miles (80 kilometers) from the town of Grey town in central KwaZulu-Natal. The Newcastle site is located in countryside some 42 (70 kilometers) west of the town of Newcastle, in central KwaZulu-Natal. All of these individuals were dated to between 282 and 533 years old, placing them within the early Zulu kingdoms [16].

The individual form Champagne Castle was a woman estimated to be between 20 and 30 years old. She had a fractured skull that was healing, which researchers suggest might be evidence of violence [16]. The individual from Eland Cave was a female that appeared to be buried near hunter-gatherer artifacts, as well as some iron age pottery and some rock paintings, although it was not clear if this person was connected to those finds, and the skeleton was carbon-dated to the Iron Age, which means these objects would not fit the narrative.

The individual from Mfongosi was found by a farmer in 1932, and was buried alongside pottery sherds, bone pendants and some beads. They were found to be female and the objects found were consistent with Iron Age farming cultural material. The individual from Newcastle was buried with Iron Age grinding stones and was determined to be a woman. Analysis of her bones showed that she had probably had children and was perhaps between 40 and 60 years old [16].

Genetic analysis found these individuals to belong to be closely aligned to Bantu people in other parts of Africa, and were not related to the neighbouring San people, who form a distinct branch of African peoples that split potentially several hundred thousand years ago. The Newcastle and Mfongosi individual carried a genetic variant associated with resistance to malaria [16], which remains a health problem in the region even today [17]. All of these individuals belonged to the mitochondrial lineage L. The L lineage is common among east Africans today and is associated with Bantu migrations into South Africa [18-19].


  1. McIntosh SK. 2001. West African Neolithic. In Encyclopedia of prehistory. Springer: USA pp. 323-338.
  2. Phillipson DW. 2005. African archaeology. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
  3. Gronenborn D. 1998. Archaeological and ethnohistorical investigations along the southern fringes of Lake Chad, 1993–1996. African Archaeological Review 15: 225-259.
  4. Rupp N, Ameje J, Breunig P. 2005. New studies on the Nok Culture of Central Nigeria. Journal of African Archaeology 3: 283-290.
  5. Russell T, Silva F, Steele J. 2014. Modelling the spread of farming in the Bantu-speaking regions of Africa: an archaeology-based phylogeography. PLoS ONE 9: e87854.
  6. Herbert EW. 2003. Red gold of Africa: Copper in precolonial history and culture. Univ of Wisconsin Press: Madison.
  7. Vansina J. 1984. Western Bantu Expansion. The Journal of African History 25: 129-145.
  8. Childs ST. 1991. Style, technology, and iron smelting furnaces in Bantu-speaking Africa. J Anthropol Archaeol 10: 332-359.
  9. Philippson G, Bahuchet S. 1994. Cultivated crops and Bantu migrations in Central and Eastern Africa: a linguistic approach. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 29: 103-120.
  10. Thompson LM. 2001. A History of South Africa. Yale University Press: New Haven.
  11. Morris DR. 1994. The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation under Shaka and its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879 Vol. 148. Random House: London.
  12. Derwent S. 2006. KwaZulu-Natal Heritage Sites: A Guide to Some Great Places. David Philip: Pietermaritzburg.
  13. Kilfoil KM. 1971. The rise of the Zulu Empire, African Historical Review, 3: 8-24.
  14. Gump J. 1989. ‘Ecological change and pre-Shakan state formation’, African Economic History 18: 57–71.
  15. Guy J. 1996 ‘Shaka kaSenzangakhona: A Reassessment’, Journal of Natal and Zulu History, 16: 1-30.
  16. Schlebusch CM, et al. 2017. Southern African ancient genomes estimate modern human divergence to 350,000 to 260,000 years ago. Science 358: 652–655.
  17. Sharp BL, Kleinschmidt I, Streat E, et al. 2007. Seven years of regional malaria control collaboration–Mozambique, South Africa, and Swaziland. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 76: 42–47.
  18. Torroni A, Achilli A, Macaulay V, Richards M, Bandelt HJ. 2006. Harvesting the fruit of the human mtDNA tree. Trends in Genetics 22: 339–345.
  19. Bandelt HJ, et al. 2001. Phylogeography of the human mitochondrial haplogroup L3e: A snapshot of African prehistory and Atlantic slave trade. Annals of Human Genetics 65: 549–563.
  20. Zulu wooden headrest:,_Mus%C3%A9e_du_quai_Branly.jpg
  21. Zulu Shield: