Late Holocene fishing strategies in southern Africa as seen from Likoaeng, highland Lesotho

Ina Plug, Peter Mitchell, Geoff Bailey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


The open-air campsite of Likoaeng in the eastern highlands of Lesotho, southern Africa, preserves an extensive record of fishing activity by late Holocene hunter-gatherers. This paper reports the results of the analysis of the enormous fish assemblage recovered from its excavation. Fishing appears to have become more important from the start of the late Holocene neoglacial, c. 1000. cal. BC, with people camping at Likoaeng to intercept seasonal spawning runs of two species, Labeo capensis (the Orange River mudfish) and Labeobarbus aeneus (the smallmouth yellowfish). The latter dominates in the lower part of the sequence, with the former becoming dominant after 560. cal. BC. As a result, the focus of occupation probably shifted from high summer to spring. Estimates of Standard Length show that some fish were significantly larger than historically recorded maxima, but there is no sign that human predation affected fish size. The massive quantities of fish taken suggest that people may have used seasonally predictable spawning events as a focus for social aggregation. While there is no evidence for fish being preserved or removed off-site, the strong focus on fishing at Likoaeng strengthens the case for intensified hunter-gatherer interest in freshwater resources in southern Africa during the late Holocene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3111-3123
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Fishing
  • Hunter-gatherer
  • Late Holocene
  • Lesotho
  • Neoglacial
  • Southern Africa


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