Zambia's earliest inhabitants
Palaeontologists looking for evidence of the first ancestors of the human race have excavated a number of sites in Zambia. The earliest remains yet identified are stone tools dated to about 2.0 million years ago recovered from gravel deposits in the Luangwa Valley and probably also from Victoria Falls. It is thought that these probably belong to the Homo erectus
species, whose hand-axes in Ethiopia have been dated to 1.75 million years. These were hunter-gatherer people, who could use fire, make tools, and had probably developed some simple speech.
Experts divide the Stone Age into the middle, early, and late Stone Ages. The transition from early to middle Stone-Age technology – which is indicated by a larger range of stone tools often adapted for particular uses, and signs that these people had a greater mastery of their environment – was probably in progress around 300,000 years ago in Zambia, based on recent excavations near Lusaka and at Kalambo Falls near Mbala.
The famous 'Broken Hill Man' lived around this time. His skull and other bones and stone artefacts were unearthed from about 20m underground during mining operations near Kabwe in 1921. He has been described as being from a species called Homo rhodesiensis
, but is more generally attributed to Homo heidelbergensis
, the common ancestor of Homo sapiens
in Africa, and of the Neanderthals in Europe. (His name comes from the fact that Kabwe's old name was Broken Hill.)
The late Stone Age in Zambia is normally characterised by a distinctive tradition of geometric rock art; by the use of composite tools, those made of wood and/or bone and/or stone used together; and by the presence of a revolutionary invention: the bow and arrow. This first appeared in Zambia about 25,000 years ago. Skeletons found around the Kafue Flats area indicate that some of these late Stone-Age hunters had a close physical resemblance to the modern San/Bushmen people, whose culture, relying on a late Stone-Age level of technology, survived intact in the Kalahari Desert until the middle of the 20th century.