Excavations conducted between 2010 and 2012 at Magoro Hill, a site in South Africa’s Limpopo Province frequented
or intermittently occupied by African farming communities since the first millennium AD, yielded a substantial glass
bead assemblage. A selection of the beads was studied non-destructively by classifying them according to morphological
attributes, supplemented by Raman analyses and XRF measurements. It became evident that a morphological
classification of beads recovered from sites that include imports into Africa after the seventeenth century AD could
be problematic due to apparent morphological similarities between earlier and later beads. This paper demonstrates
the use and archaeological application of Raman and XRF measurements to separate earlier imported beads from
later counterparts by identifying glass nanostructure, as well as pigments and opacifiers, which were not used in bead
series pre-dating the seventeenth century AD. Results obtained from Raman and XRF measurements indicate that
although some beads retrieved from Magoro Hill pre-date the seventeenth century and belong to the Indo-Pacific
(K2, East Coast, Khami) and Zimbabwe series, the largest number of beads is from a later European origin. This ties in
with the settlement history of the site, which suggests that it primarily served as a rendezvous for episodic rainmaking
rituals before it became the stronghold and capital of a Venda chiefdom, headed by the Magoro dynasty, in the
second half of the eighteenth century AD. The comparative analysis of the long bead sequence sheds new light on
changing patterns in the availability, range, consumption and origin of glass trade beads imported into the northern
interior of South Africa over a period of about 1000 years.
Additional file 1: Table S1. Report on XRF results of the main elements
(wt %) that act as glass former, stabilizer and flux in some K2, Mapungubwe,
Zimbawe and Khami series from van Riet Lowe Collection. Table
S2. Average composition of some glass bead series from southern Africa
(oxides wt %) . Table S3. Reclassification of the beads from Table 2.
Table S4. Reclassification of the beads from Table 3.