Le6 and Le7 are Early Iron Age settlements located in north-eastern South Africa in the Kruger National Park. These two open-air sites, immediately adjacent to one another on the west bank of the Letaba River, likely date to circa 500-800 AD. The wild-dominated Le6 and Le7 faunal assemblages allow for a site-level examination of the treatment of wild species within the highly variable spectra of Early Iron Age animal use.
Using previously unanalysed faunal material, this study moves beyond basic procurement interpretation to examine more than just the pure subsistence choices present at these hunting-dominated sites. Instead, new socially-focussed zooarchaeological questions are asked by coupling traditional morphological analysis with taphonomic analyses and theoretical frameworks of intensification.
Through this, both the procurement and processing methods utilised at Le6 and Le7 are identified and the significance of these choices are discussed. The occupants at these sites showed an intensive preference for predominantly adult large wild mammals. These were then processed in similarly consistent manners, with explicit focus on the largest, most easily accessible muscle groups and in-bone fat sources. Among other factors, the scant evidence of cooking and signs of speed in processing suggests the majority of preparation was focussed not on immediate consumption, but possibly on secondary transport of the animal resources off these sites. Altogether, rather than traditional residential Early Iron Age sites, Le6 and Le7 are considered as repeatedly re-used, shorter-term hunting bases for intensified, and possibly specialised, large wild mammal-use a potentially new faunal use strategy and site type for the period and region. The socio-economic implications and potential drivers of these faunal choices are then considered within the broader context of the southern African Early Iron Age. The place of expanded zooarchaeological methods and theories in social archaeological questions and more emic lines of site interpretation is also introduced, here specifically presented in the context of re-exploring the role and significance of wild animals at two Early Iron Age sites.