The focus of this research is on Mutamba, a 13th century Middle Iron Age (MIA) settlement situated in the Soutpansberg, South Africa and is the first archaeobotanical study of a MIA settlement. Many communities of this time were agro-pastoralists cultivating crops such as sorghum, millets and legumes. Past research examining human-plant interaction did so through broad topics but few have addressed which plants were used at MIA agro-pastoral settlements. This dissertation seeks to understand which plant taxa were present at Mutamba, their ratios (wild vs domestic) and to identify what their most likely usage could have been. Through the analysis of archaeobotanical material recovered from flotation, eleven species and two genera of both wild and domestic taxa were identified. Domestic taxa account for 74% of archaeobotanical material at Mutamba while wild taxa account for the remainder. The lack of crop processing material and weed seeds in the assemblage are indicative of harvesting and processing methods engaged in. With the aid of ethnographic data it was determined that the most likely uses of these taxa were as a part of food production, brewing activities and cotton cloth production. Within food production the domestic taxa (sorghum, millets and legumes) were most likely used in meals as porridge, gruel, accompaniments or in malted sorghum’s instance in beer brewing. Wild taxa was utilised based on seasonal availability to supplement diet and in brewing activities. Additionally evidence for cotton cloth production was found in the form of cotton seeds along with spindle whorls in domestic contexts indicating that cloth production was a household based activity.
The implications of this study have shown that Mutamba has the first recorded archaeological occurrence of potential beer brewing, mung bean and cotton seeds in northern South African Iron Age archaeology. It has expanded on the body of knowledge of the MIA, allowing for a better understanding of a potential crop package, harvesting methods, processing and plant utilisation. Regarding future research it is recommended that additional sites in Mapungubwe’s outlying areas be examined for archaeobotanical material and that other forms of archaeobotanical study (i.e. microbotanical analysis) be incorporated as well.