Iron Age Transformations at Mmadipudi Hill, Botswana: Identifying Spatial Organization Through Electromagnetic Induction Survey

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Mmadipudi Hill (CE 550–1200) is an Iron Age site in east-central Botswana approximately 3 km west of Bosutswe, a major Iron Age trade center at the eastern edge of the Kalahari Desert. A 5,000-m2 electromagnetic induction (EMI) survey conducted in 2011 revealed a cattle post arranged in the Central Cattle Pattern, including a central animal kraal with at least three clusters of houses flanking the eastern edge. A test trench confirmed the presence of a Taukome daga structure, possibly a house, 100–150 cm in depth. The EMI survey is one of, if not the first, archaeogeophysical surveys conducted in Botswana. It has proven invaluable as a means to understand the settlement organization and to pinpoint excavations to gain a more detailed understanding of the material culture. The perspective it offered on thorn brush fencing would not have been possible through excavation alone. Although small in scope, the test excavation yielded Taukome and Toutswe artifacts related to the larger sets of issues the Bosutswe region faced as Indian Ocean trade transformed the local political economy. The nature of the relationships between Bosutswe and its surrounding communities likely evolved due to the rise of a prestige goods economy, growing inequality, and environmental degradation around CE 1200. The occupation at Mmadipudi Hill would have immediately preceded these changes. By determining the spatial organization of Mmadipudi Hill, this article begins a crucial first step towards exploring what the local settlement pattern looked like prior to CE 1200 and understanding what the relationships among sites may have been.