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“Speaking (of) Khoisan”: a symposium reviewing southern African prehistory

Date: 14-16 May 2015

Venue: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig


The concept “Khoisan” has been controversial ever since the term was coined at the beginning of the 20th century by a physical anthropologist. One view considers “Khoisan” to represent an ancient, genealogically defined population profile that explains certain linguistic, cultural and genetic traits shared by the relevant modern groups; another opposite view sees it merely as a lose and first of all negatively defined cover term for the Pre-Bantu populations of southern Africa aka Kalahari Basin. While the first approach has until recently been predominating the scientific discourse, it is clear that one reason for the ongoing controversy was the widely insufficient knowledge on the wider region and its human population, in particular in terms of such key disciplines as linguistics, genetics, and archaeology. This situation has changed considerably in the meantime. The major aim of the scientific meeting ‘“Speaking (of) Khoisan”: a symposium reviewing southern African prehistory’ is to unite area specialists from different research disciplines, comprising but not restricted to linguistics, archeology, molecular, physical and cultural anthropology, rock art studies, and paleo-climatology, in order to foster a better cross-disciplinary understanding of the Kalahari Basin and come to an empirically better informed synthesis of its earlier human history.

IDry Kalahari in eastern Namibia, southwestern Botswana, and north-central RSA
IINorthern fringe: Kunene-Kavango drainage northwards
III Eastern fringe: Zimbabwe, eastern Botswana and eastern RSA 
IVSouth-western fringe: Western RSA and Namibia - “Khoekhoe range”


  • Tom Güldemann
  • Jorge Rocha
  • Andrew Smith

Local organizer

  • Claudia Bavero


Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
04103 Leipzig