The region south of the Vaal and Pongola rivers, being the southernmost on the continent to be settled by Bantu-speaking, Iron Age communities, is important in understanding the spread of these societies. Until recently, archaeological discussion has mostly been based on Schofield's work of the 1930s and 1940s, which is here shown to be substantially incorrect, and an outline of the new sequence is given.
New work on the Early Iron Age in Natal is sufficiently advanced to demonstrate a highly selective pattern of site location which, together with what we know of the economy, gives us some insight into the ecology of these communities. This enables us to estimate the limits of distribution in areas where there has been less archaeological exploration. It also indicates that ecological factors are significant in the rapid initial spread of the Early Iron Age.
The beginning of the Later Iron Age in this region is characterized not only by an abrupt change in ceramic styles but by other cultural and perhaps economic changes involving site location, architecture and aspects of technology. The most striking single factor is the expansion, beyond the coastal plain and wooded valleys of the Early Iron Age, into much of the interior grasslands. By at least the seventeenth century a dense population was established in many of these areas and their settlements can often be correlated with historically known groups on the basis of oral and ethnological links.