O Level Revision : History - Changes from Late Stone Age to Early Iron Age

The early iron age replaced the late stone age. The early iron age people made their tools using iron and wood. The introduction of iron in the early iron age brought in a lot of changes, economically, socially and politically

How do we know about Iron Age societies?

  • Oral tradition: listening to stories passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. This helps bring light on the Iron Age activities.
  • Archaeology (the study  of artefacts/objects  and fossils left behind by earlier generations) gives clues as to what tools and weapons were used. Accurate dating of objects and buildings can be done using radio carbon dating methods.
  • Written records left by traders and explorers to Central Africa such  as  the Arabs,  and  later  the Portuguese in the 15th century, help explain Iron Age activities, e.g. in the Mutapa State.
  • Anthropology, which involves comparing current and previous societies, is not so popular due to likely misinterpretations by anthropologists. Bias during interviews is also a great danger.

The  development of productive forces

  • The Late  Stone Age  people  used  tools  such  as digging sticks, axes, scrappers and clubs made of wood and stone.
  • These tools were good for an economy based on hunting and gathering as well as limited cultivation of crops.
  • The Early Iron Age replaced the Late Stone Age.

Examples of Iron Age tools included hand axes, hoes, knives, arrowheads and spears.

  • The Iron Age also produced better weapons such as spears, swords and metal tipped arrows.
  • These  iron  tools  were  efficient enough  to  clear forests and chop down trees.

  • Branches and leaves of trees were burnt to provide fertiliser for the soil. Crops could then be grown to improve people’s diet.
  • Examples of crops grown were millet, sorghum, rapoko, gourds and melons.
  • Domestication  of   animals   accompanied   crop production. Examples of animals kept were cattle, goats and sheep. These animals supplemented people’s food in form of meat and milk. They also represented a form of wealth to the owners.
  • Hunting and gathering continued during the Iron Age.



Benefits of the  changes from Late  Stone  Age to Early Iron Age


  • Crop growing ensured food security.
  • Crop growing encouraged people to settle down in one place.
  • Domestication of animals made people to live in one area for a long time.
  • Settled existence led to the building of permanent homes of wood, pole and dagga in place of simple grass structures of the Stone Age.
  • Better  food  security  allowed  large  communities such as villages and later states, to expand.
  • Storage  facilities,  such  as  granaries  and  kraals, improved.
  • Specialisation  began  as  some  became  miners, weavers, hunters and blacksmiths.
  • Some   groups   such   as   hunters,   traders   and blacksmiths began to produce surplus.
  • Surplus production was the basis for specialisation since it allowed certain people to do just one type of work, then exchange part of their surplus goods for other necessities like food and clothing.
  • Growth of internal and external trade.
  • The division of labour as a result of specialisation became an important basis for the growth of local exchange.
  • Security against enemies improved due to better weapons.
  • Hunting  was  more  organised  as  efficient  and effective tools were used.



  • Exploitation of man by man began as a result of the production of a surplus (more than could be eaten by the producer).
  • People with more cattle wealth employed others.
  • Specialisation also brought social class formation and exploitation of man by man.
  • The society became clearly divided into classes of the rich and the poor.
  • Tribute  was  a  basis  of  exploitation  as  it  was controlled by senior lineages and the ruling class.
  • In the Early Iron Age, division of labour became more exploitative as men began to dominate women.
  • Women were given hard work such as cultivating crops and child-rearing whereas men became herders, miners, blacksmiths or traders.
  • Women increasingly  became  objects  within  the production process as they were equated with wealth in the marriage process as polygamy was practiced.
  • There  was  competition  for  land  for  pastures, cultivation and hunting.
  • Weapons raised warfare.

From Early Iron Age to Late  Iron Age

Historians note that there were very few marked developments during the Early Iron Age. Most important changes such as long-distance trade, cattle rearing, as well as state formation were noted during the Late Iron Age. Whilst some historians explain the changes as having been caused by the migration of the Bantu into Central and Southern Africa, others believe that the changes from Stone Age to Iron Age happened naturally.

  • Trade in gold and ivory, mining of gold and iron ore, as well as ivory hunting were part of the major activities during the Late Iron Age.
  • Gold and ivory were exchanged for luxury items like cloth and glass beads which became symbols of wealth and status in the society.
  • Central Africa was exporting raw materials at low prices and receiving overpriced finished products from overseas. The prices were dictated to the Africans by foreign traders, such as the Muslims and the Portuguese who set the prices. Foreign traders could  threaten  to  change  trade  routes  if an African State refused to agree to their terms. This partly led to the collapse of states like Great Zimbabwe.
  • Trade and mining were secondary to cattle rearing and crop growing which were the basis of Central African societies.


The  State (political system)


Stages of community development

Homestead     (one     family)          Lineage     (related homesteads)          Clan (a number of lineages) Village (a number of clans)          District (many villages) Province (number of districts)           State.

  • A state was made up of various provinces under a ruler (king).
  • A state had a clearer class structure as well as clear division between the rich and poor classes.
  • The ruling  class  controlled  all  the  means  of production in the state, so for the peasants to own land, they had to accept domination by the ruling class.
  • The ruling class used its position and power to accumulate wealth in the form of land, cattle and trade items.
  • Rulers received tribute from their subjects as a sign of respect or loyalty.
  • Land and cattle were then given out for use by the peasants in return for loyalty to the ruling class.



Lineage and  tributary modes of production


  • A society’s way of operation is affected by the way that society produces and distributes goods, that is, its mode of production.
  • Agriculture,  mining  and  hunting  elephants  for ivory were controlled by the ruling class.
  • The  tribute  system  clearly  showed  exploitation.

The major items used to pay tribute were:

-     ivory             -     gold       -     livestock

-     labour           -     tools      -     grain/crops

-     skins of wild animals

  • In some kingdoms subject people were forced to pay tribute to the King.
  • In other kingdoms, people paid tribute as a sign of appreciation for the king’s protection.
  • The king protected his people through his army.
  • Kings controlled  land  distribution  as  well  as access to cattle, mines and trade routes. The ruling class gathered wealth for themselves and so led a luxurious life from what they had not worked for.
  • Access to cattle and luxury imports got through trade was important for marriage (payment of bride-price) because a man’s wealth was measured against the number of wives he had.



The  role of religion


  • In settled communities, religion helped cement the power of the ruling class by making people accept authority and subordination.
  • The   spirit   mediums   reinforced   the   people’s

acceptance of their rulers’ authority.

  • Religion helped to unify the state as times were set for people to worship the ancestors of the ruling class.


The  role of trade

  • Surplus production led to the:

-     access to foreign goods.

-     accumulation of wealth by kings.

-     beginning of social class formation.

-     oppression of women.

  • There was local trade in salt, copper and iron goods, and long distance trade in the Late Iron Age.


(a)  Name any six  sources of History.               [6]

(b) Describe the economic, social and political changes that occurred in Central Africa as a result of the use of iron                              [11]

(c)  Did the people of Central and Southern Africa benefit from  the  use  of  iron?  Explain  your answer.                                                         [8]