S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Anderson, Mr Andrew Arthur (geography, archaeology)

Born: Date not known, Place not known.
Died: Date not known, Place not known.

Andrew A. Anderson was farming in Natal in 1860 as a young settler of Scottish descent when he decided to explore regions to the north and west of that colony. On his first journey he trekked through the Free State, Transvaal, and Swaziland, returning to Natal towards he end of 1863. He set out again in March 1864, travelling to the junction of the Vaal and Harts rivers, and from there through the western Transvaal and Botswana to Zimbabwe. He may have visited Cape Town in 1873, when his "Map of the interior of South Africa" was published there. The map is said to be based on surveys conducted over a period of seven years in the territory between 18 and 27 East longitude and from the Orange and Vaal rivers in the south to the Zambesi River in the north. In 1878 he was again in Zimbabwe, where he joined Major R.H. Buller's Frontier Light Horse and fought with them in the Anglo-Zulu War. He was in Pretoria from 1879 to 1881, in England from 1884 to 1888, and returned to South Africa until 1890 when he went to England for good, settling in Cranleigh near Guildford.

Information about Anderson is confined mainly to what can be gleaned from his writings. In 1884 he published an article titled "Notes on the geography of South Central Africa, in explanation of a new map of the region..." in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographic Society in which he describes the territories covered in his travels. The map published with this account was entitled "The interior of South Africa from latitude 15 to 30, explored and surveyed by A.A. Anderson". He is described in the paper's title as a civil engineer, probably in recognition of the survey work on which his map was based. The western portion of the map was soon reissued by Saul Solomon and Co. of Cape Town, while his article and map were also published in The South African Illustrated News in September 1884. Anderson's best known work is his book, Twenty five years in a wagon in the gold regions of Africa, published in two volumes in London in 1887, with a revised edition in one volume under a slighly different title the next year. It contains not only geographical descriptions, but also traveller's tails and reminiscences. Although not a good artist he made many sketches, on which he wrote long explanatory notes. Some of these illustrate his books and many are now in the Africana Museum, Johannesburg.

A less well-known book by him, Terra Australis, was also published in 1887. In it he recalls that in 1859, when camping on the banks of the Nossob River, he found five stone spearheads of yellow flint, beautifully worked and about 150 mm long, as well as some ostrich eggshell beads and small flint borers. If his date is correct he was one of the first handful of persons to recognise stone tools in southern Africa; however, it is contradicted by the evidence that he did not leave Natal before 1863. Many other archaeological finds made during the period 1865 to 1882 are described in the two books. They derive from 49 distinct sites in the South African provinces Gauteng, the Free State, North West, and Northern Cape (mainly at diamond diggings in the Kimberley area and along the Vaal River), as well as in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. His collecting in the Northern Cape and North West from the mid-1860s, in Botswana from 1867, Namibia from 1870 and Zimbabwe from 1877 make him the pioneer archaeological collector in these territories. In October 1885 he sold a collection of almost 200 stone artefacts and a few other items to the British Museum, for inclusion in its Christy Collection.

Another publication by him relating to southern Africa is an article on "The Bechuanaland and the Kalahari" in Greater Britain (May 1892). In a more ambitious general work, Terra: On a hitherto unsuspected second axial rotation of our earth (London, 1890, 253p), he argued that the earth's poles had shifted, so that former polar regions became tropical and former tropical regions became polar - a forerunner of the hypohesis of continental drift. The book also dealt with earthquakes and other geological phenomena, the immense age of the earth and the age of the human race. Anderson lived to at least 1896.

List of sources:
Cohen, A. African stone tool collectors represented in the collections of the British Museum (Natural History). (Unpublished notes, 2001.)

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 3, 1977.

Hall, A.L. A bibliography of South African geology to the end of 1920. Pretoria: Geological Surveyt, Memoir No. 18, 1922.

Mendelssohn, S. South African bibliography. London, 1910.

Mitchell, P.J. The South African stone age in the collections of the British Museum: Content, history and significance. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 1998, Vol. 53, pp. 26-36.

Mitchell, P. Andrew Anderson and the nineteenth century origins of southern African archaeology. Southern African Humanities, 2001, Vol. 13, pp. 37-60.

Morris, D. A description of stone artifacts and eggshell beads in the Kalahari in the year 1859? The Digging Stick, 1997, Vol. 14(2), pp. 4-6.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

Venter, R.J. Bibliography of regional meteorological literature. Vol. 1: Southern Africa, 1486-1948. Pretoria: Weather Bureau, 1949.

Compiled by: C. Plug