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Published on : Thursday, October 31, 2013
Some exciting discoveries have been made during recent excavation work at the Mertenhof rock shelter site at Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat in the Cederberg. Here Dr Alex Mackay from the Centre for Archaeological Science at the University of Wollongong (New South Wales, Australia) and a team of five international archaeologists, including South African Kyla Bluff, encountered two human interments (burial sites) with the remains of at least three young children, aged 10 months, 12 months and between 3 and 4 years.
The human remains are temporarily stored at the University of Cape Town, where they are being analysed by Professor Susan Pfeiffer from the University of Toronto. At a later stage the team will attempt to date fragments of the bones through radiocarbon. Current estimates places the age of the remains as anything from a few hundred to a few thousand years, based on the age of the artefacts found in the same bedding layers.
Since its inception, Bushmans Kloof has shown a rare dedication to the preservation of its rich cultural heritage, and has supported archaeological excavation projects to delve into the history of one of mankind’s earliest societies, the San Bushmen. The reserve is proud custodian to what has been recognised as ‘the world’s largest open-air art gallery’ with over 130 documented rock art sites, some dating back 10 000 years, left behind by the ancient hunter-gatherers.
The reserve has accordingly been awarded South African Natural Heritage status, and was recognised recently by Travel + Leisure (USA) in its 2013 ‘Global Vision Awards’ in the Conservation category.Mackay selected the Mertenhof site, named after the nearby farm, because of its location on a well-defined stream (the Biedouw River), and because the configuration of boulders at the front suggested a good trap for sediment.
Initial excavations earlier this year revealed a sequence covering much of the last 50 000 years. It included fairly recent layers, likely dating to the last few hundred years, where beads of glass and ostrich eggshell, a metal button and a ceramic pipe bowl were found, as well as numerous flaked stone tools.Mertenhof is also a rock art site with a mix of fine-line, and more recent figures. According to Mackay the connections between the art and the archaeology are difficult to establish, but more than 300 pieces of pigment stone – or ochre – have been plotted in the excavation so far.
These occur throughout the deposit, suggesting a deep antiquity to painting in the region, though whether this was undertaken as rock art or the decoration of other surfaces – on ostrich eggshell or the human body perhaps – is not certain. Ochre may also have been used to prepare hides and help haft stone tools, so a more mundane function in deeper time is not precluded.
The lower levels of the excavation squares the team worked on are believed to date back to between 25 000 and 50 000 years – a period known as the later Middle Stone Age, about which little is known in the Western Cape. Mackay and his group of archaeologists revealed flaked stone tools of hornfels, quartzite and quartz, as well as ochre.
While sites dating to what is called the earlier Middle Stone Age are common on the South Coast and in the East of South Africa, Mertenhof is the first site to shed light on this early stage of human occupation in the Cederberg region. In the deepest square, measuring up to 1.5m in depth, the team recovered some 30 finely-made backed artefacts which are commonly associated with the Howiesons Poort industry, widely thought to date back an impressive 60 000 years; as well as exquisite bifacially-worked stone points associated with the Still Bay industry, thought to date back at least 70 000 years.
Mackay is delighted with the recent discoveries: ‘At the conclusion of this season’s excavations in early October, some 10 000 artefacts had been plotted in total. This is by no means the end of our work here however – dense concentrations of small stone quartzite blades were continuing to be recovered from the deepest square, and bedrock has not yet been reached.’ He is excited to return to the site in 2014: ‘In spite of having already given us tremendous insights into more than 70 000 years of occupation of the region, Mertenhof may still have more surprises to spring before our excavations here are finally complete!’
While the Mertenhof site is protected and not accessible to visitors, guests staying at Bushmans Kloof may enjoy daily guided rock art tours to discover some of the caves and sites within the reserve. Further insight into the history and lives of the San can be gained at the Bushmans Kloof Heritage Centre. Established in 2004, it features the Rudner Collection, as well as other authentic, irreplaceable Bushman artefacts including jewellery, dancing sticks, hunting kits, musical instruments, digging sticks and magic sets.
Source:- Red Carnation Hotel