A timely reminder that our heritage in this area goes back thousands of years is a find of Later Stone Age pottery fragments in a cave in the Silvermine range of mountains by Lakeside resident and mountaineer Val King.
Mr King, 79, is a keen hiker and mountaineer who has climbed Kilimanjaro four times, camping in a cave at 5 300 metres. It was while he was hiking in the mountains above his home that he came to some rock crevices and a cave. As he wriggled through some rock crevices he came across his find: 17 pieces of pottery that had been well-made, fired and painted in ochre. The potsherds (prehistoric pottery fragments) were found in a small, low crevice away from the main cave.
Peers Cave, on the Fish Hoek side of the mountain range, is a well-known site of early habitation – skeletons, artefacts and middens were found there and, according to Fish Hoek Museum, this goes back 12 000 years – but a find on this side of the mountain is far more unusual.
Mr King has been advised to keep the location of the site a secret to prevent the curious from digging for more prehistoric artefact and destroying whatever archeological value the site might have. Mr King will only say that the cave is on the northern slopes of Silvermine in the Muizenberg area.
Mr King finds the potsherdsmost intriguing. Could the cave have been a temporary hunting camp? Was the well-hidden pot filled with some sort of beer as an offering to the ancestors?
He said the cave might have been a suitable place for hunters to stay, with a grandstand view of the wildlife teeming around the vlei below. There was a source of water nearby, for those who knew where to look, and there would have been dassies and other small game to hunt around the cave.
But he is hoping some knowledgeable Echo readers can throw more light on the find as well as the routes travelled by Khoikhoi Khoehoe or San people in the Far South and their dwelling, hunting and religious customs.
In an effort to get some answers, he spent a frustrating time trying to get a response from various experts.
Having been advised not to remove the potsherds, the ceramic fragments, from the site, Mr King remarked: “It’s a bit of a catch-22 situation. While I understand the value of not tampering with anything until the experts have investigated it, the big problem here is that none of the experts I have contacted have indicated they want to investigate further.”
Mr King said he had emailed details of the find to the Iziko Museum and UCT and had also tried to contact UWC.
Mr King said: “The fear is that the potsherds could deteriorate further out in the open or be tampered with by other hikers.”
Still on a quest for answers, Mr King contacted the Echo last week and the Echo gave him the contact details of Muizenberg-based archaeologist Jayson Orton, who at the beginning of the year was awarded the Western Cape government’s Best Heritage Project award for his work at Namakwa Sands up the West Coast.
Mr King said he got the surprise of his life when he phoned Dr Orton.
“I had hardly spoken, and he said to me: ‘Are you the chap in Lakeside who found Khoikhoi potsherds in a cave on Silvermine?’ I was flabbergasted.
“I asked: ‘Amazing! How did you know?’
“He explained that soon after I contacted UCT, the archaeology department had notified him, sending him all the details and photos of the site, including arrows marking the spot. He climbed up to the cave and did a cursory investigation.”
Dr Orton at last gave Mr King some of the answers.
Dr Orton told the Echo the site had very few archeological clues.
“The only other stuff I saw were a few tiny fragments of marine shell – food refuse – and a couple of small quartz artefact. Really minimal and certainly nothing that allows any interpretation of the site.
“I am sure some people stayed there at some point, even if just for one night. There is seriously very little archaeology in the shelter, so one cannot say much about this.”
The ceramic fragments would have been part of something made by local San or Khoikhoi people but it was difficult to know what they were used for, he said. He said that in 99 percent of cases one didn’t find helpful diagnostic bits like spouts or lugs.
Dr Orton confirmed that the find was Late Stone Age. “It is less than 2000 years old, but we cannot say anything more than that,” he said.
Asked whether there could be a link with Peers Cave, Dr Orton said that the only link would be that Peers cave had also been inhabited by San and/orKhoikhoi people.
He stressed that it was illegal to disturb any heritage site without a permit. Finds should be reported to Heritage Western Cape or the finder could look up a local archaeologist for advice if appropriate.
“But above all, do not disturb the site or remove artefact because that diminishes or destroys the value of both the site and the artefact.”
The find of the potsherds continues to resonate with Mr King.
“Particularly since finding the Khoi pottery, I often sit on the mountain and its caves imagining the much greener time before the peninsula was ploughed into an urban, brick and concrete jungle, criss-crossed by traffic and pollution,” he said.
“Below on the plains of Zandvlei and wetlands, bush and magnificent white-beach coastline I think of South Africa’s first people quietly living a life much more in tune with nature and the wildlife and plants. Thank goodness we still have a lot of green and mountainous, untrodden country around the Far South.”
[blob] Finds such as Mr King’s should be reported to Heritage Western Cape at 021 483 5959 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
[blob] There are loads of things to do on Heritage Day, Saturday September 24, even if it is just a braai at home or with friends.
The eMzantsi Carnival will be held in Red Hill, with the parade starting at the Lower Camp, from 10am, with dancing, puppetry, ghoema-samba drumming and singing. Email email@example.com or search for emzantsicarnival on Facebook for more information.
The Friends of Muizenberg Park are clearing a path in the park from 9.30am and 11.30am. Take gloves, secateurs and black bags and wear closed shoes. Contact Nikki Giles at 083 253 8779 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them on Facebook.
The SA Naval Museum will fire a 9-inch rifled muzzle-loading gun at noon to celebrate Heritage Day. Access to the battery is via Dido Valley Road. From Fish Hoek, turn right at the traffic lights near the old marine oil refinery. Continue past Scratch Patch and then take the first left towards NBCD School and then take the second left. Follow the concrete road down to Maritime Reaction Squadron where parking will be available on the parade ground. Spectators should be at the site at 11.30am sharp. Call Warrant Officer Harry Croome at 021 787 4635 for details.
Iziko museums will be open and free this week. Call 021 481 3800 or email email@example.com for details.