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Stone Masters of Table Mountain

Stone Masters of Table Mountain…

Very little is known of the archaeology of Table Mountain and the Cape Peninsula. Behind this statement lies a deeply embarrassing and uncomfortable truth: One of the most culturally valuable and scientifically important archaeological sites on the African continent, Peers Cave in Fish Hoek, once containing a treasure-trove of stone tools, preserved artefacts, rock art and nine individual burials – and spanning a depositional period of more than 100,000 years – was literally blown up with dynamite. Early attempts at formal excavation in the 1920s and 1940s by cavalier amateur ‘archaeologists’ were in reality no more than crude grave-robbing exercises and by the time that scientific rigour had come to formalize the science of archaeology in the 1970s, Peers Cave and all of its priceless antiquity and its massively important scientific and cultural record had largely been destroyed.

Only one other undisturbed cave containing a significant archaeological record is known on Table Mountain and its location is a closely guarded secret.

Besides the few caves that contain preserved material, stone tools can be found just about anywhere across Table Mountain. I routinely find artefacts on my walks. Above Deer Park, near the Camissa stream, there are plenty of crude quarzitic Acheulean-style Early Stone Age hand axes. Similarly, stone tools have been found around the ‘Dell’ in Kirstenbosch. These were likely crafted by hominin hands more than 250,000 years ago – possibly even a million, or more. Above Kirstenbosch gardens I’ve found beautifully crafted middle Stone Age bifacial points – some made from material not from anywhere near the Peninsula. In Cape Point I’ve found Late Stone micro-assemblages associated with beach middens - indicative of a people exploiting marine resources at some time during the past 10,000 or so years.

This crude adze (showing wear at the pointy end) was purposefully prepared and intentionally struck from a large quartzite boulder and then re-touched (sharpened) along the lateral edge. It is of indeterminate age but seems to correspond to similar technologies described as Early Middle Stone Age – which suggests it was crafted around 70 - 90,000 years ago, by a modern sapien.

I found this stone tool at the top of Woody Ravine at a beautiful vantage point. As I sat, stone tool in hand, and contemplated the view over the Atlantic, I wondered if my stone-master ancestor (we all share his/her genes) had sat here too, contemplating the meaning of life….

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