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Ancient Khoekhoen Artefact Unearthed at Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve

Cederberg, Western Cape, South Africa: A remarkable discovery was made at Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve, one of the Western Cape’s leading conservation destinations. Nestled upon the edge of the dramatic Cederberg range, the reserve straddles a transition zone where the Cape fynbos region abuts the Tankwa Karoo and Renosterveld ecosystems.

Heritage Western Cape (HWC) was contacted by Kagga Kamma management following the find, and upon studying the pot, they confirmed the discovery of a Khoekhoen ceramic pot, thought to be anything from 500-2000yrs old. The remarkably intact earthenware vessel is a potentially significant artefact, especially as it is well preserved.

Dr Vuyiswa Lupuwana, a Professor at University of Cape Town, agrees: “The pot exhibits a classic stylistic affiliation with lugged pots and the body tapers towards the bottom, indicating that the pot was very likely a Khoekhoen lugged pot that had rope or string fed through the lugs to facilitate easy transportation”.

A Well-Preserved Vessel with a Story to Tell

Initial inspection indicates the pot is amphora-shaped, with a wide mouth that narrows towards its neck, before transitioning into an outwardly sloping shoulder swelling into a rotund body. The profile curves gently downwards and inwards, then tapers to a round, softly pointed base. Two intact, horizontally pierced ‘ears’ or ‘lugs’ suggest that cords attached to these may have been used to carry it with ease. The pot is intact with a minor hole and some cracks, and as such requires delicate handling and storage.

The red ochre clay – with patches of scorching – suggests the pot was likely used for cooking over an open flame. The base shape and burn marks are consistent with traditional cooking where the pot was placed directly into the coals of a fire. Size may have limited its use in transporting water or produce for long distances, though its shape may have allowed for carrying it on ones’ shoulders.

The remarkable preservation of the pot, despite exposure to the elements, is a testament to its quality. While carbon dating could determine an exact age, this procedure may risk damaging the artefact. Given past archaeological studies in the Cederberg region, artefacts range from 500 to 8000 years old, placing them within the Later Stone Age (LSA) period. In this instance, the pot is likely no older than 2000 years, considering studies indicate that the first Khoekhoe herders arrived in the Cape, introducing both livestock and pottery, around 2000 years ago.

The pot was found meters from a canyon formation near an inconsistent water source, and the undisturbed site suggests it was occupied for short periods by LSA groups, most likely the indigenous Khoekhoe people.

The fortunate discovery was made by adventurous visitors overnighting at one of Kagga Kamma’s off-grid camp sites. “We went for an afternoon walk towards the arid canyon and – while scrambling amidst the rocky outcrops – first glimpsed the pot hidden under a craggy overhang”, explain Ivan and Elizma van Niekerk.

With great foresight, the Van Niekerks left the pot in situ and instantly informed reserve management of their find. This meant that further damage to the artefact and contamination of the site was avoided until an expert team could later travel to the site to facilitate the pot’s retrieval.

“Given the vast expanse of our reserve, it would not surprise us if we discovered similar sites where heritage artefacts may lie hidden”, says Tanya Steenkamp, General Manager at Kagga Kamma. “We are thrilled to be working with University of Cape Town and ‘Heritage Western Cape’ and hope further research will shed light on the life of early hunter-gatherers and pastoralists who once roamed these dramatic plains”.

Discovery and Significance

Waseefa Dhansay and Nuraan Vallie of Heritage Western Cape joined the Kagga Kamma team to perform an ‘extremely delicate retrieval’. “I was very excited to observe the pot inside a small overhang, approximately 800m from a gravel jeep track and situated along a rugged ridgeline scramble’, explains Dhansay.

Expert corroboration by Dr. Lupuwana from UCT supports the opinions expressed by HWC representatives: “The artefact seems a classic Khoekhoen pot, possibly used for transporting liquids or food, with stylistic features consistent with similar findings from the region”. (Sadr & Sampson: 1999)”.

Numerous scatters of stone tools, ostrich eggshell fragments, and collapsed roof spore surrounded the pot, pointing to overlapping between the hunter-gatherer and pastoralist people who coexisted here towards the end of the Late Stone Age. Further excavation of the site may reveal more artifacts and historic evidence (a small selection of stone tools was retrieved for further research and the presence of faunal remains were also noted).

Intriguingly, faded rock art galleries showing handprints were found meters away in an overhang, further highlighting the site’s importance to early indigenous groups. Examples of additional rock paintings – likely created using traditional ochre-based pigments – have also since been found on subsequent visits.

“We are absolutely thrilled to be part of this exciting find”, says Waseefa Dhansay of Heritage Western Cape. “Radio-carbon dating could provide a more precise age while advanced scientific techniques, such as lipid extraction or paleoproteomics may reveal exactly what the pot was used for and what it may have contained”.

Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve hopes to attempt further research and has committed to the careful preservation of this valuable historic artefact. One potential way forward would be to create a 3D model of the pot by using photogrammetry for educational and public outreach purposes.

MEDIA CONTACT: For further information, contact Dale Galloway on Cell: (083) 345 7658 or email dale@wildsidecreative.co.za

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