Archaeology in South Africa

Alexander Paone
April 17, 2013

One of the classes I am taking this semester at UCT is Archaeology of Southern African Hunters and Herders. It focuses on hunter-gatherers living in southern Africa from their origins to their first encounters with colonists coming to South Africa. The class has weekly practicals in which we do exercises such as telling the age of death in human remains, determining the dentition of various species and classifying stone tools.

Determining the dental formula of baboons in Archaeology practicals.


On Saturday the class had a field trip to a couple sites around Cape Town where there are known remains of the hunter gatherer societies that lived in the area thousands of years ago.

The first site we visited was Millers Point, near Table Mountain National Park.  The terrain at Millers Point was dune fields along a rocky coast. In the dunes were numerous middens, or piles of shell refuse piled up by the people who once ate the shellfish on the coast approximately 2,000 years ago. Our professor set us off to explore the dunes and see if we could find any artifacts among the shells in the middens. We quickly found some stone-tool flakes and cores, animal bones and some pottery. My favorite piece I found was a stone-tool microlith. We were able to pick up and examine the artifacts, however we weren’t permitted to remove anything from the site because of ethical issues and laws protecting the site’s preservation.

Microlith found at Miller’s Point

The other location we stopped at was Peers Cave, which we had to hike to from inside the national park. The cave was nestled in a cliff overlooking the mountains and ocean. Peers Cave had already been excavated thoroughly by archaeologists who curated many of the artifacts (some dating back as far as two hundred thousand years) in a museum in Cape Town. There were some artifacts left over in the cave, and we spent some time shifting some dirt around and managed to find some stone tools as well as numerous shells and animal bones. One of the greatest features of this cave was the cave drawings on the walls and ceiling of the cave.

Lecture in Peer’s Cave. Rock paintings can be seen on the walls and ceiling above.

After a day of hiking and searching for artifacts the whole class was pretty exhausted and we made our way back to campus.

The seasons are changing in Cape Town. It has been getting colder and cloudier, but we still have beautiful days to take advantage of the beaches.


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Alexander Paone

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Alex Paone is a junior at the University of Vermont, majoring in Anthropology and double-minoring in African Studies and Geography. He enjoys photography, cooking, hiking and has a passion for travel. Alex is looking forward to calling Cape Town home and also exploring more of Africa beyond Cape Town and South Africa.</span></p>

2013 Spring
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