oa Annals of the Natal Museum - Excavations at Shongweni South Cave: the oldest evidence to date for cultigens in southern Africa

Volume 22, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0304-0798



This paper descriptionbes the excavation in 1971 of a large cave overlooking the steeply incised River Mlazi at Shongweni Waterworks, some 25 km upstream from where it debouches into the coastal plain near the head of Natal Bay. Two main periods of occupation were identified, a later period discontinuously from the thirteenth century A.D. to the end of the third millennium B.C., and an earlier much more discontinuous period from near 10000 to about 21000 B.C. The upper occupation was marked by floors of dung and leaves and by small hearths separated by lenses of dust and rock­spalls; in the lower large beds of ash interfingered with pink sterile dust. The dryness of the cave had ensured the good preservation in the upper occupation of vegetable material, wood, plants, leaves and artefacts such as twine, but not of animal-remains except bone. There was evidence as far back as 2000 B.C. for pottery and for apparently cultivated plants (two cereals, pennisetum and Eleusine; and two cucurbits, bottle-gourd and melon); sorghum was found, but probably of a date when it could have been introduced by Bantu-speakers. There was a wide variety of wild vegetable foods. The range of exploitation was large, as there were several marine shells, and some of the legumes may have grown only near the coast; workable stone also was fetched from far. The stone-work is poor; some tools and weapons were made of bone and of hard wood. There were beads made from shells of freshwater-bivalves. The lower occupation yielded a much less complete picture. During the hiatus rain may sometimes have wetted the cave-floor, so it is doubtful if vegetable-remains, apart from a few seeds, survive from this period. The stone industry is even poorer than in the upper occupation. There are a great many chips of bone, of which a few may have been shaped as tools. This is the first detailed excavation of a cave in the lower valleys of Natal, and will furnish a basis for comparison with the life and techniques of (?) Bushmen in the coastal areas of the Cape and in the high interior.

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