Planned development a threat to archeological site

2010-08-31 00:00

SIBUDU Cave, site of the recent discovery of 64 000-year-old stone arrow tips, is facing threat from a potential housing development.

The KwaDukuza municipality has proposed that 1 000 low-cost houses be built a mere 200 metres from the cave. This announcement coincides with the discovery of stone artifacts there being heralded internationally as a possible game changer of the understanding of early humans’ hunting and cognitive abilities.

“Unless there is very serious protection of the site, the site will be destroyed,” said research team leader, Professor Lyn Wadley from the University of the Witswatersrand. Archeological sites are extremely delicate, she said, emphasising that other South African research sites have been destroyed under similar development conditions.

“The minute you bring people into such a sensitive area, it only takes one person on a weekend to destroy 100 000 years of archaeological evidence,” said Dr Marlize Lombard, anthropology lecturer and researcher at the University of Johannesburg.

Wadley is currently in consultation with the kwaDukuza municipality in an attempt to ensure that precautions such as high fencing and security guards will be taken to protect the site. “We must always be happy when the government is building houses for poor people,” Wadley said. However, her first prize would be if the development were relocated altogether.

Sibudu Cave, near Ballito, was uncovered as a site of research 10 years ago and between five and 10 scientific papers a year have been published based on findings there. The site’s dry conditions and suitable soil chemistry have allowed artifacts to be excellently preserved. It is believed that evidence dating back as far as 80 000 years has already been recovered from Sibudu, but is awaiting further analysis.

The finding of the arrow points, which will probably eventually join other artifacts from Sibudu at the Natal Museum, is particularly significant as the tools are a further indication that humans at the time were able to think in the same way that we do today.

“Until 10 years ago, people thought complex technologies such as the bow and arrow were discovered in Europe only 20 to 30 thousand years ago,” said Lombard. However, the former Natal Museum employee’s mission is to continue investigating even older technologies and assess how they can help in understanding when humans started thinking as we currently do.

The research team, led by Wadley, found micro residues of blood and bone on the stone points, indicating they were used in hunting. Damage and impact to the shape of the points showed they were the tips of projectiles, not hand-held spears. Traces of a glue-like, plant-based resin were also found on the arrow heads, indicating that they were glued to a handle or shaft

“Hunting with a bow and arrow requires intricate multi-staged planning, material collection and tool preparation and implies a range of innovative social and communication skills,” wrote the researchers in their paper published in journalAntiquity. Combined with previous information collected from Sibudu and other sites in SA, the research team is gaining an increased insight into the development of human thought processes.

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