Students show ancient heritage

2014-07-14 00:00

EXCAVATIONS at Sibudu Cave near Tongaat have been under way since the 1990s, and the finds include the oldest bed in the world made from sedge grasses and leaves.

Strictly speaking, the cave is a rock shelter, not a cave, one boasting a long record of occupation between 77 000 and 35 000 years ago during the Middle Stone Age.

It lies under a huge curve of sandstone cliff carved out by the uThongati River, which now flows through the valley below. The surrounding area is under sugar cane, the fields dotted with small homesteads.

The cave was discovered in 1983 and Nicholas Conard, professor and chair of the department of early history at the University of Tubingen in Germany, who is currently directing excavations, told The Witness in an earlier interview that “there are few places on the Earth that have such a complete and wonderful record from the Middle Stone Age as Sibudu”.

Sibudu was occupied by nomadic hunter-gatherers at different times and what they left behind has enabled archaelogists to document how human technologies changed through this period, as well as changes in the natural environment.

Among items unearthed at Sibudu are the 65 000-year-old bone arrowheads, the earliest yet discovered. Sibudu is also one of only three sites in Africa where sea-shell beads have been found older than 70 000 years.

It is estimated that as little as 10% of the site has been excavated.

“We will be busy here for decades,” said Conard.

“The potential for this excavation is that it should go on for generations.”

Sibudu is on the South African “Tentative List” for declaration as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

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