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Archaeological heritage of Kathu a scientific treasure

Mynbou & Nywerheid / Mining & Industry
Typography

The annual commemoration of Heri-tage Month is perhaps one of the most joyful months South Africa celebrates.
Whether it is with song or dance, rituals or festivals, stories or social practices, Heri-tage Month provides all with an opportunity to celebrate the past whilst taking positive steps to build a shared future.
Just look at how much heritage and history the Northern Cape has to offer. Vast cultural richness rangs from the ancient rock art pre-served in the Karoo to the lively riel dances of the Namakwa, not to mention the ancient workshops found around Kathu.
Let us take a look at the local ancient heritage that has put Kathu on the world arc-heological map.
In the 1970s, archaeologist Peter Beau-mont, working at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, received a phone call that open-ed up a story that stretches back over a mil-lion years.
A farmer's son, playing in a sinkhole, had found a beautiful prehistoric stone tool. When Mr Beaumont saw it, he immediately recognised that it was an Acheulean hand-axe - the calling card of human ancestors who lived a million years ago.
Subsequent excavations around Kathu showed that this area, best known for its mineral resources, also is one of the richest
areas on the African continent for the ar-chaeology of human origins. Mr Beaumont carried out a series of major excavations mainly in the “pan” area near the airport.
For a bit over ten years, Professor Michael Chazan from the University of Toronto and his archaeological research team, co-direct-ed by archaeologist Steven Walker from the University of Cape Town, have been contin-uing in Mr Beaumont's footsteps and what they find continues to astound all and garner international attention.
Kathu today is arid, but in the past the land-scape was very different. The rivers ran with water and there were lakes dotted across the plain. One of the projects documented a large body of water where the Mamatwan mine is today. In one of the pans at Kathu, the team has found the teeth of elephants and hippos.
Scientific archaeology is a slow and com-plex undertaking, but the team is beginning to piece together the prehistoric record in Kathu.
The earliest trace of human presence is around 1.5-million years ago, contemporary with the Cradle of Humankind sites near Johannesburg.
At Kathu, very simple small tools from this period, heavily weathered by the passing time, have been found. By one million years ago, advances had been made in stone tools and handaxes. The bones of extinct animals have also been found.
The Townlands site, which extends from the Kathu Equestrian Club to the Heritage Mall, shows evidence of very intensive oc-cupation at this time - perhaps because there was a pool of water in the area.
By 500 000 years ago, stone tools had
made further developments. Research by Dr Jayne Wilkins at Kathu made internation-al news when she demonstrated that these half million-year-old tools include spear points - the earliest evidence of this techno-logy in the world. Another occupation from this period is found across a very wide area of the Bestwood farm.
Traces of the earliest representatives of our own species, Homo sapiens, have been found in Kathu in the form of small tools that were hafted into complex hunting tools.
The story of human occupation continues through to the ancestors of the San that is referred to as the Later Stone Age. Last year, a surprising rich deposit of Later Stone Age material that includes, what is thought to be carved ivory from about 5000 years ago, have been found.
The archaeological heritage of Kathu is a scientific treasure that each year brings scientists from around the world to search for new insight into the human past.
Preserving this heritage is a challenge in the context of development, but successful solutions to both protect and explore the heritage, while not hindering development, have been found. This unique archaeologi-cal heritage is also a cultural and tourism re-source that as yet is not fully exploited.
Together with the Wonderwerk Cave be-tween Daniëlskuil and Kuruman, the arc-haeological sites around Kathu are of inter-national significance. One of the handaxes Mr Beaumont recovered, is among the most beautiful prehistoric artifacts ever recover-ed. In fact, this ancient ambassador of Kathu made a trip around the globe as part of an exhibition at the British Museum.
You can learn more about this research at www.wonderwerkcave.com
You can also reach the research team at mchazan@me.com if you would like to let them know about any archaeological sites they should know about.
Introduction paragraphs by  Ismail Obaray - Democratic Alliance Member in the North-ern Cape Provincial Legislature
Text by Professor Michael Chazan from the University of Toronto


The annual commemoration of Heri-tage Month is perhaps one of the most joyful months South Africa celebrates.
Whether it is with song or dance, rituals or festivals, stories or social practices, Heri-tage Month provides all with an opportunity to celebrate the past whilst taking positive steps to build a shared future.
Just look at how much heritage and history the Northern Cape has to offer. Vast cultural richness rangs from the ancient rock art pre-served in the Karoo to the lively riel dances of the Namakwa, not to mention the ancient workshops found around Kathu.
Let us take a look at the local ancient heritage that has put Kathu on the world arc-heological map.
In the 1970s, archaeologist Peter Beau-mont, working at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, received a phone call that open-ed up a story that stretches back over a mil-lion years.
A farmer's son, playing in a sinkhole, had found a beautiful prehistoric stone tool. When Mr Beaumont saw it, he immediately recognised that it was an Acheulean hand-axe - the calling card of human ancestors who lived a million years ago.
Subsequent excavations around Kathu showed that this area, best known for its mineral resources, also is one of the richest
areas on the African continent for the ar-chaeology of human origins. Mr Beaumont carried out a series of major excavations mainly in the “pan” area near the airport.
For a bit over ten years, Professor Michael Chazan from the University of Toronto and his archaeological research team, co-direct-ed by archaeologist Steven Walker from the University of Cape Town, have been contin-uing in Mr Beaumont's footsteps and what they find continues to astound all and garner international attention.
Kathu today is arid, but in the past the land-scape was very different. The rivers ran with water and there were lakes dotted across the plain. One of the projects documented a large body of water where the Mamatwan mine is today. In one of the pans at Kathu, the team has found the teeth of elephants and hippos.
Scientific archaeology is a slow and com-plex undertaking, but the team is beginning to piece together the prehistoric record in Kathu.
The earliest trace of human presence is around 1.5-million years ago, contemporary with the Cradle of Humankind sites near Johannesburg.
At Kathu, very simple small tools from this period, heavily weathered by the passing time, have been found. By one million years ago, advances had been made in stone tools and handaxes. The bones of extinct animals have also been found.
The Townlands site, which extends from the Kathu Equestrian Club to the Heritage Mall, shows evidence of very intensive oc-cupation at this time - perhaps because there was a pool of water in the area.
By 500 000 years ago, stone tools had
made further developments. Research by Dr Jayne Wilkins at Kathu made internation-al news when she demonstrated that these half million-year-old tools include spear points - the earliest evidence of this techno-logy in the world. Another occupation from this period is found across a very wide area of the Bestwood farm.
Traces of the earliest representatives of our own species, Homo sapiens, have been found in Kathu in the form of small tools that were hafted into complex hunting tools.
The story of human occupation continues through to the ancestors of the San that is referred to as the Later Stone Age. Last year, a surprising rich deposit of Later Stone Age material that includes, what is thought to be carved ivory from about 5000 years ago, have been found.
The archaeological heritage of Kathu is a scientific treasure that each year brings scientists from around the world to search for new insight into the human past.
Preserving this heritage is a challenge in the context of development, but successful solutions to both protect and explore the heritage, while not hindering development, have been found. This unique archaeologi-cal heritage is also a cultural and tourism re-source that as yet is not fully exploited.
Together with the Wonderwerk Cave be-tween Daniëlskuil and Kuruman, the arc-haeological sites around Kathu are of inter-national significance. One of the handaxes Mr Beaumont recovered, is among the most beautiful prehistoric artifacts ever recover-ed. In fact, this ancient ambassador of Kathu made a trip around the globe as part of an exhibition at the British Museum.
You can learn more about this research at www.wonderwerkcave.com
You can also reach the research team at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you would like to let them know about any archaeological sites they should know about.
Introduction paragraphs by  Ismail Obaray - Democratic Alliance Member in the North-ern Cape Provincial Legislature
Text by Professor Michael Chazan from the University of Toronto