Media Releases

Earlier Stone Age artifacts found in Northern Cape of South Africa

July 24, 2014

TORONTO, ON — Exca­va­tions at an archae­o­log­i­cal site at Kathu in the North­ern Cape province of South Africa have pro­duced tens of thou­sands of Ear­li­er Stone Age arti­facts, includ­ing hand axes and oth­er tools. These dis­cov­er­ies were made by archae­ol­o­gists from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to (U of T), in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the McGre­gor Muse­um in Kim­ber­ley, South Africa.

The archae­ol­o­gists’ research on the Kathu Town­lands site, one of the rich­est ear­ly pre­his­toric archae­o­log­i­cal sites in South Africa, was pub­lished in the jour­nal, PLOS ONE, on 24 July 2014.

It is esti­mat­ed that the site is between 700,000 and one mil­lion years old.

Steven James Walk­er from the Depart­ment of Archae­ol­o­gy at UCT, lead author of the jour­nal paper, says: “The site is amaz­ing and it is threat­ened. We’ve been work­ing well with devel­op­ers as well as the South African Her­itage Resources Agency to pre­serve it, but the town of Kathu is rapid­ly expand­ing around the site. It might get cut off on all sides by devel­op­ment and this would be regret­table.”

Today, Kathu is a major iron min­ing cen­tre. Walk­er adds that the fact that such an exten­sive pre­his­toric site is locat­ed in the mid­dle of a zone of inten­sive devel­op­ment pos­es a unique chal­lenge for archae­ol­o­gists and devel­op­ers to find strate­gies to work coop­er­a­tive­ly.

The Kathu Town­lands site is one com­po­nent of a group­ing of pre­his­toric sites known as the Kathu Com­plex. Oth­er sites in the com­plex include Kathu Pan 1 which has pro­duced fos­sils of ani­mals such as ele­phants and hip­pos, as well as the ear­li­est known evi­dence of tools used as spears from a lev­el dat­ed to half a mil­lion years ago.

Michael Chaz­an, Direc­tor of the Archae­ol­o­gy Cen­tre at U of T, empha­sizes the sci­en­tif­ic chal­lenge posed by the den­si­ty of the traces of ear­ly human activ­i­ty in this area.

“We need to imag­ine a land­scape around Kathu that sup­port­ed large pop­u­la­tions of human ances­tors, as well as large ani­mals like hip­pos. All indi­ca­tions sug­gest that Kathu was much wet­ter, maybe more like the Oka­van­go than the Kala­hari. There is no ques­tion that the Kathu Com­plex presents unique oppor­tu­ni­ties to inves­ti­gate the evo­lu­tion of human ances­tors in South­ern Africa.”


Media Con­tacts:

Steven James Walk­er
PhD can­di­date
Depart­ment of Archae­ol­o­gy, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cape Town
Phone: +27(0)76 953 9447

Michael Chaz­an
Pro­fes­sor, Anthro­pol­o­gy & Direc­tor, Archae­ol­o­gy Cen­ter
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Phone: 647–608-2974

Keman­tha Goven­der
Media Liai­son Offi­cer
Uni­ver­si­ty of Cape Town
Phone : +27 21 650 5672
Mobile: +27 84 737 6522

Chris­tine Elias
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Office
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, Fac­ul­ty of Arts & Sci­ence
Phone: 416–946-5499

Sean Bet­tam
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Office
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, Fac­ul­ty of Arts & Sci­ence
Phone: 416–946-7950