Border Cave opens for visitors

15 January 2004

An overnight camp for hikers and archaeology enthusiasts is being built at Border Cave, a Middle Stone Age site in the Lebombo Mountains in northern KwaZulu-Natal with spectacular views over Swaziland.

Already in place is an interpretive centre featuring dioramas and models that tell the story of pre-historic human existence at the cave, as well as of archaeological excavations since the 1930s.

A self-catering camp consisting of two thatched rondavels (huts), built from locally quarried stone, is due to open in March. One- and two-day hiking routes in the rugged mountain landscape have been mapped out for visitors.

The camp will be operated by the local Mngomezulu community, who will also guide visitors to the cave – which overlooks a 500-metre sheer drop into Swaziland – for a modest fee.

The first known inhabitants of the “Elephant Coast” took residence in the Border Cave, a large overhang in the remote Ingwavuma district, some 200 000 years ago.

Some of the oldest evidence setting human evolution in Africa apart from that of Europe has been found at the Cave, where anatomically modern Homo sapiens remains have been discovered and over a million stone artefacts excavated.

Analysis of some of the stone tools has helped scientists to date the introduction of tools crafted into blades and points.

In 1942 the Cave yielded the remains of infant, dating back about 100 000 years, buried in a grave with a shell ornament and red stain suggesting that the body had been painted – pointing to a people capable of abstract and symbolic thought who probably communicated in a fairly complex language.

If concern with life after death is taken as a sign of religion, then this is also the oldest record of religion on earth.

Also discovered in the cave was the Lebombo Bone, the oldest known artefact linked to the basic mathematical activity of counting. Dated to 35 000 BC, the Lebombo Bone is a small piece of baboon fibula which has been carved with 29 notches, resembling the calendar sticks still used by San people in Namibia.

Animal bones found at the cave indicate that these prehistoric inhabitants lived on bushpig, warthog, zebra and buffalo.

The camp and centre are a project of Amafa/Heritage KwaZulu-Natal, with financial assistance from Tourism KZN.

Source: Tourism KZN