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Iziko’s Archaeology Unit has vast collections relating to the prehistoric archaeological record of South Africa. These include material culture from the Early, Middle and Later Stone Ages, and the Iron Age, all of which encompass the important periods of human development from approximately 1.4 million to 300 years ago. These collections include a wide variety of lithics (stone tools), shell, pottery, faunal remains, aesthetic items such ostrich eggshell beads, and various functional objects. 

Image: Middle Stone Age lithic tools from the archaeological site, Klasies River Mouth.

The collection also curates unique special finds.

These are rare objects found at a host of archaeological sites within South Africa and highlight the extensive technological advancement of early indigenous peoples. These items include intricately engraved bone objects, remarkable ancient shell jewellery and pendants and other highly specialised tools and equipment. Some of these items are currently on display at the Iziko South African museum including the Blombos Ochre and beads. The ochre is a soft stone with deliberately engraved geometric patterns, dating to 77 000 years ago, providing some of the clearest evidence anywhere in the world for the ability to conceptualise symbolically. The beads are perforated Nassarius kraussianus freshwater shells, also dated to c. 70 000 years ago.

Image: Incised ochre from Blombos Cave, dating to c. 77 000 years ago.

Image: Perforated Nassarius kraussianus shells from Blombos Cave were used as beads c. 70 000 years ago.

Assemblages from numerous sites that highlight early modern human behaviour are curated by this unit and include, among others, the sites of Sea Harvest, Hoedjiespunt, Duinefontein, Die Kelders Cave, Diepkloof Cave, Elands Bay cave, Klein Kliphuis and Nelson Bay cave. Assemblages from 20 000 until 300 years ago include Byeneskranskop and Kasteelberg. 

The unit also curates a large rock art collection, including paintings and engravings from various sites across South Africa, and a number of rock art reproductions. One of the most remarkable and finely detailed San rock art pieces is the Linton Panel. Found in the early 1900’s in a rock shelter in the Eastern Cape, this 2 meter long exquisite panel depicts the shamanic experiences of trance in vivid detail. The panel is also well-known because one of its painted male figures was incorporated into the South African Coat of Arms. The panel can be viewed at the Iziko South Africa Museum.

Image: Linton Panel

The Archaeology Unit also manages and conserves human skeletal remains of early Homo sapiens and ancestors. The prominent Saldanha skull cap (archaic Homo), dating to between 700 and 400 000 years ago, as well as the renowned Middle Stone Age anatomically modern human remains from coastal sites such as Klasies River Mouth and Die Kelders, dating to between 120 000 and 60 000 years ago, form part of this collection. Additionally, the Physical Anthropology collection includes human skeletal remains from the Later Stone Age, predominantly from archaeological contexts. This collection is extensively researched and all projects are approved by the Human Remains Advisory Committee as established under the Human Remains Policy of Iziko (2005). 

Researchers and visitors to the Archaeology Unit
The Archaeology Unit is often visited by both South African and international researchers. Topics of research include the evolution of modern humans, diet and disease, settlement patterns, the origins of pastoralism, and the expression of symbolic systems and lifeways through rock art and other material culture artefacts.

Contact details
Dr Wendy Black
Curator: Archaeology
Tel: +27 21 481 3883

Ms Wilhelmina Seconna 
Collections Manager: Archaeology
Tel: +27 21 481 3885

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