Jewel on the West Coast

Yzerfontein Archeaology

Yzerfontein and the surrounding areas have hosted inhabitants for thousands of years.

An archaeological survey sponsored by Stanford University (USA) in conjunction with local academics, have uncovered a rich Middle Stong Age site occupied by  humans for over 50 000 years.  The site is located close to the current harbour. 


Ysterfontein 1, Western Cape, South Africa
Ysterfontein 1 is a rock shelter that was used by Middle Stone Age people sometime between 70,000 and 115,000 years ago. During this time, the sea was about as high as it was now and the occupants of the site utilized the local marine resources, including black mussels, limpets, penguins, cormorants and fur seals. They also consumed a variety of bovids. The most common are reedbuck, which indicates that water was nearby and therefore that the  local environment was quite different from today. The now extinct blue antelope are also abundant, along with steenbok and grysbok. Eland, kudu, wildebeest and rhino are present, too, along with tortoises. The Middle Stone Age people made many fires when they occupied the site, and we see them clearly today as dark patches with ash and burnt bones and shells. They flaked stone, mainly silcrete but also quartz, calcrete and diorite, to use as tools. Many of the tools have fine notches along the edge and are called denticulates.
We are interested in learning about the similarities and differences between Middle Stone Age people, the Later Stone Age people who came afterwards, and ethnohistoric hunter-gatherers. Most striking given Ysterfontein 1’s location is the lack of fish bones – neither freshwater nor marine fish are present, while more recent people heavily exploited this resource. They also exploited only a few species of molluscs, unlike people who came afterwards. Middle Stone Age stone artifacts are larger and more variable, and they rarely worked bone into spear points or other implements. They did not shape ostrich egg shells into beads, although shell fragments are common in the site. Middle Stone Age people lived only in Africa, yet their descendants spread throughout the world. The information that we are uncovering at Ysterfontein 1 helps us understand why.
Research team:
Graham Avery (Cenozoic Studies, Natural History Division, Iziko South African Museum)
David Halkett (Archaeology Contracts Office, University of Cape Town)
Jayson Orton (Archaeology Contracts Office, University of Cape Town)
Teresa Steele (Department of Anthropology, University of California, Davis)
Madelon Tusenius (Archaeology Contracts Office, University of Cape Town)
Richard Klein (Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University)
Sarah Wurz (Pre-colonial archaeology, Social History Division, Iziko Museums of Cape Town)

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