The newly established Letaba archaeological site, which dates back 600 years before the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site, has become one of the sites in the Kruger National Park (KNP) associated with the history of more than 50 000 years of human development.
Archaeologists from the University of Pretoria (UP), in conjunction with SA National Parks (SANParks), have embarked on a five-year project to save two important archaeological sites along the Letaba River in the KNP, believed to have been occupied between 1 500 and 1 000 years ago.
The iron age site, in Phalaborwa, north of the KNP, contains some of the earliest evidence of the vast global trade between South Africa and Asia and Arabia.
There are masses of trade glass beads and evidence of local artisanship of metal, iron, copper, animals and animal skin.
No oral histories
UP lecturer and lead archaeologist Dr Xander Antonites said the last 2 000 years of South Africa was the period associated with the migration into the area of black farmers and black African people.
Antonites said while that was where oral history ended and written records started, they normally had to rely on archaeology to really write the history.
“There’s no oral histories that go that far back. Therefore, this period we’re talking about in other words is the early iron age,” he said.
“The amount of clay pots, burnt clay houses and animal bones found indicated the population size of who lived there, which language they spoke, which tribe they associated with and possibly what they used to farm – and that’s where archaeology really comes to the fore.”
One of the most important events in SA history was the integration of SA or Southern Africa into the larger world economy, Antonites said.
Older communities to be discovered
Thabo Kgomommu, general manager for cultural heritage at the Kruger said the park had many older communities but they could not tell for sure who they were associated with in terms of modern-day communities.
He said the Kruger has a number of sites they were currently identifying.
“These will be much earlier periods in terms of iron age, but you have sites which are associated with the San, the Bushmen and also sites associated with the colonial period,” he said.
“And sites associated with the liberation struggle. So we have a significant diversity of sites we are trying to preserve in the park.”