Prehistoric Jakkalsfontein

The veld, which basically consists of broad-leafed shrubs on coastal calcareous sands, is hospitable and generous. In other words, it offers a home and food for a variety of life forms. Its type was identified as West Coast Strandveld by Moll, Campbell, in their report “A Description of major Vegetation Categories in and adjacent to the Fynbos Biome”, of 1984. Apart from the evergreen shrubs, the veld supports winter grasses in the open spaces. It also has a number of plants with edible bulbs, as well as fruit that ripens in spring and early summer. These plants which feed man and beast, can turn on the other two and dine on them as well. It will therefore not come as a surprise if evidence of occupation by stone age hunters and graziers, in the form of artefacts, were to be found in this rich veld. Nevertheless, it was a surprise when the first evidence turned up in the much drier and almost barren dunes.

Derek Chittenden & Associates, on behalf of the prospective developer, in 1988 commissioned a preliminary archaeological survey of Jakkalsfontein farm that was carried out by scientists from the SA Museum in Cape Town. They first examined the existing records, and then physically surveyed a strip of about 500m broad along the dunes above the beach, that was earmarked for development. There was, on the surface, no sign of the conventional “strandloper middens” because the long sandy beach, being entirely sandy, had very little food to offer the beach ranger. In this strip they found both white and blue mussel shells, but decided that the shells had been brought there by the gulls and not by humans. Near our northern boundary with Tygerfontein, on the sunset of the dunes, they came across late stone age artefacts.

Among some fragments of ostrich shell was one small bead, a single pierced disc that, with thirty or forty similar ones, could be strung on a slender sinew and be worn as a bracelet or a necklace. At a second site not far from there, lay some shards of thin brown quartz-tempered pottery. That was the total archaeological yield of the narrow strip across the top of the dunes on a single survey. The archaeologists could not say who the makers were, but suggested that the human use of the two sites was superficial and ephemeral, and that the objects date from “probably within the last millennium”. In their report the archaeologists mentioned that these simple surface signs may relate to other relics that are still hidden and preserved under the sand, like shell middens, stone artefacts, pottery and human burials, that may come to light when the natural surface is disturbed. They emphasised that the archaeological sites are non-renewable, and that they are a source of information on past cultural and natural environments that are necessary for our understanding of human development and its effects on natural systems, past and present.

It is to be hoped that the relics, seen and unseen, of those who lived at Jakkalsfontein before us, will serve to remind us and our grandchildren that they are the only visible link between early mankind and modern us. There are not many landowners who have proof of human habitation of their property, back to the Late Stone Age. It stands for what our homes mean to us, that we are here quite close to the quiet, clean and gone world of old.

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