LOOK: Khoekhoen pot potentially 2,000 years old discovered at the Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve

The pot was discovered in Ceres in the Western Cape. Picture: Jacques Marais

The pot was discovered in Ceres in the Western Cape. Picture: Jacques Marais

Published Apr 29, 2024


The Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve in Ceres in the Western Cape have uncovered a remarkable find that has the potential to shed light on the late Stone Age history in the region.

An ancient Khoekhoen pot, potentially 2,000-years-old was discovered.

The reserve contacted Heritage Western Cape (HWC) after the find, and upon studying the pot, they confirmed the discovery of the ceramic pot thought to be between 500 to 2,000-years-old. The pot is still intact and has been well preserved.

“The pot exhibits a classic stylistic affiliation with lugged pots and the body tapers towards the bottom, indicating that the pot was very likely a Khoekhoen lugged pot that had rope or string fed through the lugs to facilitate easy transportation,” a Professor at the University of Cape Town (UCT), Dr Vuyiswa Lupuwana said.

The pot was discovered in Ceres in the Western Cape. Picture: Jacques Marais

The initial inspection indicated the pot is amphora-shaped, with a wide mouth that narrows towards its neck before transitioning into an outwardly sloping shoulder swelling into a rotund body. The profile curves gently downwards and inwards, then tapers to a round, softly pointed base.

Two intact, horizontally pierced ‘ears’ or ‘lugs’ suggest that cords attached to these may have been used to carry with ease. The pot is intact, with a minor hole and some cracks and requires delicate handling and storage.

The red ochre clay with patches of scorching suggests the pot was likely used for cooking over an open flame. The base shape and burn marks are consistent with traditional cooking where the pot was placed directly into the coals of a fire.

Size may have limited its use in transporting water or produce for long distances, though its shape may have allowed for carrying it on one’s shoulders.

The pot was discovered in Ceres in the Western Cape. Picture: Jacques Marais

“The remarkable preservation of the pot despite exposure to the elements, is a testament to its quality. While carbon dating could determine an exact age, this procedure may risk damaging the artefact.

“Given past archaeological studies in the Cederberg region, artefacts range from 500 to 8,000-years-old, placing them within the Later Stone Age (LSA) period. In this instance, the pot is likely no older than 2,000 years, considering studies indicate the first Khoekhoe herders arrived in the Cape, introducing both livestock and pottery, around 2,000 years ago,” the reserve said.

The pot was discovered in Ceres in the Western Cape. Picture: Jacques Marais

The pot was found metres from a canyon formation near an inconsistent water source, and the undisturbed site suggests it was occupied for short periods by LSA groups, most likely the indigenous Khoekhoe people.

Visitors at the reserve, Ivan and Elizma van Niekerk, who were overnighting at one of the Kagga Kamma’s off-grid campsites, made the discovery.

“We went for an afternoon walk towards the arid canyon and while scrambling amidst the rocky outcrops – first glimpsed the pot hidden under a craggy overhang,” the couple said.

The Van Niekerks left the pot in situ and instantly informed reserve management of their find. This meant further damage to the pot and contamination of the site was avoided until an expert team could later travel to the site to facilitate its retrieval.

General Manager at Kagga Kamma, Tanya Steenkamp said it would be no surprise if similar sites had artefacts which may he hidden.

“We are thrilled to be working with the University of Cape Town and Heritage Western Cape and hope further research will shed light on the life of early hunter-gatherers and pastoralists who once roamed these dramatic plains,” Steenkamp said.

Waseefa Dhansay and Nuraan Vallie from Heritage Western Cape joined the Kagga Kamma team to perform an extremely delicate retrieval.

“I was very excited to observe the pot inside a small overhang, approximately 800 metres from a gravel Jeep track and situated along a rugged ridge-line scramble,” Dhansay said.

Expert corroboration by Dr Lupuwana from UCT supports the opinions expressed by HWC representatives: “The artefact seems a classic Khoekhoen pot, possibly used for transporting liquids or food, with stylistic features consistent with similar findings from the region.” (Sadr & Sampson: 1999)”.

Numerous scatters of stone tools, ostrich eggshell fragments, and collapsed roof spores surrounded the pot, pointing to an overlapping between the hunter-gatherer and pastoralist people who coexisted in the region towards the end of the Late Stone Age.

Further excavation of the site may reveal more artefacts and historic evidence (a small selection of stone tools were retrieved for further research and the presence of faunal remains was also noted).

Dhansay said intriguingly, faded rock art galleries showing handprints were found metres away in an overhang, further highlighting the site’s importance to early indigenous groups. Examples of additional rock paintings likely created using traditional ochre-based pigments have also since been found on subsequent visits.

“We are absolutely thrilled to be part of this exciting find. Radio-carbon dating could provide a more precise age while advanced scientific techniques, such as lipid extraction or paleoproteomics may reveal exactly what the pot was used for and what it may have contained,” Dhansay said.

Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve said it hopes to attempt further research and has committed to the careful preservation of this valuable historic artefact. It said a potential way forward would be to create a 3D model of the pot by using photogrammetry for educational and public outreach purposes.