Coast KZN

10 Jun 2021

Sibudu Cave finally declared a National Heritage SIte

Penny Fourie (North Coast Courier) Picture: Discovered in 1967, Sibhudu was first excavated in 1983 by archaeologist Aron Mazel of the Natal Museum.

The Sibudu Cave, a rock shelter that lies under a curve of sandstone and shale cliff carved out by the uThongathi River, has finally been awarded the status it deserves.

The prehistoric site, which is believed to hold answers about early human behaviour, was declared a national heritage site by the South African National Heritage Resources Agency (SANHRA) and gazetted on December 18, 2020.

Discovered in 1967, Sibudu was first excavated in 1983 by archaeologist Aron Mazel of the Natal Museum. His excavation revealed that the uppermost layers of the cave contained Iron Age occupations while the layers immediately below this contained Middle Stone Age occupations.

Between 1998 and 2011, Wits University directed the site’s excavations, but since 2011 excavations have been directed by Nicholas Conrad, a professor and chair of the early history department at the University of Tubingen in Germany, under the licence from the South African Historical Monuments Commission.

Conrad has said that few places on earth have such a “complete and wonderful record from the Middle Stone Age” as Sibudu. The cave boasts a long record of occupation between 77 000 and 35 000 years ago during the Middle Stone Age.

Among its prolific finds, Sibudu has some of the earliest examples in the world of sea-shell beads, a wide variety of bone tools, bone arrowheads for hunting, use of herbal medicine, and preserved plant bedding dating back 77 000 years.

SANHRA CEO Lungi Malgas said they identified the site as having qualities so exceptional that it was of special national significance and warranted declaration as a national heritage site. As such it is a protected site and may not be interfered with in any way, except under permit from SANHRA.