Canteen Kopje is a spectacularly rich Earlier Stone Age situated outside Barkly West in the Northern Cape, South Africa. It is a Provincial Heritage Site and has an open air trail including information boards. Further information, with examples of artefacts from the site (and a replica of the Canteen Kopje skull), is displayed at the Barkly West Museum as well as the McGregor Museum in nearby Kimberley.
Alluvial diamond diggings
One of the hills in the vicinity of Canteen Kopje was the site of the first alluvial diamond diggings (as opposed to surface prospecting) on the Diamond Fields of South Africa, which precipitated the rush to these parts in 1870. Digging continued here until the early 1940s.
Recognition of archaeological significance
Earlier Stone Age artefacts were noted in the area by Colonel James Henry Bowker and Mary Elizabeth Barber at the time of the earliest diamond diggings. Eminent prehistorians including C. van Riet Lowe, the French prehistorian, the Abbé Henri Breuil and J. Desmond Clark visited and described it. Breuil was here in 1929 and again in the 1940s, when he famously noted that “not only are there enough specimens [there] to fill a museum to overflowing but to build it of them also.”
Preserved and almost lost
On account both of the mining history as well as the finding of Acheulean artefacts at this spot, a 10 morgen portion of Canteen Kopje was declared a National Monument (since 2000 known as a provincial heritage site) in 1948. Mining recommenced in the vicinity in the 1990s and Canteen Kopje was nearly lost. Pressure was exerted for the site to be de-proclaimed as a heritage site, to allow for renewed diamond digging and ‘empowerment’ of small scale miners. The local community recognised the value of conserving heritage and supported the efforts of the then National Monuments Council and the McGregor Museum to preserve the site, which was then developed as an open air museum. The new Barkly West Museum was created at the same time.
Archaeological and geological investigations from the 1990s
Excavations in the late 1990s were carried out by Peter Beaumont of the McGregor Museum. John McNabb from the University of Southampton worked with Beaumont in analysing the Acheulean stone artefact technology. Further excavations have been carried out by archaeologists from the University of the Witwatersrand (inter alia for application of cosmogenic nuclide burial dating).
Crucial to the interpretation of the archaeology of the site, is an understanding of site formation in relation to the adjacent hill and the Vaal River which at different periods cut down first to the north of the site and then the south west.
In 2007-9 a 7-metre sequence through Hutton Sands and Gravels was excavated to carry out dating and a detailed analysis of the lithic profile. There is a marked 'Victoria West' Acheulean horizon (named for the town in the Karoo where these stone tools were first described) in the upper part of the gravels, subject to a current Southampton PhD project. The lower part of the sequence contains simpler, older Acheulean technology.
Later Stone Age material at and just below the surface has been studied in two excavations by archaeologists from the University of the Witwatersrand and Toronto.
Canteen Kopje Skull
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