Canteen Kopje

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Canteen Kopje
Canteen Kopje.JPG
Canteen Kopje site
Location Barkly West in the Northern Cape, South Africa
Coordinates 28°32′34″S 24°31′52″E / 28.54278°S 24.53111°E / -28.54278; 24.53111Coordinates: 28°32′34″S 24°31′52″E / 28.54278°S 24.53111°E / -28.54278; 24.53111

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. In 2016 the site became threatened by mining after the Department of Minerals and Energy issued a permit for part of the site to be mined. The South African Heritage Resources Agency has not issued a heritage permit, yet mining is proceeding.[1]

Alluvial diamond diggings[edit]

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.[2] Digging continued here until the early 1940s.

Recognition of archaeological significance[edit]

general view of Canteen Kopje site from the nearby hill

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.[3][4][5][6] 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[edit]

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.[7] 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.[8]

Renewed threat was experienced in 2016. In 2014 the Department of Minerals (DMR) issued a permit for mining to take place on part of the declared site. The South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) was alerted and in response, because of the existing formal declaration, a Cease Works Order was put in place to prevent mining from taking place. Pressure was exerted however and in March 2016 the Cease Works Order was lifted, following which, on 16 March 2016, a diamond mining operation commenced work by fencing off an area around that for which they have a DMR mining permit. Public access to the remainder of the heritage site was blocked. Section 27(18) of the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA) (Act 25 of 1999) states that: "No person may destroy, damage, deface, excavate, alter, remove from its original position, subdivide or change the planning status of any heritage site without a permit issued by the heritage resources authority responsible for the protection of such site." Section 51. (1) of the NHRA states that: "Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, any person who contravenes— (a) sections 27(18), 29(10), 32(13) or 32(19) is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine or imprisonment or both such fine and imprisonment as set out in item 1 of the Schedule." Since the mining concern has commenced mining operations without such a permit issued by SAHRA, it is clearly in contravention of an Act of the Republic of South Africa and therefore is guilty of an offence.[9][10][11][12]

Archaeological and geological investigations from the 1990s[edit]

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.[13][14][15][16] Further excavations have been carried out by archaeologists from the University of the Witwatersrand (inter alia for application of cosmogenic nuclide burial dating) and the University of Toronto. The current active programme of research has yielded an as yet unpublished basal date of some 2.3 million years, while excavations involving students from the Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley investigate the most recent circa 19th century contact period archaeology showing interaction between local communities and colonial diggers.

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.[17][18][19][20]

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[edit]

The Canteen Kopje Skull was found in the vicinity in 1925 and was described in Nature by Robert Broom in 1929.[21][22] It is currently subject to re-appraisal.[23]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Canteen Kopje - Cultural Heritage under Threat
  2. ^ Babe, J. 1872. The South African Diamond Fields. New York: David Wesley.
  3. ^ Johnson, J.P.; Young, R.B. (1906). "The relation of ancient deposits of the Vaal River to the palaeolithic period of South Africa". Transactions of the Geological Society of South Africa 9: 53–56. 
  4. ^ Péringuey, Louis (1911). "The stone ages of South Africa as represented in the collections of the South African Museum". Annals of the South African Museum 8: 1–218. 
  5. ^ Power, J.H. (1949). "The contribution of the northern Cape to the study of prehistoric man". South African Journal of Science 46: 107–116. 
  6. ^ Söhnge, P.G.; Visser, D.J.L.; van Riet Lowe, C. (1937). "The geology and archaeology of the Vaal River basin". Geological Survey of South Africa Memoir 35: 1–134. 
  7. ^ Oberholster, J.J. 1972. The historical monuments of South Africa. Stellenbosch: The Rembrandt van Rijn Foundation for Culture for the National Monuments Council.
  8. ^ Turkington, T. (2000). "Realising a dream: Canteen Kopje and the new Barkly West Museum". The Digging Stick 17 (3): 1–3. 
  9. ^ Anetos, Pericles. "Diamond company mines illegally in heritage site rich in early stone age artefacts". Time Live. Retrieved 19 March 2016. 
  10. ^ Morris, Michael. "Outrage over mining at world heritage site". IOL. Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  11. ^ Kilian, Anine. "Local scientists dismayed at mining operations at heritage site.". Mining Weekly. Retrieved 18 March 2016. 
  12. ^ Leader, George M. "World Heritage Gone: South African Diamond Mining Destroys Archaeological Sites Daily". The Leakey Foundation. Retrieved 4 April 2016. 
  13. ^ Beaumont, P.B. 1990. Canteen Koppie (Klipdrift). In Beaumont, P. & Morris, D. (eds.) Guide to Archaeological sites in the Northern Cape. 14–16. McGregor Museum: Kimberley
  14. ^ Beaumont, P. & McNabb, J. (2000a.) Report for the National Monuments Council of South Africa on excavations by Peter Beaumont at Canteen Koppie, Barkly West, Northern Cape Province, South Africa. Unpublished report, with supplement by Peter Beaumont
  15. ^ Beaumont, P.; McNabb, J. (2000b). "Canteen Kopje: the recent excavations". The Digging Stick 17 (3): 3–6. 
  16. ^ McNabb, J. (2001) The shape of things to come: a speculative essay on the role of the Victoria West phenomenon at Canteen Koppie during the South African Earlier Stone Age. In Milligen, S. & Cook, J. (eds) "A very remote period indeed": papers on the Palaeolithic presented to Derek Roe. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
  17. ^ Helgren, D.M. (1979) River of diamonds: an alluvial history of the lower Vaal basin, South Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago. Department of Geography. Research Paper 185
  18. ^ De Wit, M.C.J., Ward, J.D. & Jacob, J.R. (1997) Diamond-bearing deposits of the Vaal-Orange River System. Field Excursion Guidebook 6th International Conference on Fluvial Sedimentology, University of Cape Town, September 1997 2, 1–61
  19. ^ De Wit, M.C.J. (2008). "Canteen Koppie at Barkly West: South Africa's first diamond mine". South African Journal of Geology 111: 53–66. doi:10.2113/gssajg.111.1.53. 
  20. ^ Canteen Koppie at Barkly West: South Africa’s first diamond mine
  21. ^ Broom, R. (1929). "Australoid elements in the Korannas". Nature 124 (3127): 507. Bibcode:1929Natur.124..507B. doi:10.1038/124507a0. 
  22. ^ Wells, L.H. (1948). "The Canteen Koppie skull". South African Science 1: 156–157. 
  23. ^ Smith, Patricia; Nshimirimana, Robert; de Beer, Frikkie; Morris, David; Jacobson, Leon; Chazan, Michael; Horwitz, Liora K. (Jan 2012). "Canteen Kopje: a new look at an old skull". South African Journal of Science 108 (1-2).