Diamond company mines illegally in heritage site rich in early stone age artefacts

19 March 2016 - 10:49 By Pericles Anetos

A heritage site in the Northern Cape‚ where there’s evidence it was inhabited more than two million years ago by humanity’s earliest ancestors‚ is about to be destroyed by mining operations‚ which started this month. Mining is taking place right inside the Canteen Kopje heritage site‚ near Barkly West‚ said Professor David Morris‚ head of archaeology at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley.Canteen Kopje has long been regarded as one of the richest archaeological sites for the Earlier Stone Age in Southern Africa and also includes evidence that the area was inhabited by more recently by Tswana/!Kora ancestors.The area is very rich not only in prehistory but also in the history of early diamond miners. It was declared and gazetted as a protected National Monument in 1948.But on March 16‚ a diamond mining operation started on the site without a permit from the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA)‚ which makes it a direct contravention of the National Heritage Resources Act. This was confirmed by Kathleen Kuman‚ professor emeritus at Wits University’s archaeological department.Morris said letters have been sent over the years to the Department of Mineral Recourses communicating that the land is a heritage site. Letters were also sent to the Department of Arts and Culture‚ under which SAHRA falls.Researchers from University of the Witwatersrand’s archaeological department are mounting efforts with the McGregor Museum‚ Sol Plaatje University‚ the University of Toronto‚ and the University of Pennsylvania to try to save this valuable research and tourism site.Kuman said the earliest human fossils in Africa date back to 2.8 million years. Their team’s discovery at the Canteen Kopje archaeological site may date back to about 2.3 million years‚ an age estimate they are currently working to confirm. This puts the importance of Canteen Kopje on the same level as the Cradle of Humankind sites‚ where early stone tools have been found with fossils dating back to about two million years.The researcher said this is a unique site and has a number of layers depicting different periods in the prehistory of our ancestors‚ stretching from the Earlier Stone Age to the period of modern human development. Kuman said it is a site with the longest such sequence in Southern Africa.“It is also the longest archaeological sequence from a single site in the country‚ and it is comparable in its earliest phases to sites in the Cradle of Humankind which have stone tools and fossils from the two to one million year period‚” Kuman said.The researchers have not been able to discover the name of the mining company.It has erected a fence around the property‚ effectively blocking the Wits and Toronto universities’ excavation teams’ access to the site.The public has also been fenced out from the section developed for tourism.Kuman said the mining of Canteen Kopje will result in the irreversible destruction of an invaluable cultural and scientific resource and will rob future generations of their legacy.She warned that mining a declared heritage site also sets a precedent that imperils all South African archaeological sites.

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