Prehistoric Period

This period is commonly referred to as the Stone Age and can be divided into Earlier, Middle and Later Stone Age.

Early Stone Age tools found in the Soutpansberg region suggest that the area has been inhabited for at least the last 10 000 years. These tool assemblages consist of hand axes, choppers and cleavers and are characteristically robust. The distribution of these assemblages suggests that these people did not occupy rock shelters or caves but lived in the open. Generally these settlements were located in the close vicinity of water sources. Apart from easy access to water these locations also gave Early Stone Age people access to large river pebbles, which could be used in the manufacture of tools.

The Middle Stone Age ranged chronologically from about 100 00 to 40 000 years ago and saw the first so-called “anatomically modern humans” i.e. Homo sapiens sapiens. Middle Stone Age assemblages are made up from a wider variety of raw materials and consist of a greater number of tool types. These artifacts are smaller and more specialized than those of the Early Stone Age. The Middle Stone Age saw a gradual shift in living sites from the open veld to caves and rock shelters. The most important Middle Stone Age sites in the Limpopo Province can be found at Chuenespoort (near Polokwane) and the Limpopo River Valley especially at the Masakatini pans in the Madimbo corridor and the flood plains north of the Levhuvhu River in the Kruger National Park.

The Late Stone Age dates from 40 000 ago to present. Microlithic tools that could be hafted as arrowheads or mounted onto handles to be utilized as knives characterize tool assemblages from this era. Bone was also used in the manufacture of awls and arrowheads. Ostrich eggshell beads were manufactured and whole ostrich eggshells used as water containers. These people were the ancestors of the San (“Bushmen” hunter-gatherers) and the Khoikhoi (pastoralists). Most rock paintings and engravings are attributed to these people and this art formed an integral part of their lives. It seems as if paintings had sacromagical meaning and were not executed solely for aesthetic reasons. Certain paintings can be interpreted as descriptions of experiences during rainmaking or healing rituals. It is interesting to note that depictions of eland are almost completely absent in the Limpopo Province art. Elephants, giraffe and kudu play a significant role in this region.

The most important archeological sites dated to the Late Stone Age can be found at the Vhembe-Dongola National Park, Medike Mountain Reserve, Goro Nature Reserve, the salt pan in the Soutpansberg, the Lesheba Wilderness area, Leek, Aintree, Thombo-la-ndou and the Blouberg area.

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