Robberg – a window to the past

Robberg – a window to the past

67 robberg

Southern Africa contains a wealth of archaeological sites, ranging from some of the earliest evidence of human origins to more recent occupation; thousands of sites that record the way of life and history of humans for nearly 2 million years. South Africa has a long history of coastal occupation by humans dating back to the Late Pleistocene (beginning 126 000 years ago) and Holocene (beginning 11 700 years ago), with more recent finds dating back to the Middle Pleistocene (beginning 781 000 years ago).

South Africa is a particularly good area to investigate the use of coastal resources, and how this has changed over time, and between sites. Here in Plettenberg Bay we have some incredible archaeological sites at Robberg Nature Reserve, which is also a national monument, and World Heritage Site. The earliest excavation records from a Robberg cave were from 1880 when items found in a cave on Robberg Peninsula were sent to the South African Museum by a Knysna resident. Unfortunately the caves were not preserved, and skeletons had been removed for sale to European collectors. In addition ‘cave guano’ was collected for fertilisation of fields.

As a result many caves had already been disturbed when formal investigation began, the first details of which were published in 1911. While none of the caves held any paintings on the walls, a number of painted flat burial stones were found, as well as human remains, shell middens, stone tools, and bone artefacts, among other items.

While most of the caves on Robberg Peninsula are closed to the public as they are valuable archaeological sites, the Nelson Bay Cave is open to the public where a site museum has been set up. Nelson Bay Cave has a history of Middle and Late Stone Age occupation which ranges as far back as 125 000 years ago, to only a few hundred years ago. If you haven’t taken a walk down to Nelson Bay Cave, or to Robberg Nature Reserve, both are well worth the visit!

Written by: Minke Witteveen

For further reading:

  • Deacon, J. and Brett, M. 1993. Peeling away the past: The display of excavations at Nelson Bay Cave. South African Archaeological Bulletin 48: 98-104.
  • Kyriacou, K. 2010. New excavations at Hoffman’s/Robberg cave. The Digging Stick 27: 1-4.
  • Rudner, J. and Rudner, I. 1973. A note on early excavations at Robberg. The South African Archaeological Bulletin 28: 94-96.
  • Sealy, J. 2006. Diet, mobility, and settlement pattern among Holocene hunter‐gatherers in southernmost Africa. Current Anthropology47: 569-595.

The South African Archaeological Society. 2016. Archaeology of southern Africa. Accessed: 2017-04-09. URL:

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