The Matatiele Archaeology and Rock Art (MARA) Program Excavations: The Archaeology of Mafusing 1 Rock Shelter, Eastern Cape, South Africa

in Journal of African Archaeology
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The rock shelter Mafusing 1 was excavated in 2011 as part of the Matatiele Archaeology and Rock Art or MARA research programme initiated in the same year. This programme endeavours to redress the much-neglected history of this region of South Africa, which until 1994 formed part of the wider ‘Transkei’ apartheid homeland. Derricourt’s 1977 Prehistoric Man in the Ciskei and Transkei constituted the last archaeological survey in this area. However, the coverage for the Matatiele region was limited, and relied largely on van Riet Lowe’s site list of the 1930s. Thus far, the MARA programme has documented more than 200 rock art sites in systematic survey and has excavated two shelters – Mafusing 1 (MAF 1) and Gladstone 1 (forthcoming). Here we present analyses of the excavated material from the MAF 1 site, which illustrates the archaeological component of the wider historical and heritage-related programme focus. Our main findings at MAF 1 to date include a continuous, well stratified cultural sequence dating from the middle Holocene up to 2400 cal. BP. Ages obtained from these deposits are suggestive of hunter-gatherer occupation pulses at MAF 1, with possible abandonment of the site over the course of two millennia in the middle Holocene. After a major roof collapse altered the morphology of the shelter, there was a significant change in the character of occupation at MAF 1, reflected in both the artefact assemblage composition and the construction of a rectilinear structure within the shelter sometime after 2400 cal. BP. The presence of a lithic artefact assemblage from this latter phase of occupation at MAF 1 confirms the continued use of the site by hunter-gatherers, while the presence of pottery and in particular the construction of a putative rectilinear dwelling and associated animal enclosure points to occupation of the shelter by agropastoralists. Rock art evidence shows distinct phases, the latter of which may point to religious practices involving rain-serpents and rainmaking possibly performed, in part, for an African farmer audience. This brings into focus a central aim of the MARA programme: to research the archaeology of contact between hunter-gatherer and agropastoralist groups.

The Matatiele Archaeology and Rock Art (MARA) Program Excavations: The Archaeology of Mafusing 1 Rock Shelter, Eastern Cape, South Africa

in Journal of African Archaeology



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  • View in gallery
    Site location. The dark box represents the MARA research area, Mafusing 1 is indicated by the white dot. Other abbreviations indicate prominent sites in the sub-region, most of which are mentioned in the text: BON Bonawe; BEL Belleview; COL Collingham; CWN Colwinton; DIA Diamond 1; GDH Good Hope; GLA Gladstone; GRS Grassridge; HM Ha Makotoko; LEH Leliehoek; LIP Liphofung; LIK Likoaeng; MLK Melikane; NT Ntloana Tsoana; RCC Rose Cottage Cave; SEH Sehonghong; STA Strathalan; TL Tloutle; WL Woodlot.
  • View in gallery
    View from MAF 1. A) facing West, the white dot indicates the position of the shelter. B) Facing Northwest, the W and E indicate the western- and easternmost ends of the shelter. Photographs by Kevin Crause for MARA programme.
  • View in gallery
    Plan of MAF 1 shelter showing built structures and location of excavation trenches.
  • View in gallery
    The interior of MAF 1 rock shelter looking west to east, before excavation began. The missing portion of the overhang that detached as Boulder 1 can be clearly seen, as can the structure SU03 in the foreground and centre with its layout following the extant rectilinear dripline.
  • View in gallery
    Rock art in MAF 1 shelter depicting classic San subjects of the fine line ‘traditional corpus’: eland, and human figures in procession carrying bags and wearing long karosses (cloaks). Inset showing white marks caused by chipping. Main image enhanced by Kevin Crause for MARA programme.
  • View in gallery
    Human figure with bow, arrows protruding from behind shoulder, in striding/running posture. To its right appears a red serpent’s head with white muzzle and tusks; mouth and tongue in dark red. The human figure has been scratched to remove paint for traditional medicine, revealing the white of the freshly exposed sandstone. Numerous red figures in this panel are similarly scratched or pecked. Image enhanced by Kevin Crause for MARA programme.
  • View in gallery
    List of Stratigraphic Units and respective phases
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    North section of Square 99/99.
  • View in gallery
    West section of Squares 99/98, 99/99 and 99/100.
  • View in gallery
    West section of Squares 106/92 and 106/93.
  • View in gallery
    Stratigraphic matrix diagram showing relationships between excavated Stratigraphic Units.
  • View in gallery
    Radiocarbon dates from squares 99/98 and 99/99; calibrated using OxCal 4.2 Bronk Ramsey (2009) with the SHCal13 Calibration Curve (Hogg et al 2013). Calibrated dates presented at 2-sigma (95.4%) confidence level. (* - charcoal from sample 1310 is intrusive in stratigraphic sequence)
  • View in gallery
    Radiocarbon dates from square 106/92 calibrated using OxCal 4.2 Bronk Ramsey (2009) with the SHCal13 Calibration Curve (Hogg et al. 2013). Calibrated dates presented at 2-sigma (95.4%) confidence level
  • View in gallery
    Classificatory information for the assemblage
  • View in gallery
    Six small scrapers in cryptocrystalline silicate (CCS) and one large scraper in finegrained quartz-rich material. Image by Iris Guillemard and David Witelson.
  • View in gallery
    Number of retouched pieces per stratigraphic unit excluding interfaces and animal burrows.
  • View in gallery
    Faunal remains from the assemblage represented by NISP and MNI. Common names for each species have been provided where possible


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