The West Coast has no shortage of natural wonders, old tales, and unique sites. And Yzerfontein is no exception. You might have glimpsed some of this history yourself. Maybe you have spotted the remains of the of the old whale hunting ship marooned on the rocks of Dassen Island or caught some flamingos wondering across the former salt pans. But did you know that Yzerfontein is the home to a far older and more historic site?
If you find yourself driving down to the Yzerfontein harbour, just before the entrance to your left you will find a stone formation that was once used as a rock shelter by hunter-gatherers around 116 000 years ago! In the 1980’s road construction in this area exposed stratified sands, ancient shells, bones, and stone artefacts. According to Drs. Elizabeth Niespolo, Assistant Professor of Geosciences at Princeton University, it is the oldest known well-dated true shell midden. These stone walls were built by archaeologists in the early 2000’s to keep the remains safe and protect them from further erosion.
This ancient overhang shelter formed when the softer sandy layer eroded away from under the hard cemented capping but was later filled in by a storm surge many years ago. While we don’t know what the people who inhabited this overhang looked like, we do know that the findings are dated at around the Middle Stone Age. This period is defined by “modern” human behaviours and cultural evolution. This includes artistic and symbolic expression, advancements in toolmaking and effective hunting of large mammals.
This site has been recently remediated thanks to the facilitation of Yzerfontein Tourism and funding of Prof Richard Klein of the Department of Anthropology, Stanford University, California. This is all very exciting for both visitors and locals of Yzerfontein alike. Not only are there plans to have the site proclaimed a provincial heritage site, but there are even talks of having the occurrence included in the Cradle of Human Culture Heritage Tourism Project. !Kwha ttu, a local San culture & education centre, has even kindly offered an exhibition space.
So next time you find yourself in Yzerfontein, make sure you swing by our very own ancient archaeological site. This is just one of our town’s many hidden sites and interesting tales!