Excavation project at Bushman Rock Shelter in Limpopo [fr]
The Bushman Rock Shelter (BRS) site is located in the district of Ohrigstad, Limpopo, South Africa, in the North of the Drakensberg range. Excavated in the 70’s by the team of Hannes Eloff from University of Pretoria, BRS revealed archaeological strata dating from Middle and Later Stone Age. The mineral and organic remains, perfectly preserved over 7 meters deep, are key indicators for tracking the changes in the hunter-gatherers populations spanning the last 200,000 years. This is precisely during this period that the first societies of anatomically modern humans appeared and transformed on African continent.
To gain a better understanding of these population changes mechanisms, the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the French Institute in South Africa (IFAS) engaged in a new project to reinvestigate the site of BRS, with the aim of clarifying the stratigraphy and getting new archaeological samples. The project is funded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAEDI) and supported by the University of Witwatersrand and the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA).
In April 2015, during 4 weeks, more than 30 international experts and students gathered in the BRS site to proceed to the first excavation. This first campaign was the first step towards the implementation of a school project, with the participation of 10 students from the University of Witwatersrand, managed by Professors Christine Sievers and Dominic stratford.
The scientific project, led by Guillaume Porraz (CNRS and IFAS Recherche) in close collaboration with Dr. Aurore Val (post-doc at the Evolutionary Studies Institute), is part of a long-term strategy of collaborative research and joint publications. The discovery of new finery pearls, currently under study by Dr. Laure Dayet (post-doc at IFAS), will be the landmark publication of the BRS project.
The French South-African cooperation in archaeology
Archaeology and paleontology are cornerstones scientific areas in South Africa, relying on the excellence of the South African research teams and the richness of excavation sites. The French contribution in this domain is particularly vibrant, as illustrated by the activity of the French the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs Commission on Archaeological Excavation, that funds research on South African sites since 1998 (Diepkloof project), as well as the dynamism of the ongoing cooperation projects:
In 2001, a research group entitled HOPE (Human Origins and Past Environments) was created at the D.N.M.N.H. (Ditsong National Museum of Natural History, ex-Transvaal Museum). Its aim is to gather all the research activities in paleoanthropology in the “Cradle of Humankind », and led in the framework of the French South African cooperation. In 2007, the scientists D. Gommery and S. Potze created the HOPE Research Unit (HRU), a permanent structure hosted by the D.N.M.N.H and offering various facilities (offices, storage rooms, preparation laboratories). The HRU allows French and South African researchers to work jointly on their field discovers - mainly done at Bolt’s Farm.
Archaeological project of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development (MAEDI) at Kromdraai, a fossil-bearing breccia filled cave located about 2 km east of the well-known South African hominid-bearing site of Sterkfontein. Led by José Braga, Professor at the Université Toulouse 3, the Kromdraai research team has played a pioneering role in the use of innovative technologies (drones, lasers, imagery techniques) for archeological digs. From 2014 onwards, the Erasmus Mundus partnership AESOP, carried by José Braga, strongly contributes to strengthen the training of young archeologists at master and doctoral level.
- The Bushman Rock Shelter project (cf article above)
The great number of events on archeology also demonstrates the strong French South African cooperation in this field: “Afrique du Sud, l’autre pays de la préhistoire” exhibition at the Museum of Natural History in Toulouse in October 2013; 14th Congress of the Pan-African Archaeological Association in Johannesburg in July 2014, symposium “South Africa: Cradle of Humankind” in Paris on 7 February 2015.
In 2015, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the signing of the French South African cooperation agreement in paleontology, a series of events (round tables, scholars, exhibitions) will be organized in Johannesburg (dates and programme to be announced soon).