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Digging up Kruger's Past

Date: 2006-08-11

An archaeological excursion will be conducted at the second headquarters of Steinaecker’s Horse Unit in the Kruger National Park from August 6 – 19, 2006.  The project is lead by the well-known historical archaeologist, Dr Anton van Vollenhoven, a director of the research department of Archaetnos Archaeologists.

Steinaecker’s Horse was a military unit that fought during the Anglo-Boer-War (1899 – 1902) on behalf of the British forces. The unit consisted of local inhabitants from the Lowveld region, including the indigenous peoples, as soldiers, cleaners and chefs. The unit’s most important task was to ensure that the Boers did not make contact with loyal Portuguese supporters in Mozambique, in order to arrange for food and war supplies.

This project is important because very little research has been done about the Anglo-Boer-War, from an archaeological perspective. It also creates the opportunity to do research on the involvement of indigenous people during the war, an area that has not received much attention from researchers so far.

The terrain at Skukuza is unique in the sense that it has been used by more than just Steinaecker’s unit. The railway lines were laid up to the Sabi River before the war and, shortly after the war; the railway bridge across the Sabi River was completed. Major James Stevenson-Hamilton, the first warden of the Sabie Game Reserve (which later became the Kruger National Park), also used the blockhouse, built by Steinaecker’s Horse Unit, as his first offices.

This site challenges archaeologists to differentiate between the different cultural layers found in excavations and to establish the impact on the specific area and the environment at large. Artefacts found during the 2005 excavations are already supplying valuable information regarding the life style of the unit and other groups and are also contributing towards the writing of a comprehensive book concerning the history of the terrain and the Steinaecker’s Horse Unit. Almost 4 000 artefacts were recovered and studied (only about 20% of what were found during the first excavation).

Artefacts found include pieces of glass from different kinds of bottles (liquor, mineral water & others), ceramics (domestic & kitchenware), metal objects like uniform buttons, clothing buckle’s, pieces of tins, nails, and lots more… Interesting findings include pieces of wallets and other money containers, which contained the soldier’s monthly wages, decorated porcelain of Dutch origin (Holland - Maastricht) and pieces of bone handles from toothbrushes. Other items found were pieces of kaolin pipes (for smoking), and hardened pieces of blue ink. Pieces of inkpots were also found.

The unit also contributed to the founding of the Kruger National Park. Rules implemented by them to conserve the game in the area, were also used as guide lines when the Park was founded. Quite a few Steinaecker’s Horse soldiers became some of the first game rangers of the new Kruger Park, e.g. Harry Wolhuter.

The Steinaecker’s Horse project was launched in 1997. The current phase will last until 2009 and has been approved by the South African National Parks (SANParks). The first phase concentrated on the most Northern outpost of the military unit, close to Letaba. The focus is now on the headquarters of the unit, close to Skukuza.

Please contact dr. Anton van Vollenhoven, regarding the research at 083 291 6104 or