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Digging Up Kruger's History

Date: 2007-08-23

by Raymond Travers

Sore backs, dusty clothes, dirty hands and sweaty hats.These are just some of the results of an interesting project that has taken place in the Kruger National Park (KNP) over a two week period ending on Friday, August 17, 2007.

An archaeological team from an organisation called Archaetnos: Culture & Cultural Resource Consultants have been digging at one of the known sites occupied by the Steinacker’s Horse Regiment more than a century ago.

And apart from the results mentioned above, the team, ably lead by Dr Anton van Vollenhoven, has already found various interesting items, including pocket knives, bottles, signs of corrugated iron structures and other clues left behind by this illustrious and perhaps infamous military unit.

Included in this year’s dig was a previously discovered site which is suspected to be a blacksmith’s work area or something similar. Of particular interest are rectangular metal pegs on all four corners of the structure that look as if they held down some sort of fabric roof.

Steinacker’s Horse, which fought on the side of the British Army during the Boer War (1899 – 1902) has an interesting history and will forever be linked to the KNP simply because many of its soldiers became the backbone of the fledgling park’s ranger corps.

Legendary rangers like Harry Wolhuter served in this British Army unit, which was ordered to stop the Boers under President Paul Kruger from making contact with the sympathetic Portuguese Colony of Mozambique and receiving supplies through the only port in the area – Algoa Bay (now Maputo).

The unit was permanently based at Komatipoort but had small units stationed throughout the entire area of what is now South Africa’s largest national park.

Previous archaeological digs have found all manner of implements, tools and other traces of not only the unit’s existence but also the extent of the patrols conducted during that time. The most northerly outpost of the unit was situated near Letaba Rest Camp and this site was the first to be dug by Dr van Vollenhoven and his team during the early days of the project.

Visitors to the northern region of the KNP, particularly Letaba, Olifants and Mopani rest camps, can see many of the items first discovered at a display in the Information Centre at Makhadzi Picnic Site on the road to Giriyondo Tourist Access Facility.

But how did Dr van Vollenhoven find the site? It is on the opposite bank of the Sabie River from Skukuza Rest Camp and few, if any, KNP staff members regularly go to that area during normal operations.

“Dr Tol Pienaar’s book Neem Uit Die Verlede and other literature gave us certain indications that we would be able to find artefacts but, to be thorough, we even approached the British Army for the unit’s records so we were pretty sure that this particular site would yield results,” commented Dr van Vollenhoven earlier this week.

In fact, very few of the books written about Kruger and its historical significance will not mention this regiment somewhere in the text, and it is these references in literature, which provided Dr van Vollenhoven with clues.

These sites have been carefully plotted and, thanks to GPS technology, the exact locations have been noted for future reference.

Although the dig at this particular site has come to the end of its original three year time span, Dr van Vollenhoven believes that there is plenty of scope remaining that can easily accommodate another few years.

“We are now packing up, dusting off our clothes, straightening our backs and heading back to Pretoria, but we will be back soon,” says Dr van Vollenhoven as he waves goodbye.

According to a media release issued by Archaetnos, “The Steinaecker’s Horse project was launched in 1997. The current phase will last until 2009 and has been approved by South African National Parks (SANParks).” More information can be found on the Archaetnos Website.