Visit to uMhwabane (eBusingatha) rock shelter, Ukahlamba-Drakensberg, KZN

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Recently, staff and volunteers of the Human Sciences Department and Exhibitions Department of the KwaZulu-Natal Museum had the opportunity to visit the rock art site eBusingatha, or uMhwabane as it is known locally. The site is situated in the AmaZizi Traditional Authority area, adjacent to the Royal Natal National Park. Many rock art panels were removed due to concern over vandalism. They were taken to the Natal National Park Hotel where they were viewed by the British royal family during their 1947 visit. The rocks are now in the care of the KwaZulu-Natal Museum with one, portraying the well-known ‘elephant-man’, on display in the Hunter-Gatherer Gallery.

Only one large painted panel remains in its place at the site. Beautiful shaded polychrome eland, human figures, and the remains of a huge snake can still be seen (see image above). Unfortunately, the rock surface is exfoliating and slowly the images are being lost. Every time we visit we see more has flaked away. Below are two copies of this panel made in 1929 showing how the rock art has degraded over the last 90+ years.

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This copy shows the snake and surrounding figures, many of which can still be matched up to what survives at the site. Use this image to spot the snake in the photograph above! Courtesy of the Frobenius Institute (Search for “FBA-D2 01574” (include the quote marks in your search)).

 

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This copy, over 3m long, shows a detailed row of figures that used to adorn the stretch of rock below the snake. The white oval shows what is virtually the last fragment of this imagery (match to the white oval in the photograph). Courtesy of SARADA.

 

The site is open to the public. Those interested in visiting can contact Bawinile Mtolo of the Mdlankhomo Rock Art Monitoring Group on 074 724 7826.

 

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KWAZULU-NATAL MUSEUM PUBLISHES NEW BOOK

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The KwaZulu-Natal Museum is pleased to announce the publication Chronicles of the Seekoei River Bushmen and their Neighbours, Volume 1 by Garth Sampson and Dennis Neville. The book is a companion volume to 2018’s The World of the Seekoei River Bushmen, also published by the KwaZulu-Natal Museum. In Chronicles 1, the authors collate the extensive historical material for the Seacow River area. Lavishly illustrated, with detailed maps, this book represents a small part of a lifetime’s work. Garth Sampson’s interest for the Seekoei River Valley’s archaeology, history, and environment is almost unbounded in its intellectual passion. In this account, the authors leave no stone unturned.

Most South Africans have never heard of the Seekoei (Seacow River), which has its origins in the Sneeuwberg (Snow Mountains) and flows northwards into the Orange River and that is a pity; this seemingly remote and minor river was, for a time, at the heart of Bushmen resistance against colonialism. This volume covers the time-period 1770 to 1830, with a second volume in preparation to cover the period after 1830. These volumes form part of the Occasional Publication series published by the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, edited by Dr Gavin Whitelaw of the Department of Human Sciences. Volumes on other archaeological topics are currently in preparation. The volume is for sale directly from the KwaZulu-Natal Museum currently for a special introductory price of R510, excluding the cost of postage.

If you would like to purchase Chronicles Volume 1 as well as 2018’s The World of the Seekoei River Bushmen, they are available as a set for a short period at the special price of R750, excluding the cost of postage.

If you would like to order a copy, please complete the order form here and email it through to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Rediscovery of a small rock art museum at the Royal Natal National Park

KwaZulu-Natal Museum staff recently visited uMhwabane rock shelter in the AmaZizi Traditional Authority, which is well-known as a site that has suffered large-scale rock art removals.

As part of the same visit, we went to explore the ruins of the old hotel in the adjacent Royal Natal National Park. When the rock art panels were removed from uMhwabane rock shelter, they were put on display at the hotel, where they were viewed by the British royal family during their tour of South Africa in 1947. We wanted to see if we could find the small museum where the rock art had been exhibited all those years ago.

The only information we had to go on was a plan drawn by the provincial architect Noel Jackson, who was tasked with getting the hotel ready for the royal visit. The plan showed a simple double-storey shed that was supposed to serve primarily as a bowling pavilion.

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This drawing is filed in the Archaeological Survey archive, South African National Archives, Pretoria (photograph by Justine Wintjes 2010). It shows the special display cases built for the rock art (lower left).

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This photograph by Alex Willcox (courtesy of SARADA) shows the rock panel with the famous ‘elephant-man’ on display at the Royal Natal National Park Hotel around 1950. Today this rock is on display in the Hunter-Gatherer Gallery in the KwaZulu-Natal Museum.

The hotel closed in 2000 and is now in a derelict state full of overgrown vegetation. One of us had tried to find the pavilion several times before, but had not succeeded. This time with so many colleagues to help look around we found it! It had been modified from the original design but it is unmistakably the same building.

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Marks from the display cases are still visible on the walls. It is amazing to think that the rocks from uMhwabane rock shelter now in the collections of the KwaZulu-Natal Museum lived in this building for almost two decades!

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Photographs by Justine Wintjes (2021).

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Having an accurate picture of species diversity in a given habitat is critical for understanding and ultimately protecting our environment. However, the sheer volume of species means that simply counting them is not practical. Researchers instead rely on counting a subset of the population, which can predict species diversity and community composition. One commonly used method for terrestrial surveys is the use of a quadrat. This method requires researchers to define a much smaller area (quadrat) and identify the species found in that area. This is repeated either randomly or along a predefined line (transect). Collation of the quadrat data combined with statistical analysis provides an accurate picture of the community composition and species diversity without sampling the entire community. The application of this method to terrestrial habitats has now become straightforward. You take your quadrat, pencil, and clipboard, possibly a transect line, and survey the area accordingly.

But what about the less accessible ocean habitats? How are they classified? Until recently, surveying habitats deeper than 30 m was based either on extractive methods such as dredging (which are destructive) or predictions based on environmental variables and known species distributions. However, advances in technology now allow us to survey ocean habitats much more efficiently. One such technology called a jump camera places an underwater camera a set distance from the seafloor and takes photos of the habitat. These photos are called photoquadrats, and just like terrestrial quadrats, species and other habitat information captured in these photoquadrats can then be extracted and used to classify the habitat without any destruction. While photoquadrats go a long way to solving the ocean sampling problem, identifying species from photos is still tricky. Often, identifying smaller animals to species level requires access to the actual specimen.

Researchers at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum using the research platform RV Phakisa (South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity) are now comparing information obtained from photoquadrats to information gathered by dredging methods. This will allow us to determine what information can be reliably obtained from non-destructive photoquadrat methods. In doing so, we hope that we will be able to predict more accurately the types of species found in soft sediment habitats without the risk of damaging them further.

 

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Figure 1. A dredge (left) and the dredgings (right) used to collect specimens from the ocean floor.

 

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Figure 2. A jump camera system (left) and a photoquadrat (right) taken from soft sediment habitats in the Durban Bay area.

 

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Opening Times

Monday to Friday - 9:00 to 15:30 
Saturdays - Closed 
Sundays - Closed

ENTRANCE CHARGES

Adults (over 17 years) : R10.00

Children (4-17 years) : R 2.50 

School Learners on tour : R 1.50 per child

Pensioners & toddlers : FREE