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June 27, 2012

Mountain walks in Cape Town: Interesting discoveries

Rock art dating back to the Khoi-San people are just some of the hidden treasures found in Cape Town. Image courtesy .erin

One of the lesser-known facts about Cape Town is that it offers visitors, with a penchant for the past, an incredible opportunity to carry out a bit of amateur exploration into our history.

The rugged mountain range that cradles the Mother City stretches into the Cape Peninsula and, in addition to offering a peaceful sanctuary from city life amongst its flora and fauna, it also holds the lure of fossils and rock art left behind by the region’s early inhabitants.

While the thought of heading off into the mountains to seek out these treasures might sound a little Indiana Jones-ish, the truth is some of the earliest evidence of modern humans has been found in the vicinity of Cape Town.

For instance, a set of fossilised footprints made by a woman near the lagoon at Langebaan, just north of the city, dates back 117 000 years. Called ‘the footsteps of Eve’, they are now on display at the South African Museum in Cape Town, the oldest museum in Sub-Saharan Africa.

More realistically, though, visitors who take hiking tours in the Cape’s mountains are more likely to come across rock art left behind by the Khoi-San people, the most recent indigenous population group and the original mountain hikers.

The Western Cape is said to have over 80 rock art sites within a few hours drive of the city, but there are also a few a little closer. The rock art found in Echo Cave at Fish Hoek on the Cape Peninsula, for instance, has been dated 28 000 years old.

There are also numerous hiking companies that would be delighted to take you on guided tours along mountain trails to show you what they have to offer.

My own hiking expeditions have yielded more sore feet than archaeological finds, but it’s nice to add a sense of adventure to the whole undertaking, especially if it motivates you to appreciate the Cape’s natural environment.

But for those who want to take a more relaxed approach to archaeology, our city is also littered with fantastic museums that showcase what scientists have already unearthed locally about our ancestors.

The Iziko South African Museum also has some of the finest examples of rock art in the world, including the world famous Linton Panel.

The Urban Green Park in Green Point has also undertaken a project to erect and display original Khoi-San shelters, and these can be visited daily if you want to see how the Cape’s indigenous people housed themselves.

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