Border Cave

Tracing your Ancestry

Only half an hour drive from Tembe lies Border Cave - home to some of the earliest traces of our oldest ancestors. Remains dating back more than 150 000 years are believed to be the oldest known evidence of Homo sapiens sapiens - anatomically modern humans.

This enormous shelter, situated high in the Lebombo Mountains that form South Africa’s western boundary with Swaziland, was first excavated in 1934. However, the true significance of its archaeological treasure-house has only recently been realised.

In 1940, a local resident believed that the sandy residue on the cave floor was Guano (bat droppings) and would therefore be useful to use as fertiliser. He dug a hole in which he found a number of human cranial and limb bone fragments. These were then sent to Professor Raymond Dart, the renowned Wits University palaeontologist, who realised their antiquity. Subsequent excavations have yielded incredibly rich material.

The latest investigation was led by South African archaeologist Peter Beaumont, and produced the largely complete skeleton of a four to six-month old infant buried in a shallow.

Our Formative Years

The remains of at least five Homo sapiens sapiens individuals have also been discovered. Their dating and study has led researchers, including Beaumont, to conclude that the formative processes in the physical and cultural evolution of modern humans took place on the game-rich savannahs of sub-equatorial Africa. Border Cave has now yielded more than 69 000 Stone Age implements, as well as the remains of at least 43 mammal species, including elephant and three others that are now extinct.

Additionally, all evidence suggests that modern humans developed in Southern Africa. Their descendants then migrated northwards into Europe and Asia, displacing the European Neanderthal.