A comparison of hunter-gatherer material culture from Matjes River Rock Shelter and Nelson Bay Cave

Master Thesis

2005

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University of Cape Town

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This thesis investigates whether or not there is a material cultural expression of the economic (and by inference, social) difference seen in the stable isotope values of human skeletons from Robberg/Plettenberg Bay and Matjes River Rock Shelter between 4500 and 2000 B.P. After 2000 B.P. the introduction of pastoral subsistence in the area changed existing modes of production in such a way as to alter Ձ15N values. The two major excavated archaeological sites in this region are Nelson Bay Cave and Matjes River Rock Shelter, which lie only 15 kilometres apart. For this thesis, previously published descriptions of the artefact assemblages from these two sites were studied, and selected categories of artefacts were re-examined. More original work was necessary on the Matjes River collection, due to the poor quality of previous reports. The thesis focuses on the Wilton and pre-ceramic post-Wilton. In general, the same types of artefacts were found at both sites, but a number of types that were common in Layer C (i.e. in the Wilton) at Matjes River were not a feature of the Wilton levels at Nelson Bay Cave, although they became common in the post-Wilton. Backed scrapers were much more common in the Wilton levels of Matjes River than in any levels at Nelson Bay Cave, and chalcedony was more strongly favoured. Stone sinkers and perforated turtle carapace were present at Nelson Bay but were very rare at Matjes River. Several of the differences noted are not readily explained in terms of different functions or activities at the two sites. The contrast in the proportions of backed scrapers is best understood in terms of different traditions of artefact manufacture. Similarly, differences between the two sites in highly visible decorative items such as shell pendants are likely related to the negotiation of group or personal identity. These differences are consistent with a territorial separation between the groups that occupied the two sites, as postulated on the basis of the isotopic evidence.
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 107-113).

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