Archaeologist Dr Anton van Vollenhoven will be leading a team in search of the Kruger National Park’s (KNP) cultural treasures at Ngotsomouth, close to the Balule rest camp in his quest to unravel the doings of Steinaecker’s Horse unit at the turn of the 19th century.
The Steinaecker’s Horse project is now in its eleventh year and is undertaken by the research department of Archaetnos Archaeologists. Various students from different universities partake in the excavations every year. This next phase, starting on August 3, 2008, will last until 2009 and has been approved by SANParks. The first phase concentrated on the most northern outpost of the military unit, close to Letaba. After that the post at Sabi Bridge (Skukuza) was excavated. The focus is now on the outpost at Ngotsomouth, situated at the confluence between the Ngotso and Olifants Rivers.
Steinaecker’s Horse was a military unit which fought on the side of the British during the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902). The unit consisted of local inhabitants from the Lowveld region, including the indigenous people who worked as soldiers, servants and chefs. The unit’s most important task was to ensure that the Boers did not make contact with Portuguese supporters in Mozambique, in order to arrange for food and war supplies.
Very little research, from an archaeological perspective, has been done about the Anglo-Boer War. This project creates the opportunity to do research on the involvement of the indigenous people during the war, an area that did not previously receive much attention from researchers.
The terrain at Ngotsomouth was a very small outpost and therefore may differ considerably from the other two excavated already. It would be interesting to see the amount of cultural material left at such a site in relation to the larger ones. “The other point of interest would be to see whether the archaeological material differs from those at the other sites and to try to determine what this could mean,” says Dr van Vollenhoven.
The site is only mentioned in one historical document, a book written by game ranger Harry Wolhuter who was a member of Steinaecker’s Horse during the war. “We hope to determine aspects such as the lifestyle of the unit and get an indication of what they did to keep them busy apart from the regular war activities.”
This year’s excavations will focus on the possible remains of buildings on the site as well as on the refuse middens which usually contain most of the archaeological material. “It is aimed at determining what the functions of these were in order to get an idea of the way of life and daily activities members of the unit were involved in. These will then be compared with the information from the other sites so that the history of this unit may eventually be completed.”
The unit also contributed to the founding of the Kruger. Rules implemented by them to conserve the game in the area were used as guide lines when the park was founded. Quite a few Steinaecker’s Horse soldiers became some of the first game rangers of the new KNP, of which one of the most famous was Harry Wolhuter. “With other commitments and projects, the KNP cannot fund this project and Archaetnos is looking for possible sponsors to assist in funding this project.”