Klasies River Caves

The Klasies River Caves are a complex of five caves located to the east of the Klasies River mouth in Eastern Cape Province, on the Tsitsikama coast of South Africa. The caves show evidence of occupation by anatomically modern humans dating from 125,000 years ago. They share a common stratigraphic sequence up to 16m deep which reveals further occupations around 110,000 years ago; 90,000 years ago and 60,000 years ago. These dates have been obtained by Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) and luminescence dating methods.

The caves have been excavated since the 1960s. They form an important source of information about the African Middle Stone Age (MSA) (250,000-40,000 years ago). Quantities of hearth ash, shell, animal bones and human remains have been recovered in association with MSA industries. From the base upwards, these have been associated with sub-phases MSA I, MSA II, Howison’s Poort and MSA III.

The Howieson’s Poort lithics were apparently used as hafted elements in a composite toolkit. They were made from non-local raw materials either obtained by people ranging far afield or long-distance trade. All of these things are suggestive of modern human behaviour, once believed to have only emerged much later.

The animal assemblages include small terrestrial vertebrates, larger herbivores, fish and shellfish. The latter are present in deep accumulations, suggesting extensive exploitation. Some of the human remains show cutmarks suggestive of cannibalism.

In 1998, the South African Provincial Heritage Committee proposed the caves as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The caves were inscribed on the Heritage List in December 1999.


Conroy G (1997): “Reconstructing Human Origins: A Modern Synthesis”, W.W. Norton & Co. Inc, New York, NY & London.

Scarre C (2005) (Ed): “The human past”, Thames & Hudson.

© Christopher Seddon 2009


Author: prehistorian

Prehistorian & author