Border Cave is a rock shelter on the western slope of the Lebombo Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal near the border of South Africa and Swaziland. The west-facing cave is located about 330 feet below the crest of Lebombo range and offers a wide and long-range view of the Swazi countryside below. It is a semi-circular cave with a long horizontal opening, measuring some 133 feet across. It was formed from the Jurassic lavas as a result of differential weathering.
Border Cave has a long stratigraphic record of occupation spanning more than 200,000 years. Modern Homo sapiens skeletons and stone tools have been recovered from the cave.
A 1940 expedition to the cave by W.E. Barton of Swaziland revealed a number of human bone fragments, which were later recognized as extremely old by Professor Raymond Dart, who had also visited the cave in 1934, but did not find any evidence on that mission.
In 1941 and 1942, a team sponsored by the University of the Witwatersrand carried out an extensive search. And later excavations in the 1970s by Peter Beaumont revealed even more yields. The site produced not only the complete skeleton of an infant, but also the remains of at least five adult hominids.
Searches of the cave have also yielded more than 69,000 artifacts, and the remains of 43 mammal species, three of which are now extinct.
One of the most notable finds was the “Lebombo Bone,” the oldest known mathematical artifact from the cave. Dating to 35,000 years, it is a small piece of baboon fibula incised with 29 notches, similar to the calendar sticks used by the San of Namibia.
Other animal remains from the cave show that its early inhabitants had a diet of bushpig, warthog, zebra and buffalo. Raw materials used in the making of artifacts include chert, rhyolite, quartz, and chalcedony, as well as bone, wood and ostrich egg shells.
Recent articles published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences also give reference to artifacts found in Border Cave. The articles also give an account of modern culture arriving much earlier than originally thought, based on the cave findings.
Image Caption: View over Swaziland from mouth of Border Cave. Credit: Androstachys/Wikipedia