UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND, JOHANNESBURG

Post Office honours Blombos artefacts

6 February 2014

Blombos stampThe South African Post Office has included artefacts from the Blombos Cave in its new stamp collection under the theme: Symbols of South African Cultures.

The Blombos Cave, near Still Bay in the Western Cape, was discovered in 1991 by Christopher Henshilwood, Professor in African Prehistory at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University and the AHKR Institute at the University of Bergen, Norway.

It is an archaeological site made famous by the discovery there of two pieces of ochre engraved with abstract designs, 75 000-year-old beads made from Nassarius shells, and 80 000-year-old bone tools. The engraved pieces of ochre are regarded as the oldest known artwork.

Announcing the new collection in a statement, the Post Office stated South Africa has a rich and diverse cultural history that goes back thousands of years. “Throughout the years, the different cultural groups have communicated their traditions, beliefs and social customs in a variety of forms such as religious objects, utensils, artefacts, clothing and accessories. Many of these have remained intact to tell their stories to this day,” the statement reads.

The set of 10 stamps features some of these fascinating historical symbols, and includes:

Blombos stampThe Blombos ochre (Earliest symbolic design in South Africa, Henshilwood, Witwatersrand and Bergen Universities): Unearthed by Henshilwood in 2000, this cross-hatched engraving represents evidence of the earliest symbolic behaviour of human beings.

Blombos Nassarius kraussianus shell beads (Oldest symbolic ornaments in South Africa, Henshilwood, Witwatersrand and Bergen Universities): These intentionally bored estuarine shell beads are 75 000 years old and represent the earliest and oldest evidence yet to be found for ornamentation in southern Africa. Worn around the human body, they communicated a message about the wearer to viewers – perhaps about age or status.

“I am delighted that they think that the Blombos artefacts are important enough to rank among the culture symbols of South Africa and that the Post Office made two special stamps that feature these artefacts. It is a great honour for our research team and for Wits and Bergen,” says Henshilwood. Read more about the collection.

Stamp collection