Excavations begin on Rustenburg Burial Ground

17 November 2008

Ground work: Tim Hart, Kathryn Underwood and Dr Lita Webley, all of the Dept of Archaeology at UCT, and visiting conservator Nancy Child, keep an eye on excavations.

UCT has begun archaeological investigations in the area of the Rustenburg Burial Ground, adjacent to and beneath All Africa House, built in 1996 before the burial ground was identified.

UCT plans to expand its campus in this area to meet the demands of a growing student body. Archaeologists believe this was the burial ground that served the 17th-19th century community that worked and lived on Rustenburg Farm.

The archaeological investigations follow broad public consultation with the stakeholder group formed through a year-long public participation process. This process is required by the South African Heritage Resources Act.

The team is working to agreed terms of reference and in accordance with international best practice.

The work is being done by the Archaeology Contracts Office, by Tim Hart, Dave Halkett, Lita Webley, Kathryn Underwood, Mpakamo Sasa, and Tandazo Mjikeliso.

"Historical documents suggest that an area of, say 30m x 50m, was walled off some time in the late 19th century," Hart said. "However, the burial ground is older than that. One of the reasons we are excavating is that we need to find out if there are any graves outside the historically identified area.

Hart said the excavation was not intended to unearth human remains.

"We do need to find out if there are 'safe areas' where UCT can expand, and also establish if there are any graves outside the historically delineated area. If we happen to find anything that looks like human bone, work will stop and the find will be reported to UCT and the stakeholder group for further discussion."

Initially, the team will excavate three trenches, one of which will cut through the tennis court. These would be trial excavations.

"The biggest challenge is going to be to try to reconstruct all the soil-moving events that may have affected the study area in the past," Hart said. "We will be using a smallish mechanical excavator on the tennis court, and will also be digging by hand."

The team will not remove any human remains.

"We are trying to achieve a situation where the graves and their contents remain in the ground. Anything that happens will be referred to UCT and the stakeholder group."

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