How early Africans in Kalahari Desert used ostrich eggshells to store water 105,000 years ago

Stephen Nartey October 24, 2022
Ostrich eggshells. Image via Wikimedia Commons/USAFE AFAFRICA

The Ga-Mohana Hill in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa in the present day is known as the spiritual site of the local communities living at the edge of the mountainous region. However, archaeological findings reveal it was the cradle of innovation of early men in South Africa when the Kalahari Desert experienced more rainfall and was home to a long stretch of vegetative cover.

Early men who lived at the edge of Ga-Mohana Hill used ostrich eggshells in preserving water that was harvested from the rains for later use. Scientific analysis of the age of 22 white calcite crystals and fragments of ostrich egg shells dug by researchers from the hill showed that they were 105,000 years old.

The possible reality inferred from the placement of the eggshells and crystals suggests that before local communities made the rock shelter a sacred site, the area had a spiritual significance to early men who resided there.

The researchers said the crystals and ostrich eggshell fragments they excavated compared to what local communities use in their religious rituals showed that the artifacts were much older than what was around. The researchers said their analysis also suggested that the early men were deliberate in their collection of the crystals and ostrich eggshells and possibly had strong spiritual relevance to their very existence.

Dr. Sechaba Maape, a researcher at the University of Witwatersrand, said the fragments found at the site give a sense they relate to cultural or spiritual practice by the early men. He said he does not find it surprising that the local communities continue to use the site for spiritual purposes in the present day.

He explained that the analysis by the OSL laboratory at the Department of Geology at the University of Innsbruck enabled the team to determine the age of the ostrich eggshells at the site. Head of the OSL Laboratory, Dr. Michael Meyer, said they relied on the natural light signals that build up over a period of time in sedimentary quartz to determine the age of such sedimentary fragments.

He explained that the technology breaks the particles into time frames synonymous with how clock functions which enables the researchers to determine the age of the layers. The researchers pointed out that the findings also give a sense of weather conditions prevailing in the region 100,000 years ago.

It is not surprising the name Kalahari comes from the Tswana word Kgala translated to mean great thirst. Though the region is a desert and experiences seasonal rainfall, the dug-out fragments point to evidence of the Ga-Mohana hill witnessing heavy rainfall patterns in ancient times. Director of the Human Evolution Research Institute (HERI) at the University of Cape Town, Dr. Robyn Pickering, said it was an indication that life thrived in the Kalahari desert where early men engaged in agriculture and sustained life.

Further analysis of the ostrich eggshells and crystal fragments corresponds with evidence of human existence between 110,000 and 100,000 years ago. The researchers say they are unable to delve deeper into the spiritual relevance of the site because of what the place means to local communities. Further excavation works would mean disturbing the very place the people hold dear.

The findings, according to the researchers, point to the fact that places which were deserted in modern times engaged with each other and were vibrant regions of trade and human activity. They indicated that these engagements possibly extended to those who lived in the coastal parts of South Africa and influenced what was produced in the Kalahari desert to other regions.

They indicated that the findings give a sense of a people who were well organized and preserved their cultural entitlements. The researchers are hopeful that the Ga-Mohana Hill will continue to provide them with insights into the behavior and cultural practices of early men who lived here.

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