A tour guide has discovered what experts believe to be a series of Khoisan fish traps in Algoa Bay, the first find of this kind in an area stretching from Port Elizabeth to the Wild Coast.
The discovery is considered highly significant as the traps – believed to have been built between 2000 and 4500 years ago – provide conclusive proof that the Khoisan were a major presence in the Port Elizabeth area.
Until tour guide Alan Fogarty’s discovery, shell middens remained the only evidence that scattered Khoisan groups lived in Algoa Bay, but the structures have now confirmed that more stable communities lived there.
While fish traps – small “dams” chiselled from rocks and stone piles in order to channel fish into a specific area – have been found near Oyster Bay in the Eastern Cape, they have predominantly been found in the Western Cape – at Arniston, Still Bay and Cape Agulhas.
Fogarty, of Port Elizabeth- based tour company Alan Tours, came across the traps in December while conducting a tour of the Cape Recife lighthouse.
“It was low tide and when I looked down from the lighthouse I saw very specific lines of rocks in the shallows. I had never seen them before, and I imagine that they had only recently been uncovered by the sea washing over them,” he said.
Fogarty then contacted Bayworld museum historian Emile Badenhorst to ask his opinion on the structures, which are 300 cm to 500 cm in height.
Badenhorst in turn made contact with Phillip Hine, an expert on South African fish traps in the Archaeology, Palaeontology and Meteorites Unit at the South African Heritage Resources Agency.
Hine examined photographs of the traps and concluded it was likely they were Khoisan fish traps as the location was appropriate and middens had been found nearby.
“We are very excited about this find,” Badenhorst said. “This opens up the opportunity to study the Khoisan and the tribes that lived here, from Port Elizabeth and all along the coastline to the Wild Coast. We have been in contact with the Albany Museum about this find, because we believe it is a perfect field for researchers to explore.”
Gamtkwa Khoisan Council heritage representative Kobus Reichert said Jeffreys Bay the discovery “shows the Khoisan presence was much bigger than we thought”.
Bayworld will include documentation of the fish trap discovery in its “First People of the Bay” exhibition.