Discovering the Stone Ruins at Sudwala
Take a walk on the wild side with this guided walking tour at the Sudwala Dinosaur Park and trace some footsteps of ancient civilisations
Walk of the Ancients
The early ruins and stone works of sub-Saharan Africa are numerous and varied.
In South Africa Archaeologists have logged sites that range in age from our immediate past to the most remote epochs of human history.
In places along the eastern seaboard and escarpment, where a profusion of sites have been discovered, styles and techniques can be discerned that allow scientists to infer the existence of several large pre-historic societies over long periods of time.
It is also evident that settlements, often as large as to house 20 000 people, were frequently positioned along old trade routes and important river junctions while much attention was paid to defences and strategic positioning.
Building structures then as now, were habitually differentiated according to their purpose particularly within the ritual custom of singularly pragmatic societies. The requirements for granaries were different from huts and were thus constructed differently while the walls of houses required an altogether different treatment compared to the engineering of the perimeter wall that acted as defensive bulwark – often with large imbedded spikes projecting outwards and no evidence of which may remain today except the stone bed (Foundation aggregate).
Widespread and common industries included hunting, agriculture, animal husbandry, mining, smelting and particularly trade in gold, tortoise shell and ivory – the mainstay of the pre colonial African economy from the eleventh century onwards and predominantly during medieval times. Predators such as lions and other large or dangerous animals were the norm and more than numerous which in turn required extensive defences to safeguard man and his family, and particularly his cattle, goats and sheep which were kept in extraordinarily large numbers at times. It appears as if settlement lay-outs were most often determined by these fundamental considerations.
But, it is by far the very abundance of stone wall remains in Southern Africa, where thousands of sites litter the vast central plateaux of Mpumalanga and Gauteng, that obscure the few enigmatic exceptions to the rule. Accurate dating of stone walls is notoriously difficult and styles vary greatly. The few sites that don’t conform to orthodox thinking thus merit much attention.
It is within this unknown realm that the Sudwala ruins can be placed.
Orthodox Archeology ascribe much of the style of ruins in the Houtboschloop valley such as Beestekraal at the headwaters of the river, to the activities of a succession of Urozwi and Mwene Mutapo (Karanga) off shoots that occupied these hills as far back as the last 600 years and the last of which where Sotho speakers like the Bokoni who were most recently expelled by the Swazi people under Mswati I no more than 200 years ago.
In “The Lost trails of the Transvaal” T.V. Bulpin records perhaps the last historical account of the erstwhile Bokoni Kingdom when he describes “… a ‘Koni adventurer named Marangrang who had set himself up as a robber lord” in the temporary absence of Sekwati, the famous Pedi chief of Sekhukuneland during the 1820’s and “who was subdued by means of a woman, who beguiled him into an ambush where his throat was cut.”
Apart from this short written report many oral stories and anecdotes of the Bokoni and their dealings with their neighbours confirm their passing and none more clearly than the ruins they left behind.
There are two obvious similarities between typical Bokoni ruins and the stone walls of Sudwala both in the engineering of the perimeter wall and the general site lay-out while the differences include the use of the extraordinary large rocks at Sudwala and the apparent great antiquity of the construction which today is almost completely obliterated by the surrounding forest.
In contrast, during a recent visit Dr Hromnik, a celebrated and controversial Glottochronologist from UCT, noted certain similarities with his hypothesis pertaining to the origins of these mysterious walls and their apparent symbolism. An aspect which he attributes to Indian immigrants known from Sanskrit libraries on the Indian mainland as the Macomati, the mercantile caste of the Dravidian elite and their sailors who mined and traded here from India, approximately 2000 years ago. These monsoon traders shipped large cargoes of gold from Sofala to India and are associated with particularly the Swahili Kingdoms of the African East coast.
Even today many small mines and deserted shafts dot the valley surrounding the stone walls and it is not at all far fetched to imagine a Dravidian mining outfit engaged in alluvial mining up and down the Houtboschloop River 2000 years ago. The site’s position in the lee of the mountain and surrounded by higher horizons seems to favour a utilitarian purpose and precludes any astronomical orientation while it is exceedingly well located as a defensive position. It is also noteworthy that the oldest incline mining shafts so far discovered on earth are located 150km south-west from Sudwala near Mica within the Swaziland border. Here ochre (iron-oxide) was mined 100 000 years ago according to reliable dating methods carried out on the charcoal remains left from the stope-face fires of these early miners.
Perhaps most controversially the “Slave Species of God’ author Michael Tellinger in his recent publication “Adam’s Calendar” (co-authored with Johan Heine) places the original construction of similar stone wall remains at 70 000 years before the present. The Adam’s calendar site which is purported to be a megalithic observatory of great antiquity is only 15 km’s south-west from Sudwala and does appear extremely old due to the extensive weathering; such evidence will off course forever remain inconclusive exactly because of the vagaries of the weather.
The true identity of these early masons may therefore never be known even as their work remains a puzzling testament to their endeavours however obscure.
There remains today, only one conceivable way to try and fathom the ancient mason’s mind and that is to walk where he walked.
Go and sit where he sat next to the clear pool down by the river fashioning his iron hoe in the heart of his crucible, skinning an Oribi on another day and perhaps here he also felt the soft weave from his wife’s loom, kissed their children, played, loved, cried and died. It may be that only stone walls remain today, but it was after all real people that lived here.
The Romans called it “Genus loci”. A Sense of Place. – Let us wander, like old friends, along these ancient avenues. There is no telling who we might meet.
‘Walk of the Ancients’ was written and researched by Mr. Maartin Etsebeth