PAST supports the Hunter-Gatherer Research Project

PAST’s support of student on the Hunter-Gatherer Research Project

Since 2019, the Palaeontological Scientific Trust has provided financial support to students working on the Hunter-Gatherer Archaeological Research Project based in South Africa’s Mapungubwe National Park. The first study that PAST funded was into hunting stone tool technology at Little Muck Shelter, a site which was primarily used for the production of trade goods with very little evidence for hunting-related activities. This study was followed by more extensive work at the shelter with excavations beginning in 2020 and concluding in 2022. During this period, one Doctoral, four Masters and two Honours students have received support for various research projects as well as conference attendance.

The studies range from research into stone tool technologies, craft production and exchange practices, Stone Age settlement sequences, and new excavations at Leokwe Hill and Mbere Shelter. From these studies, and directly because of PAST’s support, the team has learnt more about Later Stone Age lifeways in an area where research is largely concerned with only the Iron Age. We now know, for example, that foragers were able to obtain highly prized trade items from their neighbours by using their own crafted goods as currency.

This seems to indicate several important occurrences, some relating to forager agency, the economic value placed on forager skills, and the wide applicability of their indigenous knowledge. Students have also investigated stone tool technologies in further detail, with results that demonstrate a general lack of change from before the arrival of Iron Age farmers into the contact period, suggesting Stone Age technologies were equipped to deal with changing activities and demands over time. Research continues and through the generous support from PAST more will be learnt about Stone Age people in the Mapungubwe area and a more inclusive history of this landscape will be written.


Dr Tim Forssman

Senior lecturer

University of Mpumalanga

Chanté Barnard, a Masters student who receives support from PAST to study craft production and exchange patterns, draws an excavation wall profile from Little Muck Shelter.


Siphesihle Kuhlase, who is currently a Masters student investigating Mbere Shelter with the support of PAST, shows the team a copper bangle piece found while excavating at Little Muck Shelter.


The HARP field team excavating Mbere Shelter for Siphesihle Kuhlase’s study into the intersection of Stone Age and Iron Age lifeways.


Students from the University of Mpumalanga learn how to use the Munsell Colour Chart to help identify stratigraphic changes in the deposit at Little Muck Shelter.