Archaeology of Colonial Settlement at the Cape
- Antonia MalanAntonia MalanDepartment of Archaeology, University of Cape Town
Colonial settlement at the southern tip of Africa was pre-dated by 150 years of occasional encounters with European mariners. They touched on the coast to refresh water barrels, barter for meat with the local pastoralists, and repair their crafts, or in some cases found themselves wrecked and desperate on the shores of the “Cape of Storms.” It became the “Cape of Good Hope” after fleets of European ships profiteered from the sea route to the resources of India and Asia, among them the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British.
The formal date for permanent foreign occupation of the Cape is 1652, when a Dutch East India Company (VOC, the Company) force anchored in Table Bay and, with some basic tools, materials, and supplies, set up camp.
After the decline and bankruptcy of the VOC in the late 18th century, a brief military occupation by the British (1795–1802), and an interim Dutch (“Batavian”) administration (1803–1806), the Cape became a British colony. By 1820 the Cape Colony stretched northward as far as the Orange River, and eastward to the Fish and Tugela rivers. Colonial settlement expanded with the arrival of traders, pastoralists, missionaries, and emigrants and created volatile zones in which settlers and African hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, and farmers contested with one another over land and resources. The colonial project continued into the later 19th century, spurred by the discovery of gold and diamonds far inland where independent Boer republics and Griqua states had been established. British imperialism and the lure of mineral wealth led to wars of annexation. Following the Second South African (“Anglo-Boer”) War (1899–1902) and subsequent attempts to reunify the country, in 1910 the “Union of South Africa” became a self-governing dominion within the British Empire, gaining formal independence in 1934.
Thus, colonial settlement at the Cape covers a 250-year period and a vast area (roughly equivalent to the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape Provinces, and parts of North West Province). From an archaeological perspective, studies encompass the city of Cape Town and sites fanning out from there chronologically and spatially, such as grazing grounds, military outposts, the towns and villages of the coast and hinterland, arable and pastoral farms, sites of conflict and interaction, missions, and mines.