Wonderwerk Cave Research Project


The Wonderwerk Cave Research project brings together a large interdisciplinary team of international researchers and students.  The project was initiated in 2004 by Michael Chazan (University of Toronto), Liora Kolska Horwitz (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), and Naomi Porat (Israel Geological Survey) and is at present a collaboration with the Archaeology Department of the McGregor Museum, directed by David Morris.  This research project builds on the work of Peter Beaumont who dedicated his career to a series of major excavations in the Northern Cape Province, including extensive excavations at Wonderwerk Cave.


The initial stage of the project has focused  on documenting the collections from Beaumont’s excavations at Wondewerk Cave and Kathu Pan 1 and carrying out fieldwork to develop a chronology for the site and provide a geological context for the finds.  Radiometric dating has been carried out by Naomi Porat (OSL), Rainer Grun (ESR; Australian National University), Ari Matmon (Cosmogenics; The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), the late Hagai Ron (Palaeomagnetism; The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and Robyn Pickering (U/Pb series; University of Melbourne).  The initial micromorphological analysis of Wonderwerk Cave was carried out by Paul Goldberg (Boston University), who was subsequently joined by Francesco Berna and  his student Meghan Thibodeau (both of Simon Fraser University).


For the extremely well-preserved organic remains, macrofaunal analysis of the Earlier Stone Age levels at Wonderwerk and fauna from Kathu Pan 1 are being undertaken by James Brink and Sharon Holt (both of the National Museum, Bloemfontein) together with Liora Kolska Horwitz, while Francis Thackeray (University of Witwatersrand) has continued his research on the Later Stone Age fauna from the cave.   Margaret Avery (Iziko South African Museum) and Yolanda Fernandez-Jalvo (National Museum of Natural Sciences, Madrid) are working on different aspects of the large collections of microfauna.  Louis Scott (University of the Free State) is analyzing   the pollen from all strata at Wonderwerk, Marion Bamford (University of Witwatersrand) the macrobotanical remains, and Lloyd Rossouw (National Museum, Bloemfontein) is working on the phytoliths.  Isotopic analyses of faunal remains from Wonderwerk are being carried out at Oxford University by Julia Lee-Thorp, together with her doctoral student Michaela Ecker, while Daryl Codron (National Museum, Bloemfontein) is working on the isotopic signature of fauna from Kathu Pan I.


Heinz Ruther, working with Stephen Wessels, Roshan Bhurta, Ralph Schroeder, and other members of his team from the Zamani Project (University of Cape Town) have carried out a 3D scan of Wonderwerk Cave and a survey of the hill in which it sits and continue to assist with all aspects of geomatic research at the site. Stephen Wessels has created the virtual site visit for Wonderwerk.  Spatial analysis of the Wonderwerk excavations is underway as a collaboration between Liora Kolska Horwitz and Michal Birkenfeld (both of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem). Michael Chazan has been responsible for the lithic analysis working with students from the University of Toronto including Alexandra Sumner and Jayne Wilkins, who wrote her dissertation on the lithic assemblage from Kathu Pan 1, Stratum 4a. David Morris is carrying out research on the rock art that adorns the cave walls and on the Later Stone Age art mobilier which is also being studied by Francis Thackeray.


Several researchers have joined the team for specific projects: Frikkie de Beer and his team (NECSA) undertook tomographic imaging of incised stone slabs from Wonderwerk Cave, and worked with Patricia Smith (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) on the re-analysis of the Canteen Kopje skull;  Ian Watts (Independent researcher, Greece) analysed ochre from Wonderwerk, Kathu Pan 1, and other localities in the region. Leon Jacobson (Department of Geology, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein) serves as a consultant on the geological and heritage aspects of the project.  George Brook  and colleagues (University of Georgia) have sampled and analyzed the speleothems from the front of the cave.


In recent years fieldwork has been renewed at Wonderwerk Cave and the sites around the town of Kathu, now designated as the Kathu Complex.  At Wonderwerk Cave, Michael Chazan, Liora Kolska Horwitz and Francesco Berna are co-directing new excavations aimed at  clarifying the chronology of the later stages of the Earlier Stone Age and creating horizontal exposures of the areas of Stratum 10 that have produced early evidence for the use of fire.  At the Kathu Complex, Michael Chazan and Steven James Hickman Walker (University of Cape Town) collaborate on excavations at the site of Bestwood 1, Kathu Townlands, and Kathu Pan 1.  Vasa Lukich and Magdalena Sobol, graduate students in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, are working on aspects of the paleoenvironment of Kathu.


In 2007 members of our team undertook a small excavation at the southern edge of the site of Canteen Kopje on the Vaal River.   The excavation was directed by Michael Chazan assisted by  Alexandra Sumner (University of Toronto)  and was aimed at  providing radiometric ages for  the  upper part of the stratigraphic sequence at this site. The OSL dating for this site was carried out by Naomi Porat.


Funding for the Wonderwerk Research Project has been granted by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the University of Toronto, the Paleontological Scientific Trust (PAST), and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.








Team Members and Friends at a Meeting held at Wonderwerk Cave – June 2009

From left to right - Back row: Andrew Hall, Paul Goldberg, Martin Horwitz, Hagai Ron, Ari Matmon,

Louis Scott, Michael Chazan. Liora Kolska Horwitz


Front row: Hillary Duke,  Virginia Pichler, Leon Jacobson, Francis Thackeray, Jayne Wilkins, Neels Luhule , Marion Bamford, Naomi Porat, Llyod Roussow


(from: Bamford, M. & Thackeray, F. 2009. Continued excavations at Wonderwerk Cave. The Digging Stick 26(2):21–22)