The 3000km South African coastline offers incredible diversity on three fronts, namely geology, vegetation and marine biota.
In particular the Garden Route and the western region of the Eastern Cape display remote pristine stretches of shoreline with minimal human presence. Archeological records throughput this region provide evidence of early Homo sapiens inhabiting both the coastal and adjacent mountains for the past 70,000 years.
Marine resources have played a significant role in the diet of our early ancestors. Indeed, there are proposals that it is the fatty acids from marine mollusks which advanced the rate of brain convolutions attributed to our rapid intellectual advancement over relative Homo species and other contemporary hominids from the middle stone age period.
A little known coastal archeological site in the Eastern Cape supporting evidence of early humans utilizing marine fish are a series of fish traps located in a rocky bay east of Oysterbay.
While there is no definitive age of the fish traps, estimates range from the late stone age (between 50,000 and 39,000 years ago) with the Khoisan considered the architects. Spanning a period of pre-history between 50,000 and 39,000 years before current era, it is intriguing on various levels.
On a sentient level, the construction of the fish traps demonstrate a cognitive understanding of tidal cycles. More significant is the demonstration of the ability to collaboratively plan, design, construct and ultimately use a structure to secure a source of food for a community.
Most interestingly in this glimpse of geological time, is the fact that approximately 20,000 years ago, due to water being locked up in glaciers, the sea level was significantly lower than current levels with the shoreline between 80km and 100km further south.
In essence, if you were a member of a Khoisan hunting party 20,000 years ago scanning the surroundings from the fish traps you would have been looking over a savanna with herds of antelope and some now extinct mega fauna such as Giant Hartebeest instead of an ocean with temperamental fluctuations.
Hiking to the fish traps.
The easiest access to the fish traps is via a coastal path from Oysterbay. Parking in front of the Oysterbay Beach Lodge on the eastern side of this small coastal hamlet, start down the public stairs to the fisherman’s path. Turn left and follow the regular Chokka Trail signs eastwards.
After 2km the path joins a jeep track which leads down to a small sandy beach with a stream trickling into the bay.
East of the bay the path again joins up to a jeep track through the fynbos which reaches a gate to form a T-junction with another jeep track. Turn right and follow the track to the beach and rocky bay with the fish traps.
It is best to visit the fish traps at low tide. During spring low tide five traps are obvious but the funnels are less distinct, looking more like rows of rocks, seemingly the result of random coastal erosion instead of a designed means of harvesting fish using the daily tidal patterns.
To the south west of the traps, the rock formation forms some magnificent rock pools containing vividly coloured intertidal marine life and are worth investigating.
Before heading back, take time to contemplate firstly our ancestral history and contextualize it in terms of the ephemeral glimpse of geological change in the period.
The concensus it that Homo sapiens began their ascent to domination over contemporary hominids and other Homo species approximately 70,000 years ago.
Between 50000 and 39000 years ago a tribe or clan of our ancestors built the traps to harvest fish from the intertidal zone. Then glaciation occurred, sea levels dropped and the shoreline retreated over 80km southwards leaving the traps high and dry till approximately 1500 years ago.
And now, as you look at the traps, sea levels have risen and returned to a previous level to make them functional again.
GPS location of fish traps : 34°11′21.78″S 24°42′01.28″E
GPS of parking area : 34°10′33.02″S 24°39′50.36″E
Walk distance : 4.2km
Water availability : there are numerous fresh water streams along the route.