Crystals for What?

Reflections on a Middle Stone Age Find at Hollow Rock Shelter, Western Cape Province, South Africa

  • Lars Larsson Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Lund University & Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study, Wallenberg Research Centre, Stellenbosch University, South Africa


The excavation of the Hollow Rock Shelter site, Western Cape Province, South Africa, exposed an occupation layer dated to about 80,000 years. The main tool was bifacial shaped points of the Still Bay type. Almost fifty small rock crystals were found within a small concentration. There is no clear use wear to suggest any practical function.

Finds of ochre pieces, some with deliberate carving, advanced knapping technique, and shells with perforation indicate that modern thinking with some capacity for abstraction began to evolve during the Still Bay phase. Several late prehistoric and ethnographic examples round the world exhibit the use of rock crystals in connection with symbolic behaviour.

It cannot be ruled out that crystals were used as decoration, just as ochre may have had an aesthetic/symbolic meaning similar to body painting.