Ethnobotanical research at Klasies River linking past, present, and future.


  • Yvette Ethne Van Wijk Rhodes University, South Africa
  • Renee Rust
  • Eldrid M Uithaler
  • Sarah Wurz


Keywords, useful plants, medicinal plants, archaeobotany, Khoi and San, indigenous knowledge. Sleutelwoorde, nuttige plante, medisinale plante, argeobotanies, Khoe en San, traditionelekennis


Background: Klasies River is a prominent archaeological site on the South African southern Cape coast, with a unique and continuous occupation spanning the Middle and Late Pleistocene into the Holocene.  Ethnobotanical research was undertaken with the objective of enabling a deeper understanding and contextualisation of the palaeo-ethnobotanical finds retrieved during ongoing excavation.

Methods: Research into ethnobotanical usage enables extrapolation of the uses to which archaeobotanicals may have been put. Semi-structured interviews and walks in the veld with six local participants, selected for their knowledge of the local plants, were conducted. An interdisciplinary focus, with a pragmatic and abductive grounded theory approach was used.

Results: Of the Klasies taxa reported in use today by participants 84% are confirmed by other published research into Khoi and San indigenous plant knowledge in the three Cape Provinces and 42% of these useful taxa are reported as finds in published archaeological research in the Cape Provinces, indicating ongoing usage from past to present.

Conclusions: Our research indicates the need for thorough and systematic collection of ethnobotanical data (particularly from Khoi and San descendants), which is under-studied in the South African context. We consider that environment and behaviour of the past, present and future is not only shaped by climate, but by adaptive human-plant interactions through intergenerational and inter-cultural learning.

Keywords: Useful plants; medicinal plants; archaeobotany; Khoi and San; indigenous knowledge;

Author Biography

Yvette Ethne Van Wijk, Rhodes University, South Africa

Affiliate Anthropology Rhodes University




How to Cite

Van Wijk, Y. E., Rust, R., Uithaler, E. M., & Wurz, S. (2019). Ethnobotanical research at Klasies River linking past, present, and future. Ethnobotany Research and Applications, 18, 1–24. Retrieved from