Mountain Zebra National Park is rich in cultural heritage, comprising of both tangible and intangible cultural heritage resources. An archaeological survey of the Mountain Zebra National Park was undertaken in 1973 at the request of the then National Parks Board of Trustees. The aim of the survey was to establish the potential of sites for excavation or collection of material for the possible creation of site museums. Thirty archaeological sites were located during the survey. These include three small rock shelters which contain San rock art and 27 open sites. Most sites occur primarily along the river valleys where the banks are wide and flat. Scrapers indicating a Holocene age dominated the formal artefacts discovered from 22 of these sites.
Although no further, formal surveys have been done, Park rangers have come across and recorded new sites over the years in the areas added to the Park since the 1970’s.
Boesmanskloof Rock Paintings
The exact age of this rock painting site is not known. The San people painted animals such as eland, baboon, hartebeest and what appears to be a cheetah at the site. A human figure is also depicted and a small natural shelter, which would have been used by the San people, can be found near the paintings. A guided tour of the site is offered by the Park and conducted by a SANParks ranger.
Watervalkloof Rock Paintings
This site, which is from a more recent time than that of the paintings at Boesmanskloof, is on a rock overhang which is inaccessible to members of the public, unless accompanied by a SANParks guide. The paintings depict cattle as well as antelope and possibly a hunter. It is located on an overhang overlooking a river, and a waterfall provides flows here after good rains.
Salpeterkop Rock Paintings
There are various paintings under rocky overhangs at the base of Salpeterkop. Some paintings depict lines of people who may be hunters while others depict antelope, especially eland.
Salpeterkop Rock Etchings
Some of the large boulders at the northern base of Salpeterkop have etchings on them. It is not certain from which time period these etchings hail, but they include a human-like figure which is possibly a trance figure, a white rhino and antelope.
Link Road Rock Paintings
These rock paintings depict images of people and antelope and were only discovered by Park rangers in 2012 when they were already quite weathered. They occur on rocky overhangs near the Link Road ascent from Ubejane Loop.
This stone kraal or enclosure would have originally been used to contain and protect sheep on the mountain slopes of Salpeterkop. It is thought to have been built by sheep herders or farmers who used rocks from the area and who did not appear to have used any form of cement or mortar. Rocks with flat surfaces were selected and packed tightly on top of each other to form walls that still stand today. The enclosure has an open end on the northern side - this could have been deliberate or because the construction was stopped before completion. The building style is similar to that at Great Zimbabwe, with the only difference being that the enclosure has corners and are not rounded.
Salpeterkop Chess board
During the early 1900s, British soldiers created a chessboard or chequers board on the top of Saltpeterskop, a 1514m high koppie (hill) in the Park. While using the peak as a lookout point during the Anglo-Boer War, they played chess or chequers with their fellow soldiers on the next lookout point, the Old Fort in Cradock, transmitting moves by means of a mirror, which had the official purpose of communicating warning signals.
The story goes that a certain farmer – unbeknown to the soldiers - picked up the signals and started a game against the soldiers while sitting on the stoep of his farmhouse.
The chessboard and the names of the soldiers are etched onto a flat slab of rock at the top of Saltpeterskop, which is the first koppie on the right as one drives into the Park.
Names recorded include Corporal Pegram of the 1st Coldstream Guards, Corporal Hutchinson, Private W. Chambers of the 5th Lancaster Fusilliers, and many others with dates in 1901 and 1902. The chessboard is still visible today and can be accessed on a guided hike with a SANParks guide.
Salpeterkop was supposedly named after a cave on the hill which provided a supply of saltpetre (potassium nitrate), a substance used in the manufacture of gunpowder for firearms in the early days. The cave was reported to have collapsed and its location is not known today.
Doornhoek Guest House
In 1838, one of the first permanent farmhouses in the area was constructed on a farm called De Doornkloof, which later became known as Doornhoek. The original building had a thatch roof and would have had yellowwood floors and ceilings but was later replaced by Oregon pine. The walls up to window height were made from chiselled granite blocks. Around the house, built in the Western Cape style, is a low boundary wall. The farm became part of the Park in 1964.
The house was converted into a historical museum but due to inadequate infrastructure, the materials were later transferred to a museum in Cradock. It was also used during the filming of “The Story of An African Farm”, a production based on the book by Olive Schreiner. The house was declared a national monument in 1986. It has since been restored and is used as a guesthouse in the Park.
In September 2013, the house burnt down due to a fire caused by an electrical short. It was refurbished and reopened in October 2015, with the original-style yellowwood floors and ceilings reinstated. It is popular with those who want a tranquil family getaway overlooking a lake, with spectacular stargazing vistas at night.
Various grave sites can be found in the Park. The most visible are along the Main Entrance Road, where the graves of 15 soldiers are located. It is unknown whether these graves are Boer or British in origin.
The two graves located at the start of the Umgeni 4x4 Trail face in different directions. It is believed that if graves are facing in different directions, the deceased are not related. The names of the deceased are not known but they passed away sometime between 1910 and 1926 when the area was used as a farm before its incorporation into the Park.
The Michau grave site is located in an area called Doornhoek in the northern-central area of the Park and consists of seven fenced-in graves and four unmarked graves directly behind them. The white marble angel statue was apparently sculpted in France and came to Cradock by ship and ox wagon. A further five unmarked graves were found about 100m from these. The old farmhouse and milking sheds are still standing as well.
Graves are monitored regularly and maintenance is done on the terrain around graves on a regular basis. Family members who wish to visit graves of their ancestors apply for permission through Park management.