A report on the first phase of the historical-archaeological and forensic investigation of previously unknown burials dating to the late 19th/early 20th century on the farm Langlaagte 224 IQ, Crown Mines, Crownwood road, Johannesburg Gauteng


In October 2010 Archaetnos cc was approached by SAHRA’s BGG Unit regarding the discovery of burials because of water erosion at an old Crown Mines dump on Crownwood Road. SAHRA appointed Archaetnos to undertake the rescue of the exposed remains. A permit was issued (BG/11/01/002/86) in January 2011, and work commenced on the 24th of January. The rescue of these remains (around 30 individuals represented) was finalized at the end of January and a report submitted (AE1115). It was during this work that more burials and remains were identified (around 148 possible burials and individuals) and a proposal for continued work on the site presented to SAHRA as a result. The proposal was accepted and Archaetnos was appointed to undertake the formal archaeological investigation, exhumation and relocation of all the burials on the site.

A permit was issued for this (BG/11/03/002/87) and work commenced during June/July 2011, in conjunction with AVBOB Johannesburg and forensic experts from WITS Anatomy Department. The exhumation of the burials identified was finalized during October 2011. This report will discuss the results of this work and provide recommendations on the way forward in regards to the reburial of and memorialization of the historical burials, as well as the continued exhumation of the nearly 700 possible other burials identified on the site.

The site is located on a portion of the farm Langlaagte 224 IQ. During the initial fieldwork a superficial survey of the area around the site and mine dump was also undertaken, and the remnants of a historical refuse dump was also identified close by. With more burial pits identified during the initial rescue work, Archaetnos approached SAHRA about the more systematic and controlled investigation and exhumation of the other burials on the site, and a proposal was submitted for approval. The excavation of the historical midden formed part of the proposal, and SAHRA accepted the proposal and appointed Archaetnos cc to conduct the work. An archaeological permit (80/11/03/008/51) was then also issued to Archaetnos in April 2011 and work conducted. A report on the archaeological work was submitted to SAHRA in July 2011 (AE1139).

Around 180 burials and remains of individuals have been investigated and exhumed from the site during the initial rescue operation and phase 1 of the formal excavations. Because of water erosion and other natural processes the remains are very fragmented in most cases, although some well preserved remains were also recovered. As a result of the state of preservation not all the individuals could be forensically studied in detail. However, the work (archaeological, historical research and forensic analysis) conducted does provide useful information on the burials, the possible period when the individuals were buried here, their ages, sex, cultural affiliation, possible geographical origins and the historical context of the burial site. This does give these unknown individuals some identity, which would otherwise not have been possible. The remains are currently being houses at AVBOB Johannesburg until a final decision has been made on the place of reburial, the date of reburial, the type of memorialization and the exhumation of the rest of the burials located on the site.

Report by

A.J. Pelser - Accredited member of ASAPA