In the course of many years of archaeological research in South Africa, cut off by the length of the continent from the European scene, various local problems, unrelated to those of Europe, necessarily arise. One of the most persistent has been that of the origin and age of coastal fishing enclosures whose distribution extends sporadically from the mouth of the Berg river in St. Helena Bay (northwest of Cape Town) to Kosi Bay on the Zululand coast, and perhaps even further in either direction. The known coastal range is well over 1000 miles. Any complete solution of the various problems raised must necessarily be shelved until petrol supplies permit the careful excavation of a series of surrounding midden deposits.
The enclosures are known locally as vywers (pronounced much as the English ‘favours’) or sometimes as viskraals, literally dams, or fish-corrals, and we can speak of them in English as tidal fish-traps. Happily their use continues, in a somewhat sporadic way, at several of the sites, and we can still study the methods used. In brief, the enclosure is built up as a dry-stone wall to such a height that normal high tides will cover the vywer and permit fish to swim freely over the enclosed area. As the tide sinks, the water runs out through the interstices between the stones, while the fish are trapped and can be clubbed and caught by hand. It is a simple application of the system used for netting fish, though here the dry-stone walling provides the imbrications.