Building the Hunter-gatherer’s Paleoscape on the South African Coast: the archaeological record

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

In this symposium, we present archaeological research from the Cape Floral Region (CFR) and other localities relevant to assessing the strength of the paleoscape model and contributing to a record important to understanding modern human origins. Traditional paleoanthropological approaches to paleoenvironmental data seek to increase the resolution of both records in order to show meaningful correlations. Although heuristically useful, these strategies typically fail to illuminate causal relationships because they lack connective theory. To build that connective theory we need to 1) understand the links between our paleoenvironmental proxies and the distribution of resources relevant to foragers 2) construct “paleoscape” models of the distribution of those resources under different climate conditions, 3) simulate forager actions and decisions in those paleoscapes, and 4) compare the model output to empirical archaeological observations. The CFR, a floristically hyper-diverse ecosystem bordered by a super-rich coastal zone presents a useful laboratory for the development and testing of paleoscape models. Our project is a large international consortium exploring the co-evolution of people and ecosystems by creating paleoscape models of the CFR, simulating how hunter-gatherers utilized this changing ecosystem, and testing these models with high resolution paleoenvironmental and archaeological data. Here we focus on the archaeological evidence.

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  • Documents (16)

  • The Blind Spot: An Early Later Stone Age perspective on the Agulhas Bank from Knysna Eastern Heads Cave 1, South Africa (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Naomi Cleghorn. Thalassa Matthews. Christopher Shelton.

    The exposure of the wide continental shelf of the Agulhas Bank during the gradual regression of the shoreline from 45,000 years ago, culminating in the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), opened up a vast new area for foragers. Humans with well-established coastal resource exploitation strategies would have naturally shifted their foraging range to the south, following the regressing shoreline. During this period, the South African technological record underwent a critical transition from the prepared...

  • Building a better eggtimer: Amino acid dating of ostrich eggshell from South Africa (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kirsty Penkman. Molly Crisp. Beatrice Demarchi. Matthew Collins. Julia Lee-Thorp.

    Chronology underpins our understanding of the past, but beyond the limit of radiocarbon dating (~50 ka), sites become more difficult to date. Amino acid geochronology, which uses the time-dependent breakdown of proteins in biominerals, has the potential to date the whole of the Quaternary. Ostrich eggshell (OES) is often associated with archaeological sites in Africa, as early humans utilised them as a food source, water carriers and for artistic purposes. OES’s calcitic structure potentially...

  • A comparison of two African Mediterranean MSA adaptations: the Cape Floral Region and the Maghreb (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Emily Hallett-Desguez. Curtis Marean.

    Our lineage evolved in Africa when the earth was in the MIS 6 glacial phase, ~190 thousand years ago (kya). At the continent scale, it has been demonstrated that Africa became arid during glacial phases. However, Mediterranean climates within Africa offered humid refugia during past glacial phases. There are two regions within Africa that are characterized by Mediterranean climate: the Cape Floral Region (CFR) of South Africa and the Maghreb of northwest Africa. These two regions also have...

  • Discovering the trick to flaking Middle Stone Age tools on quartzite (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kyle Brown.

    South African Middle Stone Age tool makers were skilled at the production of fine, symmetric points and blades on quartzite, a material that is known for its toughness and durability but not for its ease of flaking. The accurate replication of MSA tools on quartzite proved to be almost impossible during a replication and experimentation program that spanned over ten years. Heat treatment was the ‘trick’ that unlocked the potential of silcrete and it became clear that there must also be a trick...

  • A high-resolution ~110,000 year Middle Stone Age lithic technological sequence from Pinnacle Point, South Africa (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jayne Wilkins. Kyle S. Brown. Simen Oestmo. Telmo Pereira. Kathryn L. Ranhorn.

    The Pinnacle Point sites on the south coast of South Africa preserve a long, high-resolution sequence of human occupation spanning 162-51 ka. The lithic assemblages provide a unique opportunity for examining Pleistocene technological change because they are linked to robust age estimates and multiple proxies for paleoenvironmental change. Recent lithic technological investigations aim to standardize analytical procedures across the complex of Pinnacle Point sites, and maximize comparability to...

  • Late Holocene occupations at the Pinnacle Point Shell Midden Complex (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only James McGrath.

    Surveys identified a series of Holocene Later Stone Age shell middens along the westernmost extent of the Pinnacle Point estate near Mossel Bay, Western Cape, South Africa. Excavations during 2006 and 2007 revealed a well-preserved record of human activity ranging from 3000 ± 75 BP to 890 ± 30 BP across six spatially and temporally distinct shell middens. Dubbed Areas 1 - 4 of the Pinnacle Point Shell Midden Complex (PPSMC), each midden presents a picture of human subsistence patterns that...

  • Micromorphology reveals changing levels of site occupation intensity at Pinnacle Point 5-6 (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Panagiotis Karkanas.

    Using simultaneously fine and coarse resolution sedimentary studies of the deposits of the MSA site of PP5-6 at Pinnacle Point, Mossel Bay, South Africa, it was able to reveal different patterns of anthropogenic input and behavior and how these changed through time. Through the microfacies approach using micromorphology it was documented that the PP5-6 sequence shows occupations characterized by small groups and short visits during MIS5. This part of the sediments is dominated by numerous...

  • A Middle Stone Age Paleoscape near the Pinnacle Point caves, Vleesbaai, South Africa (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Simen Oestmo. Benjamin Schoville. Jayne Wilkins. Curtis Marean.

    MSA caves/rock shelters can provide long sequences of early human residential activities in circumscribed contexts, but most resource procurement activities occurred on the landscape in uncircumscribed space. We have a limited understanding of these resource procurement activities at present, making studies of open-air sites crucial. To alleviate this bias, we report on a series of MSA open-air assemblages that are exposed on ancient land surfaces suggestive of intact paleosols at Vleesbaai and...

  • The ochre assemblage from Pinnacle Point 5-6 (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jocelyn Bernatchez. James McGrath.

    In recent years, southern Africa has figured prominently in the modern human origins debate due to increasing evidence for precocious behaviors considered to be unique to our species. These significant findings have included bone tools, shell beads, engraved ostrich eggshell, and heavily ground and engraved ochre fragments. The presence of ochre in Middle Stone Age (MSA, ~250-40kya) archaeological sites in southern Africa is often proposed as indirect evidence for the emergence of symbolic or...

  • The P5 project archaeological reconnaissance along the Pondoland Coast, South Africa (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Erich Fisher. Hayley Cawthra. Justin Pargeter. Jan Venter.

    South African sea caves preserve evidence for early modern humans’ longstanding interest in coastal resources. However, changes in coastlines location throughout the Pleistocene prevented the development of long-term and continuous records of coastal foraging and there are still many outstanding questions about when, where, and how coastal foraging developed. Pondoland (Eastern Cape Province) is one of the few places where we may be able to fill in these gaps. An exceptionally narrow...

  • Patterns of Lithic Edge Damage from the Open-air Middle Stone Age Assemblages at Vleesbaai and Oyster Bay, South Africa (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Benjamin Schoville. Kyle Brown. Jayne Wilkins.

    Much of our understanding of the South African Middle Stone Age (MSA) comes from deep sequences recovered from caves and rockshelters. These discreet, enclosed contexts represent one aspect of a foraging continuum; where many other activities take place on the continuous, open landscape. A different suite of taphonomic processes are also more likely to occur on open landscapes, complicating comparisons between site contexts. Developing meaningful inferences regarding past human behaviors...

  • Pinnacle Point 5-6 and Diepkloof Rockshelter (South Africa): Testing the OSL ages and constructing a standardised MSA chronology (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Zenobia Jacobs.

    Single grain optically stimulated luminescence (SG-OSL) dating has made a major contribution to our understanding of the chronology of the Middle Stone Age of Africa. The accuracy of many of the SG-OSL chronologies has been verified by other independent dating techniques. Diepkloof Rockshelter (DRS), however, has produced disparate chronologies that have resulted in a dating controversy. Criticisms raised have been used to cast doubt on and, in some cases, dismiss the chronology for the...

  • Rebound Hardness Results for the Raw Material In and Around Pinnacle Point, South Africa and the Implications Thereof (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Christopher Shelton.

    The Middle Stone Age lithic assemblage at the Pinnacle Point site (Western Cape, South Africa) fluctuates between local, coarse-grained material and exotic, fine-grained, heat treated material throughout the human occupation layers. By understanding raw material choice, the first step in the chaîne opératoire, we can better understand these shifts in raw material representation. Quantifying the mechanical characteristics associated with knapability and comparing these ranked benefits to the...

  • Taphonomic evidence for human accumulation of small mammals from Pinnacle Point Site 5-6 and other MSA sites in South Africa (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Aaron Armstrong.

    Our capacity to detect the utilization of small prey resources by MSA humans can help shed light on subsistence strategies, cognition, and social organization during this critical period in human evolution. Recent analyses of South African MSA faunas suggest an expansion of dietary breadth after ~100 ka with the increase in the exploitation of small mammals (<5 kg) during MIS 4, but until now there has been little taphonomic evidence to support these conclusions. I present the results of a...

  • Tortoises as indicators of diet, site formation, and palaeoenvironments in the Middle Stone Age record of the Southern African coast (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jessica Thompson. Jordan Towers. Christopher Henshilwood.

    Tortoises are one of the most common faunal components at many Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites on the southern coast of South Africa. They provide protein, fat, and other ‘animal’ resources in a ‘collectable’ package, which gives rare insight into the collected component of MSA diet. At most MSA sites, tortoise assemblages are dominated by Chersina angulata, a medium-sized tortoise with sufficient calories to provide approximately 20 – 30% of the daily energetic requirements for an active adult...

  • Variation in butchering intensity between glacial and interglacial cycles at Pinnacle Point 5-6 (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jamie Hodgkins.

    The archaeological assemblage and long stratigraphic sequence at the site of Pinnacle Point 5-6 in Western Cape, South Africa affords the opportunity to explore temporal (and possibly environmentally-mediated) changes in human behavioral regimes in the late Pleistocene. Here, examination of butchering intensity is used as a preliminary test of the hypothesis that humans would have intensified the processing of terrestrial prey in times of cooler, dryer climates, when sea levels were low and the...