Building the hunter-gatherer’s paleoscape on the South African coast: Environment, landscape, and foraging resources

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

This symposium summarizes our climatic and environmental modeling, chronology, and experimental studies of resource productivity in the ancient paleoscape of the Cape Floral Region (CFR) of South Africa. 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 ecosystem by creating the paleoscape models of the CFR, simulating how hunter-gatherers utilized this changing ecosystem, and then testing these models with high resolution paleoenvironmental and archaeological data, and here we focus on the contextual results.

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  • Documents (14)

  • Agent Based Models of Ache Foraging and Grouping (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kim Hill. Marco Janssen. Eric Fisher. Curtis Marean.

    We show using detailed environmental and behavioral data from the Ache of Paraguay that agent based modeling can simulate correctly many aspects of human foraging behavior. We then show how this modeling technique can be used on projected paleolandscapes in the Cape Coastal Region between Blombos Cave and Pinnacle Point to predict diet, movement patterns, group size, population density, and other aspects of the behavioral ecology of human foragers in the region. SAA 2015 abstracts made...

  • Cryptotephra Discovered at Pinnacle Point Site 5-6 May Correlate with the 74 ka Eruption of Toba in Indonesia: Implications for Resolving the Dating Controversy for Middle Stone Age Sites in Southern Africa. (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Eugene Smith. Amber Ciravolo. Minghua Ren. Panagiotis Karkanas. Curtis Marean.

    Cryptotephra was identified in a sediment stack at Pinnacle Point Site 5-6, South Africa, and occur as small glass shards (less than 100 µm in size). Shards are found in sediment from the Shelly Ashy Dark Brown Sand (SADBS) and the Ashy Light Brown Sand (ALBS) layers with weighted mean OSL dates of 70.6 ± 2.3 and 71.1 ± 2.3 ka respectively. The shards are intimately mixed with sediment and are rare. A preliminary shard distribution profile shows that shards are distributed continuously through...

  • Environmental implications of marine bird remains in the late Holocene of Pinnacle Point. (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Leesha Richardson.

    Marine bird remains are common in late Holocene coastal sites in South Africa. The Pinnacle Point Shell Midden Complex (PPSMC) is such a site. Marine bird remains from the PPSMC were studied to better understand their role in the foraging and mobility patterns of late Holocene stone age people on the Mossel Bay coast. The PPSMC has four separate excavation areas and marine bird remains are present and were studied in each. Microscopic analyses for signs of surface modification proved to be...

  • Foraging for bulbs in the Cape Floristic Region (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Elzanne Singels. Karen Esler. Richard Cowling. Alastair Potts. Jan de Vynck.

    Underground storage organs (USOs) serve as a staple source of carbohydrates for many hunter-gatherer societies. While the way of life of hunter-gatherers in South Africa’s Cape is no longer in existence, there is extensive historical and archaeological evidence of hunter-gatherers’ use of such plants as foodstuffs. This is to be expected, given that the Cape supports the largest concentration of plants with USOs globally. To meet the goals of the Paleoscape project, the importance of...

  • Foraging for shellfish in a predictable and productive inter-tidal environment, the south coast of South Africa (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jan De Vynck. Kim Hill. Robert Anderson. Richard Cowling. Curtis Marean.

    The south coast of South Africa has the oldest and best studied evidence for early use of coastal resources, and various researchers have argued that coastal resource use was significant for cognition, social complexity, and the maintenance of population refugia. To date there has been little consensus on the foraging returns and sustainability for inter-tidal resources in this coastal environment. Here we present the first net return and regeneration rate estimates for inter-tidal foraging in...

  • A Late Pleistocene aridity and vegetation record from stable light isotope ratios of ostrich eggshell in Pinnacle Point (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Julia Lee-Thorp. Kirsty Penkman. Curtis Marean.

    Even when interior regions experienced depopulation during the last glacial, the Southern Cape apparently remained attractive to Middle Stone hunter-gatherers for millennia. The region’s year-round rainfall and generally mesic conditions may have contributed to its attractiveness. Although seasonality and vegetation shifts have been observed in the nearby Crevice Cave stalagmite isotope record, indications for possible shifts in aridity are few. We apply oxygen (δ18O) and carbon (δ13C) isotope...

  • Long and Continuous Record of Climate and Environmental Change from Speleothems of the Cape Floral Region of Southern South Africa (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kerstin Braun. Miryam Bar-Matthews. Curtis W. Marean. Alan Matthews. Rainer Zahn.

    South African climate is determined by the alternating influence of subtropical trade-winds bringing rainfall to the east coast during summer and temperate westerlies causing rainfall in the south-west during winter. High growth season temperatures favor C4 grasses in the summer rainfall region whereas C3 grasses dominate the winter rainfall region. Pinnacle Point on the central south coast has mixed summer-winter rainfall and C3-C4 vegetation. Millennial and longer time-scale changes in...

  • Marine geophysics reveals the character of the now submerged Paleo-Agulhas Plain (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Hayley Cawthra. John Compton. Erich Fisher. Zenobia Jacobs. Curtis Marean.

    This work was undertaken to understand the evolution of the terrestrial landscape now submerged by high sea levels offshore of Mossel Bay. Two marine geophysical surveys and scuba diving were used to examine evidence of past sea-level fluctuations and interpret seafloor geological deposits. Eight seismic sequences characterise the shelf, extending from the Mid-Cretaceous to the Holocene time. Geological mapping dating by Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) revealed that the most prominent...

  • Paleoenvironmental implications of Stable Isotope analyses of Micromammal teeth from Pinnacle Point (Mossel Bay, South Africa) (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Hope Williams. Curtis Marean. Thalassa Matthews. Andy I.R. Herries.

    Paleoenvironmental proxies sample past environments at a number of geographic scales including regional, sub-regional, and local. Given species’ small home ranges and often-specific habitat requirements, isotopic data from micromammal fossil teeth are increasingly recognized as abundant potential reservoirs of local-scale paleoenvironmental proxy data. Elucidating differences between local and regional vegetation provides a context for understanding landscape-scale environmental variation,...

  • Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction using Fossil Phytolith Assemblages at Pinnacle Point caves 13B and 5/6 during Middle Stone Age, Mossel Bay, South Africa (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Rosa-Maria Albert. Irene Esteban. Curtis Marean.

    Climatic conditions played a key role in the evolution of modern human linage and South Africa has been considered, based on genetics and fossil evidence, a suitable area. South Africa hosts the smallest of all-known biomes (Fynbos), characterized by hyper diversity with high species richness and large presence of edible plants. We present the phytolith record from the archaeological sites Pinnacle Point caves 13B and 5/6 spanning from ∼160 to ∼50 ka. This study aims at reconstructing the past...

  • Peering into the past Cape vegetation during the Last Glacial Maximum using species distribution modelling and dynamic global vegetation modelling (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alastair Potts. Richard Cowling. Simon Scheiter. Steven Higgins. Janet Franklin.

    The Cape has a rich archaeological record that spans the Quaternary. Understanding shifts and changes of vegetation across this landscape will help to contextualise this record and understand the prehistoric resource paleoscape. In order to do this we couple high-resolution regionally downscaled climate simulations of the Last Glacial Maximum, landscape features (e.g. geology, aspect, slope) and two different approaches to modelling vegetation: species distribution modelling (SDM) and dynamic...

  • Stable carbon and oxygen isotopes in faunal tooth enamel from Boomplaas and Nelson Bay Cave record Late Pleistocene/Holocene environments in the southern Cape, South Africa (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Judith Sealy. Navashni Naidoo. Julia Lee-Thorp. Emma Loftus. Tyler Faith.

    The Pleistocene palaeoclimates and palaeoenvironments of southernmost Africa are important in both global climate studies and studies of human evolution, but remain poorly documented through time and space. In order to contribute to this project, we have analysed δ13C and δ18O in approximately 350 samples of faunal tooth enamel from Boomplaas Cave and Nelson Bay Cave, in the southern Cape, South Africa. The Boomplaas samples span the last ca. 70 kya, and show fluctuations in δ13C indicating...

  • Testing the Paleo-Agulhas Plain Migration Ecosystem hypothesis with serial isotope analysis of fossil fauna (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Sandi Copeland. Hayley Cawthra. Richard Cowling. Julia Lee-Thorp. Petrus LeRoux.

    In contrast to Holocene sites, late Pleistocene sites along the South African south coast are dominated by large and medium-sized ungulates, many of which are typical of open-habitat grasslands and migration ecosystems. During much of the late Pleistocene, sea levels were substantially lower, exposing the Paleo-Agulhas Plain up to 100 km south of the modern coastline. The Migration Ecosystem hypothesis proposes that the Paleo-Agulhas Plain supported a migration ecosystem driven by summer...

  • Wood foraging in the tree-limited environment of the Cape Floral Region of South Africa (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Chloe Atwater. Jan de Vynck. Alastair Potts. Jayne Wilkins. Kim Hill.

    Wood is an essential resource for hunter-gatherers. It is necessary for cooking fuel, heat, and potentially safety, and hence influences site location choice and group size. Due to a low diversity and abundance of trees, wood may have been a limited resource for early humans in the Cape Floral Region (CFR) of South Africa. Drawing from behavior ecology foraging models, experiments with modern wood foragers were conducted to test this hypothesis. Foragers were observed collecting indigenous wood...