Past Environmental Proxies from the Middle Stone Age at Sibudu, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa

In: Journal of African Archaeology
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  • 1 Mammal Research Institute, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of Pretoria
  • 2 School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies and the Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand
  • 3 iThemba Laboratories
  • 4 Mammal Research Institute, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of Pretoria

Middle Stone Age technological and behavioural developments in southern Africa are central to understanding the emergence of modern humans, and elucidating the role of environmental change in this trajectory is dependent on emerging palaeoclimatic reconstructions. Climate proxies from Middle Stone Age sites are often poorly preserved, coarsely resolved or subject to anthropogenic selection and are not considered in favour of global environmental proxies despite the fact that the modern climate regimes at the relevant archaeological sites differ profoundly. Sibudu has a well-preserved Middle Stone Age sequence that has yielded abundant palaeoclimate proxy data. Isotopic analysis of charcoal, charcoal anatomy and species representation, macro- and micro-faunal remains, sediment texture, mineralogy and magnetic susceptibility, pollen and macrobotanical remains provide evidence for the environmental succession specific to this site. The isotopic data suggest that archaeological charcoal was not significantly post-depositionally altered. During the Howiesons Poort (65–62 ka) the local environment was thickly forested, moist and more humid than during the 58 ka occupations. The environment changes during the post-Howiesons Poort occupation (~58 ka) into the late MSA occupation (~48 ka); conditions became drier and colder than present with vegetation shifting to open savanna grassland or woodlands.

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