skip to main content

Title: Early, intensive marine resource exploitation by Middle Stone Age humans at Ysterfontein 1 rockshelter, South Africa

Modern human behavioral innovations from the Middle Stone Age (MSA) include the earliest indicators of full coastal adaptation evidenced by shell middens, yet many MSA middens remain poorly dated. We apply230Th/U burial dating to ostrich eggshells (OES) from Ysterfontein 1 (YFT1, Western Cape, South Africa), a stratified MSA shell midden.230Th/U burial ages of YFT1 OES are relatively precise (median ± 2.7%), consistent with other age constraints, and preserve stratigraphic principles. Bayesian age–depth modeling indicates YFT1 was deposited between 119.9 to 113.1 thousand years ago (ka) (95% CI of model ages), and the entire 3.8 m thick midden may have accumulated within ∼2,300 y. Stable carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen isotopes of OES indicate that during occupation the local environment was dominated by C3vegetation and was initially significantly wetter than at present but became drier and cooler with time. Integrating archaeological evidence with OES230Th/U ages and stable isotopes shows the following: 1) YFT1 is the oldest shell midden known, providing minimum constraints on full coastal adaptation by ∼120 ka; 2) despite rapid sea-level drop and other climatic changes during occupation, relative shellfish proportions and sizes remain similar, suggesting adaptive foraging along a changing coastline; 3) the YFT1 lithic technocomplex is similar to other west coast assemblages but distinct from potentially synchronous industries along the southern African coast, suggesting human populations were fragmented between seasonal rainfall zones; and 4) accumulation rates (up to 1.8 m/ka) are much higher than previously observed for dated, stratified MSA middens, implying more intense site occupation akin to Later Stone Age middens.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Page Range / eLocation ID:
Article No. e2020042118
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Maritime occupation sites in upland dune settings (10–150 m elevation mean sea level) in San Miguel Island (37 km2in size), located 40 km offshore of the south‐central California mainland, were analyzed for reported ages, component types, and distances from paleo‐shorelines around the island’s shelf platform. The occupation sites (dated ~12,200 to 200 cal B.P.) include numerous shell middens and lithic scatters. Some sites contain Paleocoastal stemmed points and chipped stone crescents, the latter believed to be used for hunting waterfowl. What prompted the site occupations in the semiarid dune‐covered coastal bluffs and interior‐plateaus that were located 10–150 m above and 1–4 km distant from age‐correlative paleo‐shorelines? Eolianite dune settings in San Miguel include ephemeral freshwater sources from: (a) vernal pond/wetlands in interior plateaus; (b) gullies or creeks in the dune‐covered bluff slopes; (c) springs exposed in current sea cliffs or canyons; and (d) pond/wetlands barraged by sand ramps on the windward bluff slopes and gully drainages. These freshwater features are proposed to have attracted humans and their hunting, shellfish processing, and plant gathering activities to upland localities, as now preserved above the island’s shelf platform that was submerged by the Holocene marine transgression.

    more » « less
  2. Hart, John P. (Ed.)
    Amanzi Springs is a series of inactive thermal springs located near Kariega in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Excavations in the 1960s exposed rare, stratified Acheulian-bearing deposits that were not further investigated over the next 50 years. Reanalysis of the site and its legacy collection has led to a redefined stratigraphic context for the archaeology, a confirmed direct association between Acheulian artefacts and wood, as well as the first reliable age estimates for the site. Thermally transferred optically stimulated luminescence and post-infrared infrared stimulated luminescence dating indicates that the Acheulian deposits from the Amanzi Springs Area 1 spring eye formed during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 11 at ~ 404–390 ka. At this time, higher sea levels of ~13-14m would have placed Amanzi Springs around 7 km from a ria that would have formed along what is today the Swartkops River, and which likely led to spring reactivation. This makes the Amanzi Springs Area 1 assemblage an unusual occurrence of a verified late occurring, seaward, open-air Acheulian occupation. The Acheulian levels do not contain any Middle Stone Age (MSA) elements such as blades and points that have been documented in the interior of South Africa at this time. However, a small number of stone tools from the upper layers of the artefact zone, and originally thought of as intrusive, have been dated to ~190 ka, at the transition between MIS 7 to 6, and represent the first potential MSA identified at the site. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Well‐dated lacustrine records are essential to establish the timing and drivers of regional hydroclimate change. Searles Basin, California, records the depositional history of a fluctuating saline‐alkaline lake in the terminal basin of the Owens River system draining the eastern Sierra Nevada. Here, we establish a U‐Th chronology for the ∼76‐m‐long SLAPP‐SLRS17 core collected in 2017 based on dating of evaporite minerals. Ninety‐eight dated samples comprising nine different minerals were evaluated based on stratigraphic, mineralogic, textural, chemical, and reproducibility criteria. After the application of these criteria, a total of 37 dated samples remained as constraints for the age model. A lack of dateable minerals between 145 and 110 ka left the age model unconstrained over the penultimate glacial termination (Termination II). We thus established a tie point between plant wax δD values in the core and a nearby speleothem δ18O record at the beginning of the Last Interglacial. We construct a Bayesian age model allowing stratigraphy to inform sedimentation rate inflections. We find that the >210 ka SLAPP‐SRLS17 record contains five major units that correspond with prior work. The new dating is broadly consistent with previous efforts but provides more precise age estimates and enables a detailed evaluation of evaporite depositional history. We also offer a substantial revision of the age of the Bottom Mud‐Mixed Layer contact, shifting it from ∼130 ka to 178 ± 3 ka. The new U‐Th chronology documents the timing of mud and salt layers and lays the foundation for climate reconstructions.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract India is located at a critical geographic crossroads for understanding the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa and into Asia and Oceania. Here we report evidence for long-term human occupation, spanning the last ~80 thousand years, at the site of Dhaba in the Middle Son River Valley of Central India. An unchanging stone tool industry is found at Dhaba spanning the Toba eruption of ~74 ka (i.e., the Youngest Toba Tuff, YTT) bracketed between ages of 79.6 ± 3.2 and 65.2 ± 3.1 ka, with the introduction of microlithic technology ~48 ka. The lithic industry from Dhaba strongly resembles stone tool assemblages from the African Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Arabia, and the earliest artefacts from Australia, suggesting that it is likely the product of Homo sapiens as they dispersed eastward out of Africa. 
    more » « less
  5. Landscapes are formed by long-term interactions between the underlying geology and climatic, edaphic and biotic factors, including human activity. The Kasitu Valley in the Mzimba District of northern Malawi includes the Kasitu River and its adjacent floodplains and uplands, and it has been a location of sustained human occupation since at least 16 thousand years ago (ka) based on archaeological excavations from rockshelters. We trace the changing ecology and geomorphology of the region through soil stable isotopes (δ13C, δ15N), microcharcoal and fossil pollen analysed from alluvial terraces dated by Optically Stimulated Luminescence, and wetland auger cores and archaeological sites dated by radiocarbon. Our results suggest that the region was primarily covered in mosaic forest at ca. 22.5 ka. Middle and Late Holocene samples (6.0–0.5 ka) show an increasingly open, herbaceous landscape over time with an inflection toward more abundant C4 vegetation after 2 ka. Significant upland erosion and terrace formation is also evidenced since 2 ka alongside high concentrations of microcharcoal, suggesting more intensive use of fire. Faecal biomarkers simultaneously indicate higher numbers of humans living adjacent to the archaeological site of Hora 1, which may be indicative of an overall population increase associated with the arrival of Iron Age agropastoralists. More recently, the introduction of exogenous commercial taxa such asPinussp. are correlated with regional afforestation in our proxy record. These results show increasing stepwise human impacts on the local environment, with deforestation and maintenance of open landscapes correlated with the regional introduction and intensification of agriculture during the Late Holocene.

    more » « less