Crossroads in the desert: MSA settlement, mobility and subsistence strategies in Namaqualand, South Africa

  • Author: Genevieve Dewar & Brian Stewart
  • Topic: 40,000 to 250,000 BP,Archaeometry,Environmental archaeology
  • Country: Namibia, South Africa
  • Related Congress: 13th Congress, Dakar

The recent excavation of Spitzkloof Rockshelter in South Africa is part
of a larger project called AMEMSA (Adaptations to Marginal Environments
in the Middle Stone Age), focused on how and when modern Homo sapiens
were able to colonize ‘hard’ environments. With over 90 MSA open sites
and at least 50 ESA sites in Namaqualand, evidence from this southern extension
of the Namib Desert has potential to inform us on how people adapted
to stress, both technologically and socially. Namaqualand also has it
has two very different corridors for population movement; the Atlantic
coastline and the Orange River. In fact, we predict that the Orange River
may have acted as an inland coastline and refugia during the driest periods,
when little to no fresh water was available at the coast. There is also great
potential for evidence of temporal continuity at inland sites simply because
they have not been scoured clean during high water stands, like coastal shelters.
Research into the Later Stone Age period shows that people were fully
adapted to desert life, and thus the region must have been colonized at some
point during MIS 6-2. In order to address these questions, we have recently
excavated the shelter in order to establish a chronological, palaeoenvironmental,
and archaeological record for the region. We hope to compare the
results from this excavation with the archaeological signatures from the
many open-air sites in the area, in order to study shifting settlement, mobility
and subsistence strategies.

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