The Middle and Later Stone Age Faunal Remains from Diepkloof Rock Shelter, Western Cape, South Africa.

  • Author: Richard G. Klein & Teresa E. Steele
  • Topic: 1000 to 2000 BP,Zooarchaeology
  • Country: South Africa
  • Related Congress: 13th Congress, Dakar

The Middle Stone Age (MSA) sequence at Diepkloof Rock Shelter comprises (from older to younger) Pre-Still Bay, Still Bay, Howiesons Poort, and Post-Howiesons Poort layers. Later Stone Age (LSA) deposits with sheep bones, radiocarbon dated to <=2000 years, overlie the MSA. The faunal sample includes >

40 taxa, mostly mammals, but also tortoises, snakes, birds (especially ostrich represented by eggshell), and intertidal mollusks. Small antelopes, hares, dune mole rat, and rock hyrax dominate the MSA
sample. Hyrax, klipspringer, and vaalribbok reflect the rocky, topographically variable, environs of the site, while occasional zebra and alcelaphine antelope bones indicate grass cover. Hippopotamus and southern reedbuck imply the persistence of the neighboring vlei. Zebra and alcelaphine teeth are most abundant in the youngest (Post-Howieson’s Poort) MSA layers, which may imply especially grassy conditions. Alternatively, it may simply reflect slightly better preservation of teeth in these layers. In general, taxonomically identifiable teeth are rare, because salt or gypsum crystal growth shattered them after burial. The peculiar geochemistry of the deposits also fragmented other bones, and combined with substantial post-depositional staining, complicates a search for cut-marks and burning. Currently the site is 18 km from the coast, and it was even further during much of the MSA when sea level was lower than it is today. However, the deposits preserve intertidal mollusks, primarily black mussels and granite limpets, throughout. Sparse bones of Cape Fur seal, dolphin, and penguin also occur throughout and reflect MSA visits to the coast. Whale barnacles and dolphin bones suggest the people scavenged beached cetaceans. Tortoise bones abound, and the vast majority come from the angulate tortoise. Angulate tortoise size varies little within the MSA sequence, but on average, the MSA tortoises were significantly larger than their LSA counterparts. The same is true at every other site in the Western Cape Province where MSA and LSA tortoise bones are preserved. The most plausible explanation is that MSA people collected tortoises less intensively, because MSA human populations were mostly less dense.

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