Investigating the impact of Pleistocene climate change on early humans in the southern Kalahari

Jayne Wilkins, Robyn Pickering, Jessica von der Meden, Luke Gliganic, Kyle S Brown, Irene Esteban, Wendy Khumalo, Precious Chiwara, Yonatan Sahle, Kelly Kirsten, Benjamin J Schoville

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Homo sapiens exhibit extreme behavioural plasticity, mediated by culture and technology, that permits us to adapt rapidly to new environments and situations. Understanding the role that past climate change played in selecting for Homo sapiens’ adaptability is a key question in human evolution research. The arid and semi-arid Kalahari Basin in southern Africa is an ideal region for addressing this question because fossil, genetic, and archaeological evidence supports an early origin for Homo sapiens in southern Africa. The growing archaeological record of the Kalahari Basin reveals that significant behavioural innovations accumulated in the region over the course of the Middle and Late Pleistocene, including ochre use, hafted hunting weapons, fishing, and figurative paintings. Here, we report the results of interdisciplinary investigations at two locales in the southern Kalahari; Ga-Mohana Hill and Witberg 1. The archaeological and palaeoenvironmental record (based on U-Th dating of tufas) at Ga-Mohana Hill reveals that site occupation correlated with a previous period of increased effective precipitation ~110-100 ka, and preliminary results suggest a more complicated relationship between occupation and precipitation after that time. At Witberg 1, Middle Stone Age archaeology is associated with the shoreline of a previously unidentified palaeolake. Current investigations are focused on dating the Witberg deposits, analysing the lithic technology, and generating palaeoenvironmental archives using phytoliths and diatoms. Collectively, this research provides a rare opportunity to evaluate Middle Stone Age occupation across a changing landscape from both stratified rockshelters and sealed open-air sites, to explore the complex interactions between past climate change and early human behaviors, and to better understand the origins of Homo sapiens extreme adaptability.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes
EventEGU General Assembly 2021 - Online
Duration: 19 Apr 202130 Apr 2021


ConferenceEGU General Assembly 2021
Internet address


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