Mysterious Hunter-Gatherers of the South African Interior

Category Science

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Researchers have discovered ancient lakes in South Africa's dry interior regions, suggesting that Stone Age humans may have been more widespread than previously believed. In their study, they used radiocarbon and luminescence dating techniques to age the lakes, computer simulations to estimate the amount of water it took to fill them, and archaeological materials to indicate when humans were present in this area. This research is key to understanding the ancient human histories of the region.

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In some of South Africa's most dry locations, scientists have discovered ancient lakes, raising the possibility that Stone Age humans were more widespread than previously believed, according to a new study published in PNAS on May 15. The research offers a rare picture of a diversified and productive area that may have sustained communities of prehistoric hunter-gatherers.

The mystery behind hunter-gatherers in South Africa .

The research was conducted mainly in the dry interior regions of South Africa, which includes areas further east such as Kimberley.

"This is currently the best evidence for when these lakes existed. This region has been something of a gap on the map, climatically and archaeologically," revealed lead author Dr. Andrew Carr from the University of Leicester School of Geography, Geology and the Environment in a press release.

Numerous studies have been conducted on South Africa's Stone Age archaeological record, especially for the past 150,000 years. This is partly because the country is home to several impressive coastline caves and rock shelter sites. However, the existence of humans and the resources at their disposal in the vast interior regions of the nation have remained much more of a mystery—until now.

The results show that numerous large bodies of water were likely maintained in this area during the last Ice Age.

According to the most recent research, numerous sizable bodies of water were likely maintained during the last Ice Age in the now-arid interior of South Africa, particularly between 50,000 and 40,000 years ago and again 31,000 years ago. Significantly, the team simulated how much water was needed to fill these palaeo-lakes, which made it possible to reconstruct the climatic changes required to form lakes and their effects on the region's hydrology, flora, and fauna.

Computer simulations of regional hydrology estimated the amount of water it took to fill these paleo-lakes.

They explored three lakes from the arid western interior of South Africa to as far east as Kimberley. They assessed the lakes' size and capacity and dated the shorelines using radiocarbon and luminescence dating techniques. The conditions required to form the studied lakes would have produced significant changes in the region's numerous (now ephemeral or short-lived) rivers and lakes as the water table rose, according to computer simulations of regional hydrology.

Researchers used radiocarbon and luminescence dating techniques to determine the lake's age.

"We know humans were present at times during the last ice age, as archaeological materials are scattered across the landscape surface. This new work hints at when and why humans used this landscape," Carr said. He explained that while these places appeared inhospitable today, they seemed less hostile during past periods. Additionally, he added that this may have impacted how and when groups of people used the terrain, as well as how they interacted and shared ideas.

The conditions necessary to create the paleo-lakes would have caused significant changes in the area's rivers and lakes.

"It also tells us something about the sensitivity of ecosystems and environments to global climatic change," he stated. "You can see how these desert landscapes can respond in quite significant ways to global climate changes and understand how the human species responded and how adaptable it would have been." .

It was also highlighted in the press release that the area is particularly difficult for archaeology because most materials are exposed on the surface of the desert and lack stratigraphic context, making it difficult to determine how long they have been there.

Archaeological materials across the landscape suggest that humans have been present in this area during the last Ice Age.

The co-author of the paper, Dr. Sarah Elliott from the University of Cape Town's Department of Archaeology stressed the importance of the research to understanding the ancient human histories in the area: "This region of South Africa is poorly sampled for archaeological material, and existing excavations have yet to reveal evidence of the early use of space in this region. With this work, we can say where we might expect to find evidence and this is key to unlocking our early human origins." .

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