How and to what extent did climate change in the past impact early humans and how did early humans adapt to new environments? Dr. Jayne Wilkins (Griffith University) and Dr. Benjamin Schoville (University of Queensland) lead The North of Kuruman Project, which is a multidisciplinary regional study of Pleistocene hunter-gatherer adaptation in the Kalahari Basin designed to address those questions. This new archaeological record of human adaptation in the Kalahari Basin will help identify the important drivers behind the origins of Homo sapiens' enhanced capacities for social learning, sociality, and adaptability.
The North of Kuruman project focuses on the southern edge of the Kalahari Basin. Middle Stone Age sites in this area have received little archaeological attention to date.
South Africa’s rich archaeological record attests to the emergence of Homo sapiens' social capacities and adaptability over the course of the Middle Stone Age, as evidenced by new discoveries at several important sites across the country. The question of what drove the evolution of complex and flexible human behaviors, however, is contested. Some researchers emphasize the role of human interaction dynamics in generating the innovative behaviors that define us. Other scholars argue that research should focus on the role of changing climates, and in particular, the role that coastal environments played in shaping our species. Related to this is significant disagreement over how and to what extent glacial and interglacial conditions in southern Africa impacted human populations.
The Coastal Bias
To date, many well-studied Middle Stone Age archaeological sites are located close to the current coastline, and less work has thoroughly examined the dynamic interplay between climate change, culture, and evolutionary process for early Homo sapiens in the deep interior of South Africa. As a result, scholarship today supports a narrative that is biased toward the coastal archaeological record.
New Sites in the Kalahari Basin
The North of Kuruman project remedies this gap by investigating human-environment interaction in the Kalahari Basin, where we are currently excavating new sites. We have recovered in situ Middle and Later Stone Age deposits with good preservation. Because these deposits contain lithic artifacts, fauna, ostrich eggshell, and carbonates, they provide a dateable record of Pleistocene environmental change in the Kalahari Basin that can be investigated using leading-edge excavation, dating, and analytical methods.
Dr. Robyn Pickering, University of Cape Town
Dr. Kyle Brown, University of Cape Town
Dr. Benjamin Collins, University of Manitoba
Dr. Luke Gliganic, University of Innsbruck
Dr. Michael Meyer, University of Innsbruck
Dr. Emma Loftus, University of Cambridge
Dr. Sechaba Maape, University of Witwatersrand
Dr. Ashley Coutu, University of Oxford
Dr. Irene Esteban, University of the Witwatersrand
Dr. Mathieu Duval, Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana
Alex Blackwood, La Trobe University
Amy Hatton, University College London/University of Cape Town
Postgraduates (with North of Kuruman related theses)
Bharti Jangra (Griffith University)
Precious Chiwara-Maenzanise (University of Cape Town)
Jessica von der Meden (University of Cape Town), BSc Honours 2016
Wendy Khumalo (University of Cape Town), BSc Honours 2019
Batande Getyengana (University of Cape Town), BSc Honours 2020
Field and Lab Contributors - Past and Present
Navashni Naidoo, Jani Louw, Leesha Richardson, Nathan Bickerton, Alyssa Eltzholtz, Josh Giesken, Tamara Jeggels, Mabeth Crafford, Simangaliso Makalima, Khumo Matlhoko, Ayanda Mdludlu, Alicen Munn, Patricia Groenewald, Josie Burness, Tara Edwards, Chris Shelton, Michaela Heale, Rachel Westbrook, Trisha Patel, Bacara Spruit, Tessa Campbell