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Coastal occupation and foraging during the last glacial maximum and early Holocene at Waterfall Bluff, eastern Pondoland, South Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 May 2020

Erich C. Fisher*
Institute of Human Origins, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, USA African Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Hayley C. Cawthra
African Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa Geophysics and Remote Sensing Unit, Council for Geoscience Western Cape regional office, Cape Town, South Africa
Irene Esteban
African Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Antonieta Jerardino
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, School of Humanities, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Frank H. Neumann
Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Annette Oertle
Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Arts and Social Science, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Justin Pargeter
Department of Anthropology, New York University, NY, USA Rock Art Research Institute, School of Geography, Archaeology, and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Rosaria B. Saktura
Centre for Archaeological Science, School of Earth, Atmospheric, and Life Sciences, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia
Katherine Szabó
Monash Indigenous Studies Centre, Monash University, Clayton VIC3800, Australia Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, CambridgeUK
Stephan Winkler
NRF/iThemba Laboratory for Accelerator Based Sciences, Braamfontein 2001, Johannesburg, South Africa
Irit Zohar
Beit Margolin Biological Collections, Oranim Academic College, Kiryat Tivon, Israel Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa, Israel
*Corresponding author at: Institute of Human Origins, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, USA. E-mail address: (E.C. Fisher).


Waterfall Bluff is a rock shelter in eastern Pondoland, South Africa, adjacent to a narrow continental shelf that limited coastline movements across glacial/interglacial cycles. The archaeological deposits are characterized by well-preserved stratigraphy, faunal, and botanical remains alongside abundant stone artifacts and other materials. A comprehensive dating protocol consisting of 5 optically stimulated luminescence ages and 51 accelerator mass spectrometry 14C ages shows that the record of hunter-gatherer occupations at Waterfall Bluff persisted from the late Pleistocene to the Holocene, spanning the last glacial maximum and the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene. Here, we provide detailed descriptions about the sedimentary sequence, chronology, and characteristics of the archaeological deposits at Waterfall Bluff. Remains of marine mollusks and marine fish also show, for the first time, that coastal foraging was a component of some hunter-gatherer groups’ subsistence practices during glacial phases in the late Pleistocene. The presence of marine fish and shellfish further demonstrates that hunter-gatherers selectively targeted coastal resources from intertidal and estuarine habitats. Our results therefore underscore the idea that Pondoland's coastline remained a stable and predictable point on the landscape over the last glacial/interglacial transition being well positioned for hunter-gatherers to access resources from the nearby coastline, narrow continental shelf, and inland areas.

Research Article
Copyright © University of Washington. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2020

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