Middle Stone Age wood use 58 000 years ago in KwaZulu-Natal: charcoal analysis from two Sibudu occupation layers

  • S. Lennox University of the Witwatersrand
  • M. Bamford University of the Witwatersrand
  • L. Wadley University of the Witwatersrand

Abstract

Archaeological charcoal specimens from two Sibudu stratigraphic layers were identified and the spatial patterns resulting from the distributions of the 141 woody taxa (53 families, 91 genera and 114 species) were analysed for behavioural information about wood selection and use in the Middle Stone Age of KwaZulu-Natal. The layers, Brown under Yellow Ash 2(i) (BYA2i) and Spotty Camel (SPCA), contain post-Howiesons Poort assemblages that are approximately 58 ka old, though BYA2(i) is older than SPCA. The wood bundles in each hearth consist of species recognised today as good fuel and tinder, plus a selection of plants that today are used medicinally. Woods potentially suitable for making fire-sticks for starting fires are also present. Charcoal from Spirostachys africana, tambotie, occurs in one hearth in each layer. This wood is avoided today in cooking fires as it is poisonous. It may have been selected deliberately and burnt for insecticidal smoke or other medicinal purposes. Tarchonanthus parvicapitulatus, small-head camphor bush, charcoal occurs in SPCA and the camphor-like aromatic plant also has medicinal and insecticidal uses. Wood use is different amongst the hearths and between the two occupations.  Several vegetation communities were exploited, demonstrating a succession of vegetation and wood use. The vegetation mosaic at 58 ka differed from the coastal forest and savanna near Sibudu and conditions were colder and drier than today.
Published
2017-12-24
How to Cite
Lennox, S., Bamford, M., & Wadley, L. (2017). Middle Stone Age wood use 58 000 years ago in KwaZulu-Natal: charcoal analysis from two Sibudu occupation layers. Southern African Humanities, 30, 247-86. Retrieved from https://www.sahumanities.org/ojs/index.php/SAH/article/view/394
Section
Articles

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