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Assessing the paleoenvironmental potential of Pliocene to Holocene tufa deposits along the Ghaap Plateau escarpment (South Africa) using stable isotopes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Taylor Louise Doran*
Affiliation:
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, London WC1E 7HX, UK Department of Earth Sciences, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK
Andy I.R. Herries
Affiliation:
The Australian Archaeomagnetism Laboratory, Department of Archaeology and History, La Trobe University, Melbourne Campus, Bundoora, Vic 3086, Australia Centre for Anthropological Research, University of Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa
Philip J. Hopley
Affiliation:
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, London WC1E 7HX, UK Department of Earth Sciences, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK
Hank Sombroek
Affiliation:
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, London WC1E 7HX, UK
John Hellstrom
Affiliation:
School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia
Ed Hodge
Affiliation:
Formerly Institute of Environmental Research, ANSTO, PMB1 Menai, NSW 2234, Australia
Brian F. Kuhn
Affiliation:
Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg 2050, South Africa
*
*Corresponding author: 5323 Dover Street, Oakland, CA 94609, USA.E-mail address:Taylorlouisedoran@gmail.com (T.L. Doran).

Abstract

The tufa deposits of the Ghaap Plateau escarpment provide a rich, yet minimally explored, geological archive of climate and environmental history coincident with hominin evolution in South Africa. This study examines the sedimentary and geochemical records of ancient and modern tufas from Buxton-Norlim Limeworks, Groot Kloof, and Gorrokop, to assess the potential of these sediments for providing reliable chronologies of high-resolution, paleoenvironmental information. Chronometric dating demonstrates that tufa formation has occurred from at least the terminal Pliocene through to the modern day. The stable isotope records show a trend toward higher, more variable δ18O and δ13C values with decreasing age from the end of the Pliocene onwards. The long-term increase in δ18O values corresponds to increasingly arid conditions, while increasing δ13C values reflect the changing proportion of C3/C4 vegetation in the local environment. Analysis of the Thabaseek Tufa, in particular, provides valuable evidence for reconstructing the depositional and chronological context of the enigmatic Taung Child (Australopithecus africanus). Collectively, the results of the present study demonstrate the potential of these deposits for developing high-precision records of climate change and ultimately, for understanding the causal processes relating climate and hominin evolution.

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Articles
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University of Washington

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Assessing the paleoenvironmental potential of Pliocene to Holocene tufa deposits along the Ghaap Plateau escarpment (South Africa) using stable isotopes
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