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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.
Highly resolved, well-dated paleoclimate records from the southern South African coast are needed to contextualize the evolution of the highly diverse extratropical plant communities of the Greater Cape Floristic Region (GCFR) and to assess the environmental impacts on early human hunter-gatherers. We present new speleothem stable oxygen and carbon isotope ratios (δ18Oc and δ13C) from two caves at Pinnacle Point, South Africa, covering the time between 330 and 43 ka. Composite δ18Oc and δ13C records were constructed for Staircase Cave and PP29 by combining all stable isotope analyses into a single time series and smoothing by a 3-point running mean. δ18Oc and δ13C values record changes in rainfall seasonality and the proportions of C3 and C4 plants in the vegetation, respectively. We show that in general increased summer rainfall brought about a wider spread of C4 grasses and retreat of the C3 plant–dominated GCFR communities. The occurrence of summer rainfall on the southern coast of South Africa was linked to total rainfall amounts in the interior region through tropical temperate troughs. These rainfall systems shifted the southern coastal climate toward more summer (winter) rainfall when precession was high (low) and/or the westerlies were in a northern (southern) position.
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