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Pinnacle Point (PP) near Mossel Bay in the Western Cape Province, South Africa, is known for a series of archaeological caves with important archaeological finds. Extensive excavations and studies in two of them (PP13B and PP5-6) have documented alternating periods of anthropogenic-dominated and geogenic-dominated sedimentation. A variety of caves do not bear evidence of anthropogenic remains. We have studied in detail the remnant deposits of three of them, Staircase Cave, Crevice Cave, and PP29, which have been formed under the same geologic and sedimentary conditions with those with anthropogenic contributions. Their remains are small and patchy but have extensive speleothem formations (as do most caves at PP) that were isotopically analyzed for paleoclimate and paleoenvironmental reconstruction. These caves also offer the opportunity to understand the purely geogenic signature of the PP locality and thus offer a geogenic baseline for the anthropogenic caves. Archaeologists normally focus only on sites with strong anthropogenic signals, but by building cave life histories we “raise the bar” (Goldberg 2008, p. 30) on our contextual knowledge.
In its broadest definition, geoarchaeology is the study of the archaeological record using any geoscience-based technique, method, concept, or knowledge (Rapp and Hill 2006). However, since archaeometry is a well-defined field focusing on the application of physical sciences to archeological prospecting, dating, and provenance (Waters 1992), it could be proposed that geoarchaeology has a more narrow definition, actually closer to the original coining of the term (Renfrew 1976) and to its modern main application. In this approach, geoarchaeology is the discipline that studies site stratigraphy and site formation processes, and the interaction of human and nature in shaping the landscape (Butzer 1982; French 2003; Goldberg and Macphail 2006; Waters 1992;). The history of this approach goes back several hundred years, as can be seen in the 1863 monograph of Sir Charles Lyell: Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man. However, it was not until 1976 that Colin Renfrew introduced and defined the term “geoarchaeology” in the preface of an edited volume by Davidson and Shackley (1976). Indeed, Renfrew (1976) defined precisely what should be the main concern of geoarchaeology, concisely summed up by Goldberg and Macphail (2006: 3): “geoarchaeology provides the ultimate context of all aspects of archaeology from understanding the position of a site in a landscape setting to a comprehension of the context of individual finds and features.”
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.
Theopetra Cave is a unique prehistoric site for Greece, as the Middle and Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic periods are present here, bridging the Pleistocene with the Holocene. During the more than 20 yr of excavation campaigns, charcoal samples from hearths suitable for 14C dating were collected from all anthropogenic layers, including the Paleolithic ones. Most of the samples were initially dated using the ABA chemical pretreatment protocol in the Laboratory of Archaeometry of NCSR Demokritos, Greece, and the Radiocarbon Dating and Cosmogenic Isotopes Laboratory of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel. The 14C results, which were not always consistent versus depth, showed that the earliest limit of human presence is ∼50,000 yr BP, thus reaching the age limits of the 14C dating method. However, 10 TL-dated burnt flint specimens unearthed from the lower part of the Middle Paleolithic sequence of the cave gave ages ranging between ∼110 and 135 kyr ago. These results are in disagreement with the 14C dates, as they support a much later date for these layers. In order to clarify the situation further, charcoal samples originating from hearths were conventionally dated in the Laboratory of Archaeometry of NCSR Demokritos using the ABA pretreatment. Additionally, hand-picked charcoal fragments also underwent 14C dating by AMS in the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit using the acid-base wet oxidation (ABOX-SC) pretreatment protocol. The 14C dates from the cave's Paleolithic layers obtained by both pretreatment protocols suggest a probable charcoal diagenesis affecting the 14C results of these very old samples. However, the dates obtained with ABOX-SC pretreatment are considered more reliable and in the younger stratigraphic part produced consistent results with the TL dating.
The elemental compositions of minerals in embedded and polished blocks of sediments can be determined using the electron microprobe, or with energy and/or wavelength dispersive detectors (EDS and/or WDS) in a scanning electron microscope. The results are usually presented as an indication, but not a confirmation, of the mineral phase present. A detailed analysis can, however, be used to identify the mineral phase with a reasonable degree of certainty. The approach is to use the elemental analysis to calculate the chemical formula of the suspected mineral. The ideal number of oxygen atoms of the suspected mineral is used, and not the amount of oxygen analyzed. If the calculated formula is similar to the actual chemical formula, it is reasonable to assume that this is indeed the correct mineral phase.
Table A.1 is an example of the output of a typical elemental analysis of a mineral. Following are the steps used to identify the mineral phase:
A first check of the quality of the analysis is whether the sum of the amounts of compounds is close to 100% (column 4 in Table A.1). In the example in Table A.1, the water and volatite contents were not analyzed, so the sum cannot be 100%, but should be close to 100%.
A guess of the possible mineral phase is then made, based on the major elements present. In the example in Table A.1, a good guess would be the mineral carbonate hydroxylapatite. As carbon was not analyzed, the question is whether the analysis obtained corresponds to hydroxylapatite. In the software program used for elemental analysis, open the method called “stoichiometry normalized results (oxygen by stoichiometry).” Then calculate the number of oxygens from the general chemical formula of the mineral hydroxylapatite: Ca5(PO4)3(OH,F,Cl). Note that the number of oxygens is the number in the formula (i.e., 13 oxygens: 12 in the phosphate position and 1 in the hydroxyl position). A correction needs to be made for the cations that were not analyzed, in this case, the hydrogen of the hydroxyl group. A half oxygen needs to be subtracted as two hydrogens are needed for each oxygen to make a compound. As this results in 12.5 oxygens, it is better to duplicate the formula [Ca10(PO4)6(OH,F,C)2] and use 25 oxygens (anions). Another useful example of this calculation is calcite. The calcite formula, CaCO3, has three oxygens, but two of them are associated with the carbon, which is usually not analyzed. Therefore the number of oxygens used for the calculation is one.
Dating and examination of plaster floor sequences by micromorphology at a tell site in Greece shows when they were made and how they were composed. While numerous informal floor surfaces using recycled rubbish were put in place, as and when, by the occupants, formal floors rich in plaster seem to have been re-laid at regular intervals in reflection of a communal decision – even if the actual floors followed a recipe determined by each household. The authors rightly champion the potential of the technique as a possible indicator of social change at the household and settlement level.
The Neolithic layers of Drakaina Cave in Kefalonia Island are characterized by several successive well-preserved plaster floors. These constructed floors, along with the relating archaeological sediments, were examined using micromorphological techniques, which involve the study of petrographie thin sections produced by resin-impregnated, undisturbed blocks of sediment.
At Drakaina, lime plaster was identified as the construction material of the floors, which consist of a mixture of clay and burnt lime as well as a large amount (30–40%) of lime lumps with signs of incomplete transformation to quicklime during the burning process. The raw material used for the production of lime was the soft Neogene mari and limestone found in the nearby areas of the site. The presence of large amounts of lime lumps as a form of plaster aggregate is most likely the product of traditional ‘hot mixing’ or ‘dry slaking’ techniques.
The periodically repeated construction of the stable lime plaster floors in Drakaina using the same techniques as well as the same raw material suggests—among other things—the significance of the site as a locus of recurring social activity. The long lasting consistent method of floor construction combined with possible intensive activity at times implies that the cave and the surrounding environment were of particular importance to the Neolithic community of the area.
Τα νεολιθικά στρώματα του Σπηλαίου Δράκοανα στην Κεφαλονιά χαρακτηρίζονται από αλλεπάλληλα και καλά διατηρημένα δάπεδα. Τα κατασκευασμένα αυτά δάπεδα μαζί με τις αρχαιολογικές τους αποθέσεις μελετήθηκαν με τη μέθοδο της μικρομορφολογίας, η οποία συνίσταται στη μελέτη πετρογραφικών λεπτών τομών από αδιατάρακτα δείγματα επίχωσης, εμποτισμένα προηγουμένως με ειδικές ρητίνες.
Στη Δράκαινα αναγνωρίστηκε ότι το υλικό κατασκευής των δαπέδων είναι ασβεστοκονίαμα αποτελούμενο από μείγμα αργίλου και ασβέστη μαζί με μεγάλη ποσότητα (30–40%) αδιάλυτων συσσωματωμάτων ασβέστη ως αποτέλεσμα της ατελούς μετατροπής του ασβεστόλιθου κατά την πύρωση. Ως πρώτη ύλη για την παρασκευή του ασβέστη χρησιμοποιήθηκαν νεογενείς μαλακές μάργες και ασβεστόλιθοι της περιοχής. Η παρουσία μεγάλων ποσοτήιων συσσωματωμάτων ασβέστη ως συνδετικό υλικό είναι αποτέλεσμα συγκεκριμένης τεχνικής, γνωστής ως “μείξη ασβέστη εν θερμώ”.
Η περιοδική κατασκευή στέρεων δαπέδων από ασβεστοκονίαμα στη Δράκαινα με την ίδια τεχνική και την ίδια πρώτη ύλη υποδεικνύει -μεταξύ άλλων- τη σημασία της θέσης ως τόπου επαναλαμβανόμενης κοινωνικής δραστηριότητας. Η επί μακρόν αμετάβλητη μέθοδος κατασκευής των δαπέδων, συνδυαζόμενη με την εντατική κατά καιρούς χρήση της θέσης, υποδηλώνουν ότι το σπήλαιο και το ευρύτερο περιβάλλον του ήταν ιδιαίτερα σημαντικά για τη νεολιθική κοινότητα της περιοχής.
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