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The triad of landscape–climate–human relationships provides a secure context or interpretive framework for understanding not only the macroscale landscape development of southern Africa during the Quaternary, as reflected in the geomorphological and sedimentary record, but also those patterns and processes of human physical evolution and behaviour that took place within that landscape, as reflected in the fossil, archaeological and palaeoanthropological records. In this chapter, we reflect upon the complexity of such relationships, and the limitations on our current understanding, which is based on studies that are inevitably grounded in a narrow spatial and temporal context. To remedy this situation, we propose a more explicitly integrated landscape–climate–human approach to Quaternary studies in southern Africa, which may yield a better understanding of the sensitivity of landscapes and human activity to future climate and environmental changes in the Anthropocene. This in turn should lead us to a more realistic reconstruction of the many-faceted variables of our southern African collective past.
Minerogenic microfossils are abundantly preserved in sedimentary sequences from a wide range of aquatic environments, including shallow and deep ocean basins, lakes, wetlands and estuaries, and in environments with a range of pH, temperature, salinity and nutrient loads. In southern Africa, pollen is used more commonly as a palaeoenvironmental proxy than are minerogenic microfossils, despite the wider range of environmental variables to which minerogenic micro-organisms respond. Palaeoenvironmental reconstructions in southern Africa that have utilised some of these microfossils demonstrate their value, particularly in multi-proxy analyses, when comparing microfossil community changes with those represented by pollen, charcoal and stable isotopes. This chapter outlines the minerogenic microfossils that are most commonly examined globally, and discusses some specific case studies from southern Africa that demonstrate the utility of microfossils in reconstructing Quaternary palaeoenvironments. We argue that efforts should be made to expand the use of minerogenic microfossils in southern African palaeoenvironmental studies, given the valuable information they provide, both as proxies and through facilitating isotope analysis and dating.
The glacial and periglacial record of southern Africa during the Quaternary is limited to the highest-altitude areas of the Drakensberg and Cape Fold Belt, where late Pleistocene temperature depression in addition to uncertain changes in precipitation regime were sufficient in combination to develop small cirque glaciers and/or a range of periglacial features. This chapter reflects on past debates for and against Quaternary glaciations, and identifies research gaps in these debates. Geomorphological and sedimentary evidence for glacial and periglacial landforms is summarised in this chapter, and the climatic and environmental contexts in which they developed, where known, are explained. There remain significant gaps in our understanding of cold Quaternary events in high mountain areas of southern Africa, mainly due to an absence of reliable palaeoclimatic indicators, the sometimes inconclusive climatic signatures offered by periglacial landforms, and poor dating control. The Drakensberg and Cape Fold Belt still experience marginal periglacial climate conditions today, but are currently undergoing change due to both regional climate change and human-induced landscape alterations, thus future periglacial activity is likely to become further constrained in location and vigour.
The evolution of southern Africa during the Cenozoic (last 66 Ma) results from the interplay between regional-scale tectonic and climatic processes, and complex geomorphic feedbacks and responses that give rise to variations in preservation and denudation of the land surface. As such, this history of landscape evolution reflects a classic forcing–response model that is typical of many different geomorphological systems. In detail, however, the timescales and feedbacks are poorly known, and the palimpsest nature of land surface features (supported by evidence from radiometric dating) shows that the operation of these processes across southern Africa is not spatially uniform, which has not been previously discussed. The climatic and land surface feedbacks associated with mantle swells and periods of Cenozoic rifting and earlier Mesozoic volcanism are also uncertain. These are important future research challenges.
Climate changes and tectonic processes throughout the Cenozoic, and earlier, provide the context for landscape and environmental change in southern Africa during the Quaternary. Changing land surface properties and resource availability, including rock types, topography, soils, ecosystems and drainage patterns, have exerted a strong impact on the processes and patterns of human evolution, technological innovation and behaviour over millennial timescales. The southern African landscape seen today, and the preserved imprint of its past human activities, resulted from the interplay between climate, tectonics and geomorphology over lengthy Cenozoic timescales.
Ongoing climate change necessitates advances in our understanding of the interrelationships between climate, landscape-shaping processes and human activity over long time periods, especially in areas that are already climatically stressed. This volume presents new ideas on macroscale landscape evolution; mountain, fluvial and aeolian processes; and environments in southern Africa, a key region in the story of human evolution during the last two million years. Interdisciplinary in scope, it brings together an international team of experts to synthesise the latest research and understanding of landscape-human relationships in this region. It incorporates results from the emerging fields of geoarchaeology and cultural landscapes and utilises the latest data and analytical techniques. A key reference for researchers studying hominid evolution, geoarchaeology and environmental change, it provides a benchmark study of southern African landscape evolution during the Quaternary. It will also appeal to professionals and policymakers with interests in future human-landscape evolution in southern Africa.
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