DATED HOLOCENE HUMAN REMAINS FROM SOUTH AFRICA: RECALIBRATION AND BROAD CONTEXTUALIZATION

Emma Loftus, Marlize Lombard, Maryna Steyn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The study of human remains can provide valuable information about aspects of past populations. Here we present an updated database consisting of 590 radiocarbon (14C) dates for human remains from Holocene South Africa before European contact. We calibrated or recalibrated all the previously published dates using the most recent calibration curve for the southern hemisphere. Each date is roughly georeferenced and plotted according to their Stone Age or Iron Age contexts, revealing the broad distribution pattern of dated Holocene human remains across South Africa—perhaps reflecting aspects of past population distribution and densities, but also underscoring historical collection practices, archaeological research focus, and preservation conditions. We use Kernel Density Estimation models to show peaks and troughs of dated remains through time, with Later Stone Age peaks at ∼5.5 ka cal BP, ∼2 ka cal BP and ∼0.5 ka cal BP, and Iron Age peaks ∼1.1 ka cal BP and ∼0.5 ka cal BP, some of which show broad correspondence to climatic data. Our data, based on dated remains only, do not provide a full reflection of past populations, and our large-scale, coarse-grained analysis cannot yet assess the reasons for the peaks in dated human remains in detail. Yet, the study provides a new resource, and a data-driven overview that highlights aspects to be explored with further contextual analyses against the available archaeological records, population histories and climatic indicators through time and across space.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-133
Number of pages16
JournalRadiocarbon
Volume66
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 11 Feb 2024

Keywords

  • Iron Age
  • Later Stone Age
  • human remains
  • kernel density estimation models
  • radiocarbon aggregation methods
  • radiocarbon dating

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archeology (arts and humanities)
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences

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