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Kalahari Desert Was Home to Ancient Humans More Than 20,000 Years Ago
At the site of Ga-Mohana Hill in the southern Kalahari of South Africa, archaeologists discovered and characterized relict tufas, which are remnants of once-flowing streams, waterfalls, and small pool
The Kalahari is often thought to be a hostile environment unsuitable for early human existence. According to a new study, in PLoS One,1 the desert used to be much greener and wetter than it is now. Humans were able to survive and even flourish in these wet environments.
Senior author, Jayne Wilkins is an archaeologist who works with the Human Evolution Research Institute at the University of Cape Town and the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University and she and her colleauge investigated the tufa deposits at Ga-Mohana Hill in the southern Kalahari of South Africa, a location that holds mystical significance for the indigenous populations. Tufa deposits are springs, waterfalls, or ponds that have converted into rock. They created a fresh, precisely dated record of extended water availability connected to human habitation in the Kalahari throughout the Late Pleistocene by U-Th dating.
Dr. Wilkins explains,
“Water precipitates out and leaves behind calcium carbonate which the team was able to drill into and date the rock. These dates tell us when it was wetter in the past.”
The researchers also came across some of the world's earliest examples of novel technologies,
“We found a lot of stone tools and the remnants of bones from a meal they would have consumed. A significant find though was calcite crystals, clear crystal cubes that don’t have a functional value but were probably collected for sentimental reasons like a stamp collector, or perhaps for ritual reasons. Our research shows it wasn’t just about surviving for the Homo sapiens in the Kalahari Desert, but they thrived with advanced knowledge, systems and technologies to able to access the resources they needed to survive in dry conditions.”
The fact that humans were already residing in the Kalahari around 20,000 years ago during the dry season gives us an understanding of how climatic change has affected human evolution.
von der Meden J, Pickering R, Schoville BJ, Green H, Weij R, et al. (2022) Tufas indicate prolonged periods of water availability linked to human occupation in the southern Kalahari. PLOS ONE 17(7): e0270104. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0270104