Understanding site formation processes, human occupation and environmental change at Mertenhof rock shelter, South Africa

Author: Alanah Bainbridge

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 15 Feb 2025.

Bainbridge, Alanah, 2023 Understanding site formation processes, human occupation and environmental change at Mertenhof rock shelter, South Africa, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This thesis explores the sedimentary properties of Mertenhof rock shelter, situated in South Africa. Methods including particle size and shape, magnetic susceptibility, loss on ignition and elemental analysis provided more information about the climate mechanisms operating over a period of >150 ka. The results showed how these events affected the formation of the site. The analysis identified that Mertenhof’s deposition history was impacted by at least three large scale climate events that contributed to the formation of the site. These climate events – the last glacial maximum (LGM), LGM/Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3 transition, MIS 3/4 transition, MIS 5 and possibly MIS 6 – register at Mertenhof as small oscillations in the grain size and magnetic susceptibility results. For example, the LGM is defined by finer grained sediment that is associated with the onset of aeolian deposition, as supported in the regions paleoenvironmental data. Fine grains are replaced by coarser sediment during later MIS 3, linked with cool and wet conditions and the onset of internal erosion. A peak in magnetic susceptibility (interpreted here as anthropogenically induced) during MIS 3 supports the findings of Williams (2017) and reiterates that Mertenhof was occupied during this time. The MIS 3/4 transition is marked by a decline in magnetic susceptibility values, describing a period of harsh glacial conditions during MIS 4 that increased the percentage of internal erosion.

Keywords: South Africa, Mertenhof, climate mechanisms, site formation

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2023
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Ian Moffat