Early humans were drawn to Kalahari during water-rich periods

Evidence of water-rich periods in the Kalahari attracted early humans, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The Kalahari is a large semi-arid sandy savanna in Southern Africa, named from a Setswana word kgala or “great thirst”. Until recently, most evidence for early human development in southern Africa has stemmed from the country’s southern coast.

A research project by the University of Cape Town has been studying tufa rock formations on Ga-Mohana Hill, 12km from Kuruman in the Northern Cape, revealing that the southern Kalahari once had waterfalls, flowing streams and pools of water that supported early humans.

Tufa deposits are porous sedimentary rocks composed of calcium carbonate which are formed by evaporation of water that emerges in springs. Dating sequences of samples from the tufa formations at Ga-Mohana Hill dates the rock to five distinct episodes over the last 110,000 years, three of which coincide with evidence of human occupation.

- Advertisement -

The study shows that that there are links between human occupation and water availability in the southern Kalahari before 71,000 years ago. Around 20,000 years ago during the Last Glacial Maximum, a break-down in tufa formations suggest that the climate was much drier, although human occupation persisted, challenging the previously held theory that humans occupied these arid regions only during wetter periods, and it may suggest arid-adapted behaviours.

“Tufas are not actively forming today. So that’s really a clue that the environment was different in the past,” said Von der Meden of the Department of Geological Sciences and UCT’s Human Evolution Research Institute (HERI).

“We’ve shown a record of water in the tufas that not only matches the archaeological record but also provides evidence of a crucial resource for the people living at Ga-Mohana. These findings shed light on climate change and the impact of this on human evolution,” added Meden.

University of Cape Town

Header Image Credit : Jessica von der Meden

- Advertisement -
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

Mobile Application


Related Articles

Study uses satellite imagery to identify over 1,000 Andean hillforts

A new study, published in the journal Antiquity, uses satellite imagery to survey hillforts known as pukaras in the Andean highlands.

Roman defensive spikes unveiled at the Leibniz Centre for Archaeology

In 2023, archaeologists from Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main uncovered a series of wooden defensive spikes during excavations of a 1st century AD Roman fort in Bad Ems, western Germany.

Obsidian blade linked to Coronado’s expedition to find the fabled city of gold

Archaeologists suggest that a flaked-stone obsidian blade could be linked to the expedition led by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado to search for the fabled city of gold.

Clay seal stamp from First Temple period found in Jerusalem

Archaeologists have discovered a clay seal stamp from the First Temple period during excavations in the Western Wall Plaza, Jerusalem.

Offering of human sacrifices found at Pozo de Ibarra

Archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have uncovered an offering of human sacrifices at the Mexican town of Pozo de Ibarra.

Excavation uncovers preserved wooden cellar from Roman period

Archaeologists from the Frankfurt Archaeological Museum have uncovered a well-preserved wooden celler in Frankfurt, Germany.

Preserved temples from the Badami Chalukya era found in India

Archaeologists from the Public Research Institute of History, Archaeology, and Heritage (PRIHAH) have announced the discovery of two temples dating from the Badami Chalukya era.

Excavation of medieval shipbuilders reveals a Roman head of Mercury

Excavations of a medieval shipbuilders has led to the discovery of a Roman settlement and a Roman head of Mercury.