Extending the chronology of deposits at Blombos Cave, South Africa, back to 140 ka using optical dating of single and multiple grains of quartz


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September 2006


Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) measurements are reported for both single aliquots (of two different sizes) and single grains of quartz from deposits within Blombos Cave. Ages have been obtained for six sediments from the Middle Stone Age (MSA) occupation levels and for two sterile sands, one underlying the archaeological sediment and one overlying the Later Stone Age occupation levels. The ages for the archaeological sediments were obtained from single-grain measurements that enabled unrepresentative grains to be rejected. The MSA occupation levels have ages that, within error limits, are in stratigraphic order and fall between the OSL age for the oldest dune sand (143.2 ± 5.5 ka) and a previously published OSL age for the sterile sand (∼70 ka) that separates the Middle and Later Stone Age deposits. The earliest MSA archaeological phase, M3, from where fragments of ochre were found as well as human teeth, is dated to 98.9 ± 4.5 ka, coinciding with the sea-level high of oxygen isotope substage 5c. The cave then appears to be unoccupied until oxygen isotope substage 5a on the basis of four OSL ages for archaeological phase M2, ranging from 84.6 ± 5.8 to 76.8 ± 3.1 ka; these levels contained large hearths and bone tools. An age of 72.7 ± 3.1 ka was obtained for the final MSA archaeological phase, M1, from which deliberately engraved ochre and shell beads were recovered along with bifacial stone points. We conclude that the periods of occupation were determined by changes in sea level, with abundant sources of seafood available in times of high sea level and with the cave being closed by the accumulation of large dunes during periods of low sea level, such as during oxygen isotope stages 4 and 6.


Middle Stone Age, Luminescence Dating, Modern Human Behavior

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Journal of Human Evolution, Vol. 51, no. 3 (2006-09-01).