The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

The South African Palaeocave Survey: A regional GIS approach to palaeoanthropological fieldwork


1Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, 2Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, 3Florisbad Quaternary Research Department, National Museum, Bloemfontein, 4Center for the Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology, George Washington University

Thursday 2:45-3:00, Ballroom C Add to calendar

Palaeoanthropological research about South African Plio-Pleistocene hominid evolution has concentrated historically on a small number of productive hominid fossil sites. All such sites correspond geographically to historic lime mines from the early 20th Century. We extracted map coordinates for lime (and other) mines in the Malmani dolomite geological subgroup from historic South African mining records, and geological and topographic maps, to facilitate a widespread regional GIS survey. Our aims were to utilize handheld GPS to relocate historic mine localities, and to produce a field inventory of potential localities for future research.

Our research involves historical archives, digital field reconnaissance, and web-based media applications to present our project in academic and public forums ( The project design presents the fieldwork experience in real time, and provides an educational archive as part of a broader public engagement involving regional history, geology, and palaeoanthropology.

We explored three broad regions within the Malmani Subgroup dolomites, and located over 20 previously undocumented potential sites including historic lime mines, sinkholes, and caves. Because only a few sites produced fossil deposits, a primary consideration for future research is the potential to sample useful resources (speleothem, cave infill deposits) from such sites irrespective of the occurrence of identifiable fossil materials. Can such sites produce useful information relevant to palaeoanthropological queries? Future fieldwork will incorporate sampling and excavation, and additional survey methods such as aerial photography and other forms of remote sensing will be used to enhance our field reconnaissance technique.

This project was funded by an AHRC Fellowship Grant (AH/J004227/1) to KK.

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