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The University of Southampton
ArchaeologyPart of Humanities

Research project: Pniel 6 - archaeological excavations at a stone age site in the Northern Cape, South Africa - Dormant - Dormant

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Pniel 6 is an archaeological site dating back at least to the Late Pleistocene period (between 127,000 and 11,000 years ago), and possibly earlier to the preceding Middle Pleistocene period (between 787,000 years ago and 127,000 years ago).

It is one of a series of archaeological localities in the vicinity, either already known to have evidence of ancient human occupation, or discovered by Peter Beaumont of the McGregor Museum Kimberley.

The site is located on the left bank of the Vaal River in the Northern Cape province of the Republic of South Africa. It is c 23km north west of Kimberley. Here the Vaal flows around a huge sweeping meander known locally as 'the bend', and Pniel 6 is close to the western most corner, where the river begins to flow northwards towards Barkly West.

What is important about Pniel 6?

  • The site demonstrates the presence of stratified archaeology in sealed contexts at an open river side location. This presents us with the opportunity to study patterns of change over time, but associated with a persistent ecological niche.
  • The gravels contain bones. Bones may help us date the site and refine our understanding of the local environment.
  • The sediments at the site are datable. A single Luminescence date exists for the base of Stratum 2 of >120,000 years ago (Beaumont 1999). This suggests a possible minimum age for Stratum 3 of Oxygen Isotope Stage 6
  • The site has broader archaeological significance. Although not in primary context, the combination of archaeologically rich stratified gravels, containing temporally distinct 'cultural' artefacts, associated with bone, and sealed by later sediments amenable to radiometric dating techniques, makes Pniel 6 a very important archaeological site. Especially since Pniel is an open site, most of these features are usually associated with caves or rock shelters. The opportunity is present at Pniel to explore changes in raw material, tool type, and manufacturing patterns over time, and to follow threads of continuity and change, but in the context of a single unchanging ecological niche - the river bank. We will be able to ask questions about the relationship between ancient humans and the animals they shared their world with. Is the bone assemblage the result of scavenging, hunting, or does the bone assemblage imply humans were unable to access large mammal carcasses by either means, as suggested at other Middle Pleistocene sites (Klein 1999).
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