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Grantee Spotlight: Naomi Cleghorn

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Naomi Cleghorn, University of Texas at Arlington, was awarded a Leakey Foundation research grant in the fall of 2014 for her project entitled “Investigating a rare Early Later Stone Age site at Knysna, South Africa.”

Naomi Cleghorn at Pinnacle Point site 5/6, Mossel Bay, South Africa Naomi Cleghorn at Pinnacle Point site 5/6, Mossel Bay, South Africa

Despite widespread interest in the potential origins of modern human cognitive, social, and technological innovations in the Middle Stone Age (MSA) of Southern Africa, very little is known about how these developed into the suite of strategies exhibited by Holocene and recent foragers of southern Africa. Technologically, much changed between the earlier MSA and the Later Stone Age (LSA) of the Last Glacial Maximum, but the intervening industries are enigmatic and poorly represented. This is in part the result of a substantial drop in the number of documented archaeological sequences dating to the period between 45 kya and 25 kya. In contrast, the archaeological records of Europe and Western Asia document a proliferation of sites after 40 kya. The dearth of sites in South Africa is particularly difficult to reconcile with paleoclimate reconstructions indicating this region enjoyed a relatively mild, wet stadial, and with recent genetic research (Kim et al., 2014) suggesting that the southern African population was the largest on the planet during the Late Pleistocene. Where did these populations go for 20 k years and why did their technology change?

Graduate student Christopher Shelton (L) and Naomi Cleghorn working at Pinnacle Point site 5/6. They found KEH-1 in 2012 during a survey. Shelton is a research assistant on the current Leakey-funded project. Graduate student Christopher Shelton (L) and Naomi Cleghorn working at Pinnacle Point site 5/6. They found KEH-1 in 2012 during a survey. Shelton is a research assistant on the current Leakey-funded project.

My team and I have recently discovered a site on the southern coast that will help answer these questions. Knysna Eastern Heads Cave 1 (KEH-1) is currently a coastal site, but in the late Pleistocene, it would have had looked south out over a coastal plain up to 75 km wide. KEH-1 is unique in preserving the only archaeological sequence dating between 44 and 18 kya on the southern coast. My international team of scientists and student researchers will expand on the previous test excavation in July and August of 2015 and then use the analyses of stone tools, fauna, plant remains, stable isotopes, and the micromorphology of site stratigraphy to investigate human responses to the changing landscape.

Naomi Cleghorn and Leesha Richardson during the test excavation of Knysa Eastern Heads Cave 1 (KEH-1) Naomi Cleghorn and Leesha Richardson during the test excavation of Knysa Eastern Heads Cave 1 (KEH-1) 600ft trail, Harkerville Forest, taken during 2012 survey in the Knysna area 600ft trail, Harkerville Forest, taken during 2012 survey in the Knysna area Naomi Cleghorn (upper right) and excavation crew at Pinnacle Point Naomi Cleghorn (upper right) and excavation crew at Pinnacle Point

University of Texas, Arlington press release



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