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date: 04 October 2022

A Southern African Perspective on the Contribution of Charcoal Analyses to Archaeologylocked

A Southern African Perspective on the Contribution of Charcoal Analyses to Archaeologylocked

  • Joseph ChikumbirikeJoseph ChikumbirikeSol Plaatje University
  •  and Marion K. BamfordMarion K. BamfordUniversity of the Witwatersrand, Faculty of Science


Southern Africa has a long and rich archaeological record, ranging from the Oldowan lithics in the Sterkfontein valley and Wonderwerk Cave (about 2 Ma) to Iron Age smelting (less than one thousand years ago) in Zimbabwe. A brief overview of charcoal analyses indicates applications in such areas as dating, vegetation and climate reconstructions, fuel use, medicinal use, and the interpretation of human behavior. Some of the research done in the 20th century mainly focused on charcoal for the purpose of dating, but this has diversified in the 21st century to include other applications. The focus is on South African sites, but research from Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe is included. Southern Africa has a very diverse woody component with more than fifteen hundred species from a flora of more than twenty-five thousand species so the establishment of regional modern reference collections of charcoalified woods has been instrumental in improving identifications of the archaeological taxa. Early Middle Stone Age charcoal records show that a diversity of woody species was burned. By Middle Stone Age times, records show the selection of woods for fuel, tinder, and medicinal use as well as cooking of starchy rhizomes. Late Stone Age and Iron Age records, in addition, show the use of woods for smelting and intense fires.


  • Archaeology

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