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Sibudu's layer, Mottled Deposit (MOD), has an age of 49 100 years. Four hearths are present and the charcoal from them was identified to genera and often to species level. Poisonous Spirostachys africana occurred in one hearth that may have been designed as an insect-repelling fire. Acacia wood was generally favoured, probably as fuel wood, but a variety of taxa is represented. Each hearth has some taxa that do not occur in the others. The suite of taxa supports an interpretation of mosaic vegetation communities in an environment that was warmer and drier than that of preceding periods.
Percentage frequency distribution of wood uses in hearths in MOD. Only the primary uses are listed for each taxon. (1) The combined woody taxa in MOD (n of taxa = 60). (2) Hearth 1 (n = 22). Tinder: Bauhinia galpinii, Erica caffra, Ochna serrulata; Fuel: Acacia sp., Afzelia quanzensis, Brachylaena discolor, Bridelia mollis cf., Burkea africana, Diospyros lycioides, Dombeya tiliacea, Kiggelaria africana, Maytenu ssp., Searsia rehmanniana cf., Shirakiopsis elliptica, Syzigium cordatum; Medicine: Diospyros mespiliformis, Dalbergia obovata, Dombeya rotundifolia, Pappea capensis cf., Rhoicissus rhomboidea, Trema orientalis; Poisonous plant: Spirostachys africana; (3) Hearth 2 (n = 36). Fire-sticks: Canthium mundianum cf., Cordia caffra, Diospyros austro-africana, Halleria lucida; Tinder: Cussonia paniculata cf., Bauhinia galpinii; Fuel: Acacia sp., Afzelia quanzensis, Allophylus dregeanus cf., Brachylaena discolor, Burkea africana, Canthium suberosum cf., Diospyros villosa, Empogna lanceolata cf., Euclea crispa cf., Ficus burkei syn. thonningii, Ficus lutea, Kiggelaria africana, Mystroxylon aethiopicum, Ozoroa paniculosa, Peltophorum africanum, Protea nitida, Pterocarpus rotundifolius, Searsia lancea cf.; Medicine: Diospyros mespiliformis, Diospyros whyteana, Gardenia volkensii cf., Heteropyxis natalensis, Mimusops obovata, Nuxia floribunda, Olea europaea subsp. africana, Ptaeroxylon obliquum, Searsia chirindensis cf., Searsia divaricata cf., Sclerocroton integerrimus, Protorhus longifolia cf.; (4) Hearth 3 (n = 25). Fire-sticks: Canthium mundianum cf., Cordia caffra, Clerodendrum glabrum cf.; Tinder: Bauhinia galpinii, Erica caffra, Monocotyledon cf.; Fuel: Acacia sp., Afzelia quanzensis, Allophylus dregeanus cf., Brachylaena discolor, Burkea africana, Canthium suberosum cf., Celtis africana, Commiphora marlothii cf., Diospyros villosa, Harpephyllum caffrum, Kiggelaria africana, Mystroxylon aethiopicum, Rothmannia capensis cf., Vangueria cyanescens cf., Vangueria randii; Medicine: Diospyros mespiliformis, Diospyros whyteana, Pappea capensis cf., Trichilia emetica.
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Research Article
Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, P.O. WITS, 2050, South Africa
E-mail: / /
(Received November 2014. Revised March 2015)
Sibudu’s layer, Mottled Deposit (MOD), has an age of 49 100 years.
Four hearths are present and the charcoal from them was identified to
genera and often to species level. Poisonous Spirostachys africana
occurred in one hearth that may have been designed as an insect-
repelling fire. Acacia wood was generally favoured, probably as fuel
wood, but a variety of taxa is represented. Each hearth has some taxa
that do not occur in the others. The suite of taxa supports an interpre-
tation of mosaic vegetation communities in an environment that was
warmer and drier than that of preceding periods.
Keywords: Middle Stone Age, Sibudu, anthracology, herbal
medicine, Spirostachys africana,Acacia, firewood.
In this paper we focus on the species identification of
charcoal from Sibudu hearths in layer MOD, which has an age
estimate of 49 100 ± 2100 (49.1 ± 2.1 ka [ka = 100 000 years
ago/old]) based on single-grain Optically Stimulated Lumines-
cence (Jacobs et al. 2008). We single out these hearths for a
detailed study because we postulate that firewood may have
been preferentially selected for tasks. Botanical studies have
previously been conducted at Sibudu where there is organic
preservation of charcoal, seeds, phytoliths and pollen. Woody
taxa were identified based on charcoal derived from random
samples taken from selected layers throughout the sequence
(Allott 2005, 2006; Lennox & Bamford 2015). Silicified or
charred seeds from all squares and all layers were identified
(Wadley 2004; Sievers 2006), and Cyperaceae nutlets found in
silicified or burnt plant bedding were the subject of several
studies (e.g. Sievers & Muasya 2011; Wadley et al. 2011).
Phytoliths are well preserved and are often articulated (Schiegl
et al. 2004; Schiegl & Conard 2006; Wadley et al. 2011). Pollen
occurs, but in small quantities only (Renaut & Bamford 2006).
Previous botanical work on the ~49 ka occupations of
Sibudu included the seed and charcoal analyses mentioned
above, and also a GIS-based Coexistence Approach (CAGIS)
analysis that made use of the seed and charcoal data to make a
climatic interpretation (Bruch et al. 2012). The identifications of
471 seeds from MOD included 332 from Cyperaceae, as well as
those from Asparagus sp., Canthium sp., Chrysophyllum
viridifolium, Cussonia sp., Cyphostemma spp., Diospyros sp.,
Ehretia rigida,Euclea sp., Harpephyllum caffrum, Lantana rugosa,
Pavetta spp., Pappea capensis,Protorhus longifolia,Searsia sp.,
Sideroxylon inerme,Vepris lanceolata and Ziziphus mucronata
(Sievers 2006). Seeds can enter an archaeological site through a
variety of non-human and human agents, whereas the presence
of charcoal is more likely to reflect the anthropogenic selection
of firewood. At Sibudu, younger layers like MOD are consider-
ably richer in seed taxa than the older ones (Sievers 2006), but
these upper layers yielded an immense volume of sediments
and large sample sizes. When Allott (2006) conducted charcoal
analysis in layer MOD, her study was restricted to samples
from squares B5 and B6, and 120 fragments were studied.
Woody taxa identifications included Acacia spp., Albizia spp.,
Bridelia sp., Burkea africana,Cunonia capensis, Curtisia dentata,
Diospyros sp., Drypetes sp., Erica spp., Macaranga cf. capensis,
Mystroxylon aethiopicum, Nuxia sp. Pappea capensis, Rapanea
melanophloeos and Ziziphus mucronata (Allott 2006: 193). Pappea
capensis and Macaranga cf. capensis were exclusively found in
MOD (Allott 2006). Evergreen and deciduous taxa were found
in the MOD assemblage and most can withstand some frost.
The frequencies of deciduous taxa were greater than before
and, notably, there were no Podocarpus specimens. The
uThongathi River probably flowed at the time because taxa
preferring riverine habitats, such as Cyperaceae, Erica spp.,
Bridelia sp. and Macaranga cf. capensis were present. Although
riverine forest was evident, there were also woody taxa from
dry, savanna contexts. Albizia spp. and Acacia spp. imply drier,
warmer environments than was previously the case (that is, in
the 58 ka occupations). Species from both these genera are
found near Sibudu today, and they have a fairly wide environ-
mental tolerance.
The CAGIS analysis demonstrates that the late Middle Stone
Age (MSA) (that includes layer MOD) was perceptibly warmer
than earlier in the MSA, especially during winter (Bruch et al.
2012). Concurrently, summer precipitation increased margin-
ally and vegetation became more closed than previously,
though it was still at least as open as today’s countr yside. Varia-
tions through time in winter temperatures produced a gradual
trend towards conditions not unlike those of the present
(Bruch et al. 2012). The seasonal precipitation parameters
produced by the CAGI imply that the wet season was predomi-
nantly in summer as is the case today. Thus the same atmo-
spheric circulations patterns as today are likely to have
prevailed, together with transport of moisture from the Indian
Ocean. The link between precipitation near Sibudu and Indian
Ocean sea surface temperatures was previously made by
Chase (2010). The CAGI results are supported by isotope data
from Podocarpus charcoal collected from layer RSp at Sibudu
(Hall et al. 2014). RSp is stratigraphically older than MOD, but is
part of the suite of layers with ~49 ka ages. The stable carbon
variance and range than those from earlier periods. This suggests
that only certain habitats, perhaps close to the river, were moist
enough for Podocarpus at ~49 ka (Hall et al. 2014). Although
Podocarpus was still present in layer OMOD (Hall et al. 2014),
which lies between RSp and MOD, no Podocarpus charcoal was
found in MOD.
Otomys irroratus (vlei rat) and Otomys angoniensis (angoni
vlei rat) were found in MOD (Glenny 2006). Otomys irroratus
favours grass-covered ground near streams and marshes,
while Otomys angoniensis lives in similar environments, but also
in drier areas (Skinner & Chimimba 2005). The increase in
closed environments at ~49 ka may well explain why small
bovids like Philantomba monticola (blue duiker), and other types
36 South African Archaeological Bulletin 70 (201): 36–52, 2015
South African Archaeological Bulletin 70 (201): 36–52, 2015 37
of duiker and steenbok appear at this time, having been absent
from the faunal record since about 62 ka (Wadley et al. 2008).
We have elected to conduct a charcoal analysis of woody
taxa from hearth features in MOD primarily because of the
earlier tentative identification of Spirostachys africana Sond.
(tamboti) by Lucy Allott (2005, 2006). Six charcoal specimens
cautiously named Spirostachys africana/Sapium were recorded
by Allott. Known as African mahogany, African sandalwood
(Setshogo&Venter 2003) or tamboti, the scentedwoodisattrac-
tive, oily and resinous (Rodin 1985). Although Spirostachys
africana is poisonous and cooking over its coals may cause
poisoning, even death (Venter & Venter 2002: 276), its wood has
many useful properties. Amongst these, it can dispel insects
(Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962), and its smoke is used as a
fumigant (Sullivan 1998). Torches can be burnt from its wood
(Rodin 1985; Curtis & Mannheimer 2005). Wood blocks are
used as protection against Diptera maggots (Von Koenen 2001).
People who use Spirostachys africana know how to avoid the
poisonous effects, but working with the wood (or tree) can be
dangerous, damaging eyes and skin, and causing diarrhoea
(Wink & Van Wyk 2008). Wearing the wood, for example as a
bangle, can cause skin rashes (Coates-Palgrave 2002). Its smoke
is aromatic, triggering headaches, which is why it is known as
the ‘headache tree’ in the vernacular in Botswana (Sullivan
1998). The wood is considered an extremely hazardous poison
and the cytotoxins are phorbol esters (Wink & Van Wyk 2008).
The latex is a fish and arrow poison (Rodin 1985; Von Koenen
2001; Curtis & Mannheimer 2005). The bark has antimicrobial
activity, explaining its use in many African countries as a purga-
tive against digestive ailments (Paulsen et al. 2012). The impor-
tance of recognising this tamboti wood species prompted a
detailed study of its charcoal anatomy (Lennox & Bamford
2015). Spirostachys africana, Sclerocroton integerrimus Hochst.
(syn. Sapium integerrimum [Hochst.] J. Léonard., duiker-berry)
and Shirakiopsis elliptica (Hochst.) Esser (= Sapium ellipticum
[Hochst.] Pax, jumping-seed tree) are difficult to separate
because they have similar wood anatomy (Mennega 2005;
Mugabi et al. 2012; Lennox & Bamford, in press). These three
closely related trees are in the family Euphorbiaceae and
subfamily Euphorbioideae (Westra & Koek-Noorman 2004).
The common anatomical, IAWA (International Association of
Wood Anatomists) features, are uniseriate rays with procumbent
cells and apotracheal parenchyma with a diffuse or diffuse-in-
aggregate arrangement (Allott 2005; Mennega 2005; Lennox &
Bamford, in press).
Based on several features, Lennox and Bamford found that
it is indeed possible to distinguish between Spirostachys
africana, Sclerocroton integerrimus and Shirakiopsis elliptica. The
following diagnostic characteristics were determined: xylem
vessel width increases proportionally as vessel frequency
decreases, from Spirostachys africana, through to Sclerocroton
integerrimus to Shirakiopsis elliptica.Spirostachys africana ray cells
contain prismatic, calcium oxalate crystals, whereas in Sclero-
croton integerrimus and Shirakiopsis elliptica the ray cells contain
spheroidal silica bodies. The prismatic crystals shine with a
birefringent (rainbow) hue whereas the silica bodies are not
birefringent, appearing opaque under polarised light (Lennox
& Bamford, in press). Spirostachys africana has small to medium
vessels (50–100 µm); there are several to many vessels (20–40–
100 µm) arranged in long radial multiples (Mennega 2005;
Mugabi et al. 2012). Sclerocroton integerrimus has medium to
large vessels (50–100–200 µm); few vessels (5–20 mm–2) are
arranged in short radial multiples, with a variation of long
radial multiples (Mennega 2005). Shirakiopsis elliptica has large
to very large vessels (100–200 >200 µm); very few vessels
–2) are arranged in short radial multiples (£5mm
(Louppe et al. 2002; Mennega 2005). This anatomical study has
given us confidence that Spirostachys africana can be identified
amongst archaeological charcoal.
Identifying Spirostachys africana charcoal in a hearth in
MOD will imply that the wood was deliberately used or burnt
there. We therefore have three aims: first, to confirm the presence
of Spirostachys africana and, secondly, to find out whether this
wood was preferentially used in some fireplaces and not in
others at ~49 ka. If people understood the properties of the
wood, we expect that the poisonous wood would have been
spatially restricted in its use. Thirdly, Spirostachys africana and
a few other woody taxa tentatively identified by Allott, for
example, Burkea africana, are not presently found near Sibudu.
There is a chance, then, that we shall be able to confirm Allott’s
suggestion that vegetation communities at ~49 ka were different
from those of today.
Sibudu Cave is positioned on a steep cliff above the
uThongathi River, approximately 40 km north of Durban and
about 15 km inland of the Indian Ocean. Nowadays, the
Sibudu area receives average summer rainfall of about 750 mm
and average winter rainfall of about 250 mm. Summer is hot
and humid, and winter is mild and relatively dry. Mean January
(mid-summer) temperatures are 22–25°C and mean July
(mid-winter) temperatures are 17–20°C (Bruch et al. 2012). The
current high summer precipitation is due to the southward
expansion of the easterly wind regime in summer. This brings
moisture to the land mass from the Indian Ocean. Clement
winters are caused by the warm Agulhas Current and the
transport of heat from the ocean to the land.
The bioregion is classified as the ‘KwaZulu-Natal Coastal
Belt’ within the ‘Indian Ocean Coastal Belt’ (Mucina &
Rutherford 2006). The forested patches in the region are the
southernmost extremes of the tropical to subtropical coastal
forests of East Africa. Forests, defined as woody vegetation
with continuous canopy cover, are characteristically evergreen
in the area (Rutherford & Westfall 1986). The forest around
Sibudu is predominantly evergreen, yet deciduous and semi-
deciduous species do occur, especially at the forest margins.
Farther from the coast is the ‘Montane Grassland and
Shrubland’ biome (Olson et al. 2001), elsewhere called ‘Savanna’
(Mucina & Rutherford 2006). Savanna is defined as tropical
vegetation in which woody plants and grasses co-occur (Scholes
1997). The woody plant layer of savanna can comprise 75%
widely spaced (Rutherford & Westfall 1986). Many savanna
woody species are deciduous and shed all their leaves in one
season. Todaythere is a mosaic of vegetation types within a few
kilometres of Sibudu. Forest grows in the well-shaded southern
aspect, while open savanna thrives on the sunny northern
slopes of the hill opposite the site. The river between the forest
and savanna provides yet another vegetation community,
where Bridelia micrantha and several sedge taxa thrive. Mosaic
vegetation like this may also have occurred here in the past.
The vegetation currently near Sibudu has been considerably
affected by anthropogenic activities: forest has been cleared for
sugar cane fields and alien taxa are common in the forest and
along the river.
The multidisciplinary team of archaeologists and students
who worked at Sibudu from 1998 to 2011 was led by Lyn
Wadley. This team excavated the material discussed in this
paper. The uppermost layer names at Sibudu follow Mazel’s
1983 terminology (Wadley 2001). MOD is an abbreviation used
by Mazel for Mottled Deposits. In most of the excavation grid
(Fig. 1) the MOD layer lies directly below Iron Age ones (Fig. 2),
but younger MSA occupations occur against the shelter wall in
the eastern part of the excavation grid (Fig. 1). MOD sediment
is mottled-brown, silty sand with flecks and nodules of white
ash, gypsum and charcoal. The patchy yellow/orange/black
mottled appearance of the sediments suggests that extensive
burning took place when the site was occupied. Sediments
mainly comprise anthropogenically derived ash, bone and
worked stone together with many gypsum nodules in MOD,
though FTIR spectroscopy values for calcite in MOD are even
higher than those for gypsum (Schiegl & Conard 2006). High
calcite values can be expected on exposed surfaces because, in
arid soil profiles, calcite forms close to the surface whereas the
more soluble gypsum forms below it (Goldberg & Macphail
2006). The less soluble calcite precipitates in the uppermost
layer of an exposed surface. A mineralogical study of hearth
and soil samples from Sibudu verifies ash as a major compo-
nent (Schiegl & Conard 2006).
MOD is the youngest MSA occupation across most of the
excavated area of the site, ~49 ka. The younger MSA occupa-
tions, near the shelter wall, have an age estimate of ~39 ka
(Jacobs et al. 2008). MOD was exposed as the uppermost shelter
floor for more than ten thousand years (Wadley & Jacobs 2006;
Jacobs et al. 2008) before the ~39 ka occupations took place
closer to the shelter wall. It is not possible to determine spatial
patterns with any certainty on the MOD surface because Iron
Age pits vandalised the upper MSA sediments. When excavat-
ing, these pits were removed first to avoid contaminating the
MSA layers. Four undisturbed hearths were recognised (Fig. 1),
but the mottled sediments of MOD probably represent raking
of former hearths as well as burning of bedding. Three of the
four hearths, those in C6a (Hearth 1), E3d (Hearth 2) and E4a
(Hearth 3), are approximately circular and have black bases
with white ash capping; the fourth hearth, in E4c (Hearth 4), is
a small white ash feature. Organic preservation is good in
MOD and the charcoal fragments collected from the layer are
large (most are more than 1.5 mm in length) and well pre-
served. This observation was also made by Allott (2005, 2006).
The good preservation of the charcoal means that some of the
challenges often faced by anthracologists (Wheeler et al. 1989;
Bamford & Henderson 2003; Théry-Parisot et al. 2010a,b;
Gonçalves et al. 2012; Chrzazvez et al. 2014) are ameliorated in
We extended the KwaZulu-Natal reference collection of
209 indigenous species (Allott 2005) by adding 98 species of
indigenous trees collected from farms in Limpopo and
KwaZulu-Natal with permission from the landowners. A
donation of 70 indigenous wood blocks from the South African
ForestryDepartment,bytheLarry Leach Herbarium, University
of Limpopo, was added. Wood samples (1 cm3) were carbonised
and studied as a comparative reference of anatomical features.
Stereomicroscope images were created and anatomical features
were recorded. The charcoal, wood and voucher herbarium
specimens with locality coordinates are at the University of the
Witwatersrand, in the Evolutionary Studies Institute Palaeo-
botany Herbarium. Archaeological charcoal from four hearths
(Hearths 1–4) in MOD squares, C6a, E3d, E4a and E4c (Wadley
& Jacobs 2006; Wadley et al. 2011), was examined.
The methods used here have been adapted from those
used in other anthracology studies (Allott 2005, 2006;
Gonçalves et al. 2012; Hubau et al. 2012, 2013; Py et al. 2013;
38 South African Archaeological Bulletin 70 (201): 36–52, 2015
FIG. 1. Sibudu site plan showing the position of the excavation grid (Wadley & Jacobs 2006). On the right is the floor plan of MOD. In black are the hearths from
which charcoal was analysed. P = Iron Age pits that were dug into the MSA sediments. Rocks are white. Final MSA layers that are absent from most of the
excavation grid are patterned grey. The positions of the four hearths are in C6a (Hearth 1), E3d (Hearth 2), E4a (Hearth 3) and E4d (Hearth 4).
South African Archaeological Bulletin 70 (201): 36–52, 2015 39
Asouti & Kabukcu 2014). Reference wood blocks were charred
in a LENTON 0861 muffle furnace, for 3.5 hours at 350°C at
the Palaeosciences Centre, University of the Witwatersrand.
Charcoal specimens were examined, photographed and iden-
tified according to the method of Allott (2006). Charcoal blocks
were viewed by means of an Olympus SZX16 stereomicro-
scope, an OSIS USB digital camera and Olympus soft imaging
solutions software. Characteristic anatomical features were
studied in more detail by means of a reflective, polarised light
microscope, Olympus BX51, and Olympus Stream Essentials®
image analysis software with Extended Focal Image (EFI) capa-
bility. The anatomical features of archaeological charcoal in
MOD were recorded according to the IAWA List of Microscopic
Features for Hardwood Identification (Wheeler et al. 1989).
Woods were identified by different means. A matching
suite of diagnostic features was sought comparatively, by
means of a key for the KwaZulu-Natal Reference Collection
(Allott 2005). Images of archaeological and reference charcoal
were compared. This process was repeated by means of the
supplementary modern reference collection and key. Published
FIG. 2. Stratigraphy of Sibudu’s north wall in squares B5 and B6. Layer MOD is grey.
references were examined (Kromhout 1975; Ilic 1991; Neumann
et al. 2000). The online database, InsideWood (2004–onwards),
was consulted. The IAWA features of archaeological charcoal
and reference material were matched. First, identified specimens
were confirmed. Secondly, unidentified specimens were
sought. A suite of IAWA numbers for anatomical features
(1–221) identified the species. If not, then closely related southern
African species were used to identify the genus or family. The
Delta database (Richter & Dallwitz 2009), was consulted for
unresolved identifications. The anatomical features and images
of the identified archaeological charcoal specimens were
cross-referenced with each other and with reference material,
forming a database of descriptions and images for confirming
identifications. Unique features were sought, where possible,
such as the crystals and silica bodies which aid the distinction
between Spirostachys africana and Sclerocroton integerrimus
(Lennox & Bamford 2015).
A total of 60 woody taxa was distinguished and 190/193
specimens studied were identified. Twenty-two woody taxa
are represented in Hearth 1, 36 in Hearth 2, 25 in Hearth 3 and
one in Hearth 4. Forty-eight new taxa have been added
(Table 1) to those previously identified by Allott (2006). A
summary of the anatomical features compared to reference
material is in Appendix A. Three unidentified fragments,
including a seed pericarp, were found in Hearth 2. Specimens
smaller than 1 mm were not counted as these were too small to
study microscopically. Unidentifiable fragments damaged by
carbonisation were kept aside; these were vitrified, crystallised,
powdered or fibrous specimens.
Three of the hearths are characterised by a wide range of
taxa contained in each (Table 2), but Hearth 4 contained only
Acacia. Each of Hearths 1 to 3 has some taxa that are specific to
that hearth. There is, therefore, considerable variability in the
wood packages in each hearth. The woody taxa restricted to
Hearth 1 represent Dalbergia obovata, Diospyros lycioides,
Dombeya rotundifolia, Dombeya tiliacea, Rhoicissus romboidea,
Shirakiopsis elliptica, Spirostachys africana, Syzygium cordatum
and Trema orientalis. The greatest variety of woody taxa is repre-
sented in Hearth 2. Those restricted to Hearth 2 are Diospyros
austro-africana, Ficus burkei, Ficus lutea, Halleria lucida,
Heteropyxis natalensis, Mimusops obovata, Nuxia floribunda, Olea
europaea subsp. africana, Ozoroa paniculosa, Peltophorum
africanum, Protea nitida, Ptaeroxylon obliquum, Pterocarpus
rotundifolius and Sclerocroton integerrimus. Hearth 3 has the
greatest frequency and the most variety of Acacia types. Woody
species particular to Hearth 3 are Celtis africana,Harpephyllum
caffrum,Trichilia emetica and Vangueria randii.
Acacia charcoal has been grouped into five different types
until the reference collection can be expanded, enabling a more
comprehensive comparative anatomical study of the 61 species
of Acacia, including five subspecies in the southern African
region (Coates-Palgrave 2002). Of these, 33 species, including
five subspecies, occur in KwaZulu-Natal (Boon 2010). The
original name Acacia Mill. is used throughout this paper. Frag-
ments of charcoal from the Acacia genus were distinguished by
long, thin, procumbent ray cells. The five types are according to
ray width: the number of cells in the widest part of the ray seen
in tangential section (Kromhout 1975; Robbertse et al. 1980;
40 South African Archaeological Bulletin 70 (201): 36–52, 2015
TABLE 1.Woods identified from a new charcoal study of 190 pieces in four
hearths in MOD. Taxa shaded grey are new identifications that were not
present in previous lists (Allott 2006). Taxa with an asterisk were identified in
seeds by Sievers (2013). Names are conferred (cf.) where anatomical features
and micrograph matched closely but not completely, usually due to distortion of
the charcoal by the carbonisation process. Specimen numbers are referred to in
each square.
Acacia* sp. 2 4 15 21
Type 1
Type 2 13 2 10 25
Type 3 1 0 10 1 12
Type 4 0 2 3 5
Type 5 0 0 2 2
Afzelia quanzensis C6a 25 E3d 12 3
Caesalpiniaceae E3d 19
cf. E4a 51 1
Allophylus dregeanus cf. E3d 44 E4a 17 2
Bauhinia galpinii C6a 27 E3d 48 2
cf. E4a 53 1
Brachylaena discolor C6a 32 E4a 54 3
Asteraceae E4a 7
cf. E3d 69 E4a 26 2
Bridelia mollis cf. C6a 13 2
Euphorbiaceae C6a 18
Burkea africana C6a 42 2
Caesalpiniaceae C6a 52
cf. E3d 2 E4a 4 2
Canthium* mundianum cf. E3d 5 E4a 60 2
Canthium suberosum cf. E3d 3 1
Celtis africana E4a 62
Celtidaceae 1
Clerodendrum glabrum* E4a 46 1
cf. Lamiaceae
Commiphora marlothii cf. E4a 48 2
Burseraceae E4a 56
Cordia caffra* E3d 55 E4a 22 2
Cussonia*paniculata cf. E3d 66 1
Dalbergia obovata C6a 15 4
Fabaceae C6a 40
C6a 41
C6a 53
Diospyros* austro-africana E3d 16 1
Diospyros* lycioides C6a 28 2
C6a 54
Diospyros* mespiliformis C6a 31 E3d 9 E4a 63 8
E3d 18
E3d 33
E3d 38
E3d 57
E3d 60
Hearth 1: C6a
Hearth 3: E4a
Hearth 2: E3d
Hearth 4: E4c
Total no.
Continued on p. 41
South African Archaeological Bulletin 70 (201): 36–52, 2015 41
TABLE 1 (continued)
Diospyros* villosa E3d 42 E4a 12 4
E3d 63 E4a 61
Diospyros* whyteana E3d 25 E4a 20 3
E4a 29
Dombeya rotundifolia C6a 16 1
Dombeya tiliacea C6a 1 1
Empogna lanceolata cf. E3d 67 1
Erica caffra C6a 7 E4a 18 5
Ericaceae C6a 20 E4a 31
C6a 58
Euclea*crispa cf. E3d 43 3
Ebenaceae E3d 58
E3d 72
Ficus lutea E3d 50 1
Ficus burkei syn. E3d 71 1
Gardenia volkensii cf. E3d 6 3
Rubiaceae* E3d 14
E3d 28
Halleria lucida E3d 1 2
Scrophulariaceae E3d 21
Harpephyllum caffrum* E4a 3 1
Heteropyxis natalensis E3d 7 1
Kiggelaria africana C6a 19 E3d 34 E4a 9 3
Maytenus sp. C6a 43 1
Mimusops obovata E3d 24 5
Sapotaceae E3d 27
E3d 31
E3d 59
E3d 70
Mystroxylon aethiopicum E3d 41 E4a 59 2
Nuxia floribunda E3d 11 3
Buddlejaceae E3d 30
E3d 32
Ochna serrulata C6a 50 1
Olea* europaea subsp. E3d 49 3
africana E3d 54
Oleaceae E3d 65
Ozoroa paniculosa E3d 35 3
Anacardiaceae E3d 51
E3d 62
Pappea capensis* cf. C6a 47 E4a 67 2
Peltophorum africanum E3d 56 1
Hearth 1: C6a
Hearth 3: E4a
Hearth 2: E3d
Hearth 4: E4c
Total no.
TABLE 1 (continued)
Protea nitida E3d 45 1
Protorhus longifolia *cf. E3d 26 1
Ptaeroxylon obliquum E3d 10 3
Pteroxylaceae E3d 61
E3d 64
Pterocarpus rotundifolius E3d 22 1
Rhoicissus* rhomboidea C6a 6 7
Vitaceae C6a 10
C6a 26
C6a 48
C6a 51
C6a 56
C6a 57
Rothmannia capensis cf. E4a 73 1
Sclerocroton integerrimus E3d 8 1
Searsia* chirindensis cf. E3d 36 1
Searsia* divaricata cf. E3d 39 1
Searsia* lancea cf. E3d 68 1
Searsia* rehmanniana cf. C6a 44 1
Shirakiopsis elliptica C6a 46 1
Spirostachys africana C6a 39 1
Syzigium cordatum C6a 55 1
Trema orientalis C6a 33 1
Trichilia emetica E4a 36 1
Vangueria cyanescens cf. E4a 15 1
Vangueria randii E4a 33 1
cf. E3d 47 1
Monocotyledon cf. E4a 13 1
E4a 38 1
Total Acacia specimens 16 8 40 1 65
Total other identified 35 60 30 125
Unidentified charcoal 0 E3d 53 0 3
and 1 pericarp E3d 29
E3d 4
Total no. specimens 51 71 70 1 193
Total no. identified
woody taxa 22 36 25 1 60
Hearth 1: C6a
Hearth 3: E4a
Hearth 2: E3d
Hearth 4: E4c
Total no.
42 South African Archaeological Bulletin 70 (201): 36–52, 2015
TABLE2.Uses of MOD woods unique to Hearths 1 to 3. Palmer & Pitman 19611, Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 19622, Von Breitenbach19653, Malan & Owen-Smit
19744, Liengme 19815, Fox & Norwood Young 19826, Arnold & Gulumian 19847, Rodin 19858, Mabogo 19909, Hutchings & Van Staden 199410, Sullivan 199811,
Lin et al. 199912, Graham et al. 200013, Van Wyk & Gericke 200014, Dzerefos & Witkowski 200115, Coates-Palgrave 200216, Venter & Venter 200217, Grace et al.
200318, Obi et al. 200319, Setshogo & Venter 200320, Schmelzer 200721, Gundidza et al. 200822, Paraskeva et al. 200823, Wink & Van Wyk 200824, Van Wyk et al.
200925, Boon 201026, Paulsen et al. 201227, Van Wyk & Van Wyk 201328 and Cunningham, pers. comm. 201529
Identification Hearth Implements Fuel Food Medicine
Bridelia mollis cf.16,28 1 Implements20 Avoided16,20 Fruit11,16 Leaf balm20
Canthium suberosum cf.26,28 2– – –
Celtis africana17,26 3 Carving, handles17,26, twine28 Hard: firewood, Fruit17 Bark: fever; leaf: eyes7,9
Clerodendrum glabrum cf.16,26,28 3 Carving28, poles26, shafts8, tools30, Tinder-wood to start Leaves: several ailments30;
fires 26,28 repellent2
Commiphora marlothii cf.16,28 3 Bark sheets16 – Fruit28, root juice28 Leaf/stem: antimicrobial23
Cussonia paniculata cf.26,28 2 Blocks28 Soft26 Fruit, tuber28
Dalbergia obovata26,28 1 Sticks, carving, laths, twine28 Heavy26 Bark ash: snuff, antiseptic;
root charms28
Diospyros austro-africana26,28 2 Fire-sticks 2,26 ––
Diospyros lycioides17,26,28 1 Root toothbrushes28,20
Dombeya rotundifolia1,3,17,25,26,28 1 Bows16,handles26, carving26, Fire resistant26 Honey bees17 Bark2, root, wood: medicinal17,26,
poles7,twine17,28 extracts antibacterial, anti-
Dombeya tiliacea26 1– – –
Empogna lanceolata cf.16,26 2 Shafts26 ––
Euclea crispa cf.26 2 – Avoided26. Branches: Fruit26 Twig toothbrushes26;bark, fruit:
fire fighting26 medicinal13,15, 18, 26; laths, root
Ficus burkei syn. thonningii17,26 2 Fibre mats28, twine17 Soft: susceptible to Figs: wildlife28 Bark/root infusion: stops
borer28 bleeding/abortion; latex:
Ficus lutea26,28 2 Fibre mats28 Figs: wildlife28 Latex poison: bird lime28
Gardenia volkensii cf 17,26,28 2 Carving28; traps from three angled Fruit: wildlife17,26 Roots medicinal: several
side-branches for small mammals, ailments17,26;
monkeys29 fruit: medicinal28; protection26
Halleria lucida16,17,26,28 2 Shafts16 Fire-sticks26: turning Fruit26 Leaf/root infusion: ears17,26;burnt
stick17 wood, crocodile fat26,27 and
Rhamnus prinoides: protection16
Harpephyllum caffrum17,25,26,28 3 Carving28 Heavy17, fuel26 Fruit17,26 Bark: purifier 2,17,26 ; extracts
Heteropyxis natalensis2,17,25,26,28 2 Hard26 Leaves, roots, twigs (dried/ tea2):
respiratory infections 2,17,26;
essential oil, aromatic, anti-
bacterial/fungal, anti-
Maytenus sp.16,26 1 Hard: sticks, carving16,26 ––
Mimusops obovata16,26,28 2 Carving17,26,28, – Fruit16 Bark28
Nuxia floribunda17,26,28 2 Poles26,28 Hard, heavy17 Bark tannin medicinal26,28
Ochna serrulata26,28 1 Roots: bones, alimentary
Olea europaea subsp. africana2,17,25,26,28 2 Carving28, poles17 Fuel26, charcoal: calorific Fruit28: bitter/sweet1, 7 Leaf extract: lowers blood
value high pressure2,25; relieves fever,
eyeinfections2,25,nose bleeds17 ;
bark: colic18,25,28
Ozoroa paniculosa26,28 2 Fruit dye26; gum adhesive28
Peltophorum africanum17,26,28 2 Carving28 Firewood16,17,26 Bark, leaves, root: antiseptic17,20,26
Protea nitida22,25,28 2 Sticks, blocks28 Excellent firewood28 Bark: antidiarrheal25;tannin28
Continued on p. 43
South African Archaeological Bulletin 70 (201): 36–52, 2015 43
Neumann et al. 2000; Allott 2005). Type 1 rays are one to two
cells wide; Type 2 are one to three cells; Type 3 are one to five
cells; Type 4 are four to 10 cells, and Type 5 has very wide rays,
more than 10 cells wide (Table 1). Robbertse and colleagues
(1980) found that wood anatomy could be used to distinguish
between two groups, subgenus Acacia and subgenus Aculeiferum.
Here we have reached the following conclusion regarding the
possibility of distinguishing the species. In Acacia subgenus,
wood has wide rays, similar to Acacia Type 4–5 charcoal. In
Aculeiferum, wood has narrow rays, similar to Type 1–3 charcoal.
Ray width in cell number, ray height in µm, vessel frequency
and parenchyma arrangement may be used to distinguish
between Acacia species. Several woods found amongst MOD
First, we discuss the environmental implications of the
plant identifications made from charcoal in layer MOD at
Sibudu. Secondly, we consider the possible implications of the
specific taxa distributions in the four MOD hearths.
The trees and shrubs not found in the vicinity of Sibudu
TABLE 2 (continued)
Identification Hearth Implements Fuel Food Medicine
Protorhus longifolia cf.17,28 2 Poles, carving17 Leaves: famine food Bark tannin17: poison/medicine17,18
fruit: wildlife28
Ptaeroxylon obliquum2,17,25,26,28 2 Poles17, hard28: carving5, music Excellent fuel17; Bark/wood (snuff 2)10,18:
(Mozambique)14 flammable resin28; hypertension25/headache2;
termite resistant1; wood blocks/oil: insect repellent17
medium to high resin antiseptic17,26; smoke: ritual17
density3,14; charcoal
high calorific value4:
fire starters17
Pterocarpus rotundifolius17,26,28 2 Carving28 Leaf drops: eyes17
Rhoicissus rhomboidea26,25,28 1 Twine26 Fruit (sour), roots28 Root: anti-inflammatory12,25
Rothmannia capensis cf.17,28 3 Handles28,26,engraving17 Hard, heavy17: hot 26 Fruit: wildlife17 Fruit: wounds, burns17,26
fire, fuel Root: leprosy, rheumatism17,26
Sclerocroton integerrimus26,28 2 Poles, carving27 Fruit: wildlife27 Clear latex poison/antiseptic26
fruit tannin28
Searsia chirindensis cf.2,17,25,26,28 2 Carving28,handles9Hard Fruit: wildlife 6Leaves2,25/latex17,26: heart
complaints. Bark medicine2,18/
Searsia divaricata cf.16,26 1 Knobsticks26 Leaf smoke: colds and coughs26;
Searsia lancea cf.17,28 2 Bows28, handles20 Hard4,17,28 Fruit17 Bark tannin17,28: antibacterial; leaf
oil: antimicrobial19,22
Searsia rehmanniana cf.26,28 1 Poles26 – Fruit30
Shirakiopsis elliptica26,28 1 Carving26,28 Fuel, charcoal28 Tannin; clear latex: bird lime,
body markings, added to
Acokanthera schimperi arrow
poison; bark: antimicrobial (food
poisoning), anthelminthic (skin,
alimentary canal)2,21,26
Spirostachys africana17,26,28 1 Hard, resinous, blunts cutting, Avoided for cooking16; Resin: famine food, Poisonous milky latex24,30; bark:
edges, does not glue readily16; fragrant smoke: incense (Tlokwa, Botswana)9; antimicrobial, purgative,
skin irritant16; termite-resistant & fumigant17; torches8leaves: buck digestive system27; smoke
poles cut in late summer, when (digestion)17; freshly inhaled: respiratory infections26;
sap is not running (Namibia)8; cut branches used blocks stored under clothes:
bracelets, necklaces, sticks11,16,17 to track stingless perfume11/insect repellant16;
bees to nests26 wood/bark stores amongst seeds
repel borers (Vhavenda)9
Syzygium cordatum17,25,26,28 1 Medium hard, moderately 7Fuel17 Fruit17; medicine, Bark: medicinal (respiration/
heavy17 rituals28, purple dye digestion)4,25, fish poison17, red-
brown 7,25 dye26; leaf: medicinal1
Trema orientalis26,28 1 Carving28 Termite resistant3Leaf relish26; fruit: Fruit: medicinal; bark tannins28:
wildlife28 waterproof fishing twine2; contact
Trichilia emetica17,25,28 3 Carving28,17 Seed: edible “milk”26 Bark, leaves: medicinal25; seed oil:
and arils17 rheumatism, food preservative17
Vangueria cyanescens cf.16,28 3 – Fruit28
Vangueria randii26,28 3 Avoided26 Fruit26
today, nor in the region as a whole, are listed in Table 3. Vegeta-
tion listed in the vicinity of Sibudu Cave was according to
Sievers (2013). Sibudu is located in PRECIS grid squares 29°
31’AC and 29°31’CA (Allott 2005: 14, 33). Plant localities were
noted between 29 to 30 S and 30 to 32 E in Spirostachys africana
distributionmaps (Boon 2010; Richard Boon, pers. comm. 2014)
and also in lists of vegetation from nature reserves in and
around Durban: Springside NR, Hillcrest (Metcalf 2013) and
Hawaan Forest (Sutherland, pers. comm. 2014). Some taxa
recorded in the distribution maps have not been observed near
Sibudu today, even though they could potentially grow there.
These include Canthium suberosum, Cordia caffra, Cussonia
paniculata, Diospyros austro-africana, Diospyros lycioides,
Diospyroswhyteana, Dombeya rotundifolia, Erica caffra, Heteropyxis
natalensis, Nuxia floribunda, Ochna serrulata, Olea europea subsp.
africana, Ozoroa paniculosa, Rothmannia capensis, Sclerocroton
integerrimus, Searsia rehmanniana and Shirakiopsis elliptica.
Anthropogenic behaviour, rather than environmental factors,
may be responsible for their absence near Sibudu today. The
natural vegetation near the site has been cleared for fields of
sugar cane and subsistence crops.
However, some taxa in Table 3 would not be expected to
occur in the Sibudu area under modern-day conditions; they
are really bushveld taxa that are normally found in dry
bushveld in the northern regions of South Africa and Zimbabwe.
These include Burkea africana, Commiphora marlothii, Bauhinia
galpinii, Gardenia volkensii, Peltophorum africanum, Pterocarpus
rotundifolius subsp. rotundifolius and Vangueria cyanescens. Envi-
ronmental conditions rather than anthropogenic influence
seem to have promoted this vegetation community ~49 ka.
The CAGIS study (Bruch et al. 2012) implied that the winters
were warmer than older periods and summers were slightly
wetter. The Acacia representation in MOD suggests a relatively
warm and dry environment and the presence of bushveld and
savanna biomes, perhaps as part of a mosaic of vegetation
patches in the vicinity. The five Acacia types suggest several
plant communities near the site.
The growth of bushveld trees and shrubs near Sibudu most
likely implies that a mosaic of vegetation communities existed
in the region at 49 ka. Trees and shrubs that survive dry condi-
tions may have grown on warm hillsides, whereas riverine
communities grew close to the uThongathi River, and ever-
green trees and shrubs thrived against the cool, shaded cliff
that also houses Sibudu (see also Hall et al. 2014). Comparative
records of ancient vegetation near Sibudu are rare (Roberts
et al. 2006: 805–807; Porat & Botha 2008) and therefore do not
add to the data presented here.
As mentioned earlier, a wide variety of woody taxa is present
in three of the MOD hearths, with some of the taxa specific to
particular hearths. We can, admittedly, only speculate on the
reasons for this distribution. On the one hand, the Sibudu
near the shelter. On the other hand, it seems reasonable to
expect that they understood firewood properties, as it has been
shown that people could have carefully selected rocks for
knapping (Wadley & Kempson 2011) and they knew some
medicinal plants even at 77 ka (Wadley et al. 2011). Wood
anatomists use the ‘burning splinter test’ as a descriptive
feature to record the production and colour of ash or charcoal:
grey or white, black or brown (Wheeler et al. 1989). People
who burn wood regularly for home fires may not have such a
formal test, but they are able to recognise traits of ash and coals
produced by trees, even in wood collected from the ground
(Cunningham 2001: 33–37).
The possible uses of woods found in the MOD hearths are
summarised in Table 2. Some of these woods have medicinal or
other uses today (Table2), but we cannot be sure that these uses
necessarily applied in the deep past. The relative quantities of
charcoal attributed to different plant species cannot be assessed
by means of fragments, to compare uses. Some woods burn
away to ash and some to fragments, due to different burning
properties (Chrzazvez et al. 2014). Some uses exclude burning,
for example when wood is fashioned into bark twine, blocks
and boards, carved bowls, handles and poles, shafts for arrows
orspears and sticks. Woods that are burntaremostlikelytinder,
fueland medicines. Several woods have multiple uses, but only
primary uses are visually represented in Figure 4, that is, wood
used as fire-starters, tinder, fuel, or aromatic plants burnt for
medicinal or poisonous smoke. Having made this distinction,
we acknowledge that most wood can be used as fuel. Plant
medicines are taken to be those where bark, leaves or wood has
medicinal value. The tinder wood is taken to be from shrubs
shorter than 3 m, known to be good tinder.
Thereare 17 woody taxa with medicinal value, occurring 21
44 South African Archaeological Bulletin 70 (201): 36–52, 2015
FIG. 3. Microphotographs of archaeological charcoal from MOD. (A) Spirostachys africana specimen 39, Hearth 1. In this composite image, from left to right:
rays (arrows) are seen in transverse and radial longitudinal sections. Procumbent ray cells containing prismatic crystals are on the right (Lennox & Bamford
2015). (B) Acacia Type 4, specimen 66, Hearth 3. As seen in this transverse section, the arrows from left to right indicate: thin-walled parenchyma arranged in a band
associated with vessels (apotracheal), thick-walled fibres appearing shiny and a ray of four cells wide.
South African Archaeological Bulletin 70 (201): 36–52, 2015 45
times in MOD. Most (64%) occur in Hearth 2, while 35% occur
in Hearth 1 and 23% occur in Hearth 3. Hearth 1 contains many
medicinal woods when compared to the other hearths (Fig. 4).
It was the only hearth to contain Spirostachys africana charcoal.
People who live off the land recognise the burning properties
of wood (Cunningham 2001: 33) and would have known that
pruning Spirostachys africana is dangerous, as is cooking over its
cation is that this wood was burnt deliberately (Wadley 2012),
perhaps to create torches or possibly to create smoke as insecti-
cide. Another likely use for this taxon is as an arrow poison, but
no arrows are known to have been used in MOD. Woods unique
to Hearth 2 (E3d) have a combination of friction sticks, tinder,
fuel and medicinal plants. In addition, Ficus lutea is used as bird
lime and Ptaeroxylon obliquum is an effective insect repellent
and poison, but neither plant is poisonous to work with. The
fire in Hearth 3 (E4a) seemed to have been a domestic fireplace,
suitable for cooking and/or heating, since the most Acacia types
were found in this hearth and 50% of the fragments were Acacia
spp. The uses of the Acacia spp. were excluded from Figure 4.
Acacia species have several uses (Van Wyk & Van Wyk 2013)
and they provide dry, dense fuel wood that catches alight
easily and burns away, producing little ash and a lot of heat.
The burning property of fuel wood is the energy produced,
measured as calorific value (MJ/kg). This value is dependent
upon wood density, moisture content and chemical composi-
tion. Dense woods have better burning properties than
fast-growing, less dense woody species. The ash content is the
inorganic component which cannot be burnt, and therefore
‘wasted’ as it is not converted into energy. Burning green wood
produces smoke and the heat required to evaporate the inher-
ent moisture is lost (Munalula & Meincken 2009). Other desir-
able attributes of Acacia, from a hunter-gatherer point of view,
include its being a source of timber for tools or construction. In
addition, Acacia twine and bark is a source of fibre rope, and
chewed tree gum is a source of carbohydrates (Venter & Venter
2002). There are other woods burnt in MOD which produce
copious smoke, some of which is poisonous, such as the
Bridelia mollis, Euclea crispa, Gardenia volkensii and Vangueria
randii produce much smoke, they are not poisonous to work
Thecharcoalfrom hearths in layer MOD (~49 ka) at Sibudu
was identified using: a) a stereomicroscope, digital photos and
FIG. 4.Percentage frequency distribution of wood uses in hearths in MOD.
Onlytheprimaryusesarelistedfor each taxon.(1)The combined woody taxa in
MOD (nof taxa = 60). (2)Hearth 1 (n= 22). Tinder:Bauhinia galpinii, Erica
caffra, Ochna serrulata; Fuel: Acacia sp., Afzelia quanzensis,
Brachylaena discolor, Bridelia mollis cf., Burkea africana, Diospyros
lycioides, Dombeya tiliacea, Kiggelaria africana, Maytenu ssp., Searsia
rehmanniana cf., Shirakiopsis elliptica, Syzigium cordatum; Medicine:
Diospyros mespiliformis, Dalbergia obovata, Dombeya rotundifolia,
Pappea capensis cf., Rhoicissus rhomboidea, Trema orientalis; Poison-
ous plant: Spirostachys africana; (3)Hearth 2 (n= 36).Fire-sticks:
Canthium mundianum cf., Cordia caffra, Diospyros austro-africana,
Halleria lucida; Tinder: Cussonia paniculata cf., Bauhinia galpinii; Fuel:
Acacia sp., Afzelia quanzensis, Allophylus dregeanus cf., Brachylaena
discolor, Burkea africana, Canthium suberosum cf., Diospyros villosa,
Empogna lanceolata cf., Euclea crispa cf., Ficus burkei syn. thonningii,
Ficus lutea, Kiggelaria africana, Mystroxylon aethiopicum, Ozoroa
paniculosa, Peltophorum africanum, Protea nitida, Pterocarpus
rotundifolius, Searsia lancea cf.; Medicine: Diospyros mespiliformis,
Diospyros whyteana, Gardenia volkensii cf., Heteropyxis natalensis,
Mimusops obovata, Nuxia floribunda, Olea europaea subsp. africana,
Ptaeroxylon obliquum, Searsia chirindensis cf., Searsia divaricata cf.,
Sclerocrotonintegerrimus,Protorhuslongifoliacf.; (4)Hearth 3 (n=25).
Fire-sticks: Canthium mundianum cf.,Cordia caffra, Clerodendrum
glabrum cf.; Tinder: Bauhinia galpinii, Erica caffra, Monocotyledon cf.;
Fuel: Acacia sp., Afzelia quanzensis, Allophylus dregeanus cf.,
Brachylaena discolor, Burkea africana, Canthium suberosum cf., Celtis
africana, Commiphora marlothii cf., Diospyros villosa, Harpephyllum
caffrum, Kiggelaria africana, Mystroxylon aethiopicum, Rothmannia
capensis cf., Vangueria cyanescens cf., Vangueria randii; Medicine:
Diospyros mespiliformis, Diospyros whyteana, Pappea capensis cf.,
Trichilia emetica.
Excel spreadsheets, b) a modern comparative reference collec-
tion, c) the online database InsideWood (2004–onwards), by
d) cross-referencing the descriptions and images of several
specimens, and e) confirmation with high-magnification
images when necessary. A total of 60 woody taxa has been
identified in this new study and 48 of these represent new taxa
identifications for layer MOD.
Vegetation at Sibudu 49 ka was different from that of today
and may have no modern correlate. Several trees identified in
MOD do not presently occur near Sibudu. Amongst these are
taxa that are common in modern dry bushveld vegetation
communities, while others seem to have been lost from current
plant communities of the area due to anthropogenic factors
that include both habitat destruction for farming, and fuel
Each MOD hearth consists of a high proportion of fuel
46 South African Archaeological Bulletin 70 (201): 36–52, 2015
TABLE 3.The woods identified in charcoal from hearths in MOD which do not occur near Sibudu today. Plants that are present (P) in the region are shaded grey;
(A) indicates absence.1–14
Coates-Palgrave 20021, Boon 20102, Van Wyk & Van Wyk 20133, Metcalf 20134, Sutherland 20145, Richard Boon, pers. comm. 7 October 20146.
Woods not found near Habit Habitat Distribution
Sibudu today
Afzelia quanzensis Medium-sized tree, 12 m1Woodland1N KZN – Somalia1;(A)2
Bauhinia galpini Shrub/small tree, 6 m1Bushveld, watercourses1N KZN – tropical Africa1; (A)2
Bridelia mollis cf. Shrub/small tree1Streams, bushveld1N southern Africa1; (A)2
Burkea africana Medium tree1Bushveld1N southern Africa1; (A)2
Canthium suberosum cf. Shrub/small tree2Forest margins2KZN – NE RSA1; (P)2; rare near Durban6
Commiphora marlothii cf. Medium tree1Woodland1N RSA – Zimbabwe1; (A)2
Cordia caffra Shrub/tree2Forest, bushveld2E Cape – NE RSA2; (P)2on Durban coast6, Hawaan Forest14
Cussonia paniculata cf. Short tree1Bushveld2KZN, Cape, Botswana2;(P)2; absent near Durban6
Diospyros austro-africana Shrub/small tree2Rocky slopes2Drakensburg1;(P)2; absent near Durban.6
Diospyros lycioides Shrub/small tree2Forest margins, tropical2KZN – N RSA2; (P)2near Durban, Krantzkloof6, Springside4
Diospyros mespiliformis Shrub/large tree, 25 m1Rivers, termite mounds1Swaziland and Namibia – tropical Africa1;(A)2
Diospyros whyteana Shrub/small tree1Forest, rocky slopes1NE KZN and W Cape – Ethiopia2;(P)2; absent near Durban6
Dombeya rotundifolia Small tree2Bushveld, woodland2KZN –Ethiopia3; (P)2near Durban6
Erica caffra Shrub/small tree2Cliffs, watercourses2KZN – W Cape2; (P)2Krantzkloof, forest margins6
Gardenia volkensii cf. Small tree1Woodland, bushveld1KZN – tropical Africa1;(A)2
Heteropyxis natalensis Tree2Woodland3, riverine fringes1KZN – Zimbabwe3;(P)2near Durban6
Nuxia floribunda Shrub/tree2Evergreen forest1, bush clumps2W Cape and KZN – Malawi2; (P)2; common near Durban,
Vernon Crookes6
Ochna serrulata Shrub/small tree2Forest margins, grassland1W Cape, KZN – Limpopo2; (P)2; common on Kloof scarp6,
Olea europea subsp. africana Tree2Forest margins, bushveld2RSA (and KZN) – Ethiopia2; (P)2; absent from Durban6
Ozoroa paniculosa Shrub/small tree1Woodland1,savanna2KZN – northern southern Africa2;(P)2on Kloof scarp6
Peltophorum africanum Tree1Bushveld, woodland1N KZN – tropical Africa1;(A)2
Protea nitida Shrub/small tree1Wooded grassland1Drakensburg, KZN2– W Cape1; (A)2
Pterocarpus rotundifolius subsp. Shrub/ tree1Woodland, savanna1N KZN – tropical Africa1;(A)2
Rothmannia capensis cf. Tree1Forest, bushveld1W Cape, KZN – Botswana2; (P)2Krantzkloof, near Durban6
Sclerocroton integerrimus Small/medium tree2Forest margins, grassland1KZN – southern Mozambique4;(P)2on Durban coast6, Hawaan
Searsia divaricata cf. Shrub1Scrub, outcrops1Foothills of KZN Drakensburg2;(A)2
Searsia lancea cf. Small/medium tree1Woodland, river banks1W Cape – Zambia3;(A)2
Searsia rehmanniana cf. Shrub/small tree1Grassland, forest margins2KZN – Limpopo2; (P)2near Durban, valley bushveld, forest
Shirakiopsis elliptica Medium/tall tree2Ravines, evergreen forest2E Cape, KZN – tropical Africa1;(P)2scarp forest6and Hawaan
Vangueria cyanescens cf. Shrub/small tree1Bushveld, thickets1N KZN, Zimbabwe1– N Namibia1; (A)2
South African Archaeological Bulletin 70 (201): 36–52, 2015 47
wood and a low proportion of tinder. Woods used to start fires
by means of friction are also represented. A quarter of the
woods burnt in MOD are comprised of plants with medicinal
bark, leaves or wood. The one poisonous plant, Spirostachys
africana was identified in a single hearth, Hearth 1. Various
woody parts are used medicinally, for insect repellent, poison,
ortorches.Itmayhave been collected for multipurpose use, but
very little tamboti charcoal is represented in MOD, suggesting
that it was used sparingly.
All of the hearths contain some Acacia wood and most Acacia
species are good firewood. Acacia spp. are particularly well
represented in Hearth 3 where five types have been recog-
nised. Three Acacia types were recognised in Hearth 1 and
three in Hearth 2. Identifying the Acacia types to species will
require the collection of modern reference specimens and the
We set out to explore the possibility that wood was selec-
tively collected for different purposes and that such differences
would be reflected in the four MOD hearths. To some extent,
we have demonstrated differences. Certainly there is consider-
able species diversity in the MOD hearths, other than in
Hearth 4. Furthermore, several taxa are exclusive to one or
other hearth. Hearth 1 has tinder, fuel, poison and medicinal
woods. Hearth 2 has the greatest variety of woods, including
fire-sticks, tinder, fuel and medicinal wood. Hearth 3 has Acacia
spp. Burkea africana and Rothmannia capensis; these are fuel
wood associated with hot fires.
In conclusion, the uneven distribution of woody taxa
between MOD hearths implies that the people at Sibudu did
not gather wood indiscriminately around the site. If they had
done this, we predict that all the hearths would have contained
a similar range of taxa, mostly from the predominantly ever-
green forest on the southwest slopes of the hillside where the
site is situated. Instead, the MOD woods came from a wide
range of plant communities with different habitat requirements.
We can envisage a situation in which people started a fire by
making use of preferred tinder together with a wide range of
twigs and small, dry pieces of wood collected near the site. This
method would have generated varied taxa even before the
preferred firewood was added and the speciality woods were
We thank Christine Sievers, for her archaeobotanical exper-
tise and insight and those who excavated the charcoal from
Sibudu, for their skill. The Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI),
WITS, provided equipment. Funding from the National Research
Foundation, South Africa, and from the Palaeontological Scien-
tific Trust (PAST) – Scatterlings Projects enabled S.L.’s research.
Finally, we thank the reviewers for improving this paper.
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APPENDIX A.The anatomical features of modern (shaded) and archaeological charcoal specimens identified in MOD: IAWA numbers (1–221). Bracketed
features are variations.
Vessel:Vessel arrangement: tangential (6), radial (7), dendritic (8). Grouping: solitary (9), long radials (10), clusters (11). Outline: angular (12). Vessel diameter (µm): £50 (40),
50–100 (41), 100–200 (42), ³200 (43). Vessel density (mm2): £5 (46), 5–20 (47), 20–40 (48), 40–100 (49), ³100 (50).
Parenchyma: rare or absent (75), diffuse (76), diffuse-in-aggregates (77), scanty (78), vasicentric (79), aliform (80), lozenge-aliform (81), winged-aliform (82), conflu-
ent (83).
Banded:³3 cells wide (85), £3 cells wide (86), reticulate (87).
Rays:Ray width (cells): uniseriate (96), 1–3 cells (97), 4–10 cells (98), ³10–seriate (99). Frequency (mm2): <4 (114), 4–12 (115), >12 (116). Ray height (µm): >1 mm (102). Storied
structure: all rays (118); Tracheids: vascular/vasicentric (60). Ray type: heterocellular (he) or homocellular (ho). Cells: all procumbent (104), all upright and/square (105),
body procumbent and 1 row marginal upright/square (106), body procumbent and 2–4 rows marginal upright/square (107), body procumbent and >4 rows marginal
upright/square (108), mixed procumbent, square, upright (109).
Vessel deposits and tylose: tyloses (56), gums and other deposits (58). Intercellular canals: radial canals (130). Tubes: laticifers or tanniniferous tubes (132).
Mineral inclusions:Prismatic crystals: present (136), prismatic crystals in ray cells (138), crystals in procumbent ray cell (139), crystals in upright and/or square ray cells
(140), crystals in non-chambered/chambered parenchyma (141/142), crystals in fibres (143). Druses: present (144). Crystal Sand (153). Silica bodies: present (159), silica
bodies in procumbent ray cells (160)
Plant species Charcoal Vessel Vessel Vessel Parenchyma Parenchyma Ray width Ray frequency Ray type Vessel deposits,
specimen distribution diameter density apotracheal paratracheal and height, and cells canals, tubes
storied structure and minerals
and tracheids
Afzelia quanzensis Allott 183 9, (7, 10) 41 47 85 79 96, (97) 115 104
Miller (2007) 42 46, 47 85 80–83 97 115 104 58, 142
E3d 19 7 41 48 80–83 97 115 104
Allophylus dregeanus SJL 79 10 40 48 78 96 115 104
cf. E3d 44 10 40 47 75 78 97 115 Ho:105
Bauhinia galpinii Allott 184 7 41 48 79 96 106
E3d 48 7 40 48 75 79 96 115 106
Brachylaena discolor SJL 56 7 40 49 79 97 115, (118) He:105 138
E4a 54 10 40 49 79 97 115, (118) He:105
Bridelia mollis SJL 19 7 40 49 75 79 97 115 106
cf. C6a 13 7 40 50 75 97 115 106
Burkea africana Allott 185 7 41 48 79, 83 97 104
C6a 42 7 41 48 79, (83) 97 115 104
Canthium mundianum Allott 127 10 41 49 97 102, 115 106
cf. E3d 5 7 41 47 97 115 106
Canthium suberosum Allott 129 9 40 49 76 97 102, 116 108
cf. E3d 3 9 40 49 76 97 115 108
Celtis africana SJL 48 10, (11 , 9), 41 49 79 97 114 106 138
Allott 169 9, 7, (10) 41 49 86 79, (80, 83) 97, (98) 116
E4a 62 10 40 48 79 97 116, 102 106
Clerodendrum glabrum SJL 42 7 40 49 75 97 115 106 159
cf.E4a 46 7 40 47 75 97 115 105
Commiphora marlothii Allott 33 7, ( 9) 41 49 79 97, (98) 106 140
E4a 56 7 41 49 75 79 97 115 106 138
Cordia caffra Allott 31 9, ( 6, 7) 41 47 85 97, (98) 115 106
E3d 55 7, ( 9) 40 47 85 83 97 115 106
Cussonia paniculata Allott 23 7 40 49 78 96 He:105
cf. E3d 66 7 40 49 75 78 96 114 He:105
Continued on p. 50
50 South African Archaeological Bulletin 70 (201): 36–52, 2015
APPENDIX A (continued)
Plant species Charcoal Vessel Vessel Vessel Parenchyma Parenchyma Ray width Ray frequency Ray type Vessel deposits,
specimen distribution diameter density apotracheal paratracheal and height, and cells canals, tubes
storied structure and minerals
and tracheids
Dalbergia obovata SJL78 9, 7 41 49 77 78 96 He:105
C6a 40 7 41 48 77 78 96 115 He:105
Diospyros austro-africana Allott 48 9, 7 40 49 78 96 116 Ho:105
E3d 16 7, (9 ) 40 49 78 96 115 106
Diospyros lycioides Allott 49 7, 10 40 49 78 96 116 Ho:105
C6a 54 7 40, 41 49 75 79 96 115 Ho:105 138, 140
Diospyros mespiliformis IND1288 10 41 47 78 (79) 97 116 109 138
C6a 31 7, (10 ) 41 47 77 78 97 115 109 58, 138
Diospyros villosa Allott 51 7 41 49 78 97 106
E4a 12 7 41 48 77 78 97 115 109 138
Diospyros whyteana Allott 52 10 41 48 78 98 106
E4a 20 10 41 47 78 98 115 106 58, 138
Dombeya rotundifolia Allott 162 9, 7 41 49 78 97 (98) He:105
C6a 16 9, 7 41 48 97 115 109
Dombeya tiliacea Allott 163 9 (v) 48 76 97, (98) 115 Ho:105
C6a 1 9, 7 40 48 76 97, 98 115, (102) Ho:105
Empogna lanceolata SJL 93 9, 10 40 50 97 116 109
cf. E3d 67 9 40 49 75 78 97 115 106
Erica caffra Allott 55 9 40 49 75 78 97 115 106
C6a 07 9 40 49 75 78 97 115 106
Euclea crispa SJL 29 7, (10) 40 47 78 96 116 105
cf.E3d 43 10, (7) 40 49 (76) 78 96 105
Ficus burkei Allott 94 9, (7, 10 ) 41 47 85 97 115, (102) 106, 107 56
Ficus burkei Allott 101 7, (10) 41 48 85 97 115, (102) 105
(= thonningii)
E3d 71 7 41 48 85 97 115 105
Ficus lutea SJL 16 7 41 47 85 78 98 115 106 56
E3d 50 7 41 47 85 78 98 115 106
Gardenia volkensii Allott 131 6, 9 40 49 75 97 115 106
E3d 28 7, (9) 40 49 75 97 115 106
Halleria lucida Allott 158 9, 7, (10, 6) 40 49 75, (76) 97 115 Ho:105
E3d 21 7, (9 ) 40 49 75, (76) 78 97 115 Ho: 105
Harpephyllum caffrum IND 1170 10, (11) 41 48, 49 78 98 115 106 138
Allott 2 7, ( 10) 41 49 75 78 97 106 56, 130
Terrazas (1994) 9 41 47, 48 78 98 106, 107 56, 58, 138
E4a 3 9, (10) 41 49 78 97 115 106 138
Heteropyxis natalensis SJL 32 10, (11) 41 50 78 97 115 109
Allott 76 7, 10 40 49 78 97 109
E3d 7 10, (11) 40 49 78 97 115 109
Kiggelaria africana IND 1191 7 41 48 75 97 115 He:105, (104) 138
E4a 9 7 41 48 75 97 115 105
Maytenus sp. Allott 36 7 40 49 77 97 He:105
Maytenus sp.C6a 43 9, (10) 40 49 77 97 114 He:105 140
Mimusops obovata IND1272 7, (8) 41 48 86 97 115 108
Allott 154 10 41 48 86 97 115, 102 108
E3d 24 10 41 49, (48) 86 96, (97) 115, 102 108
Continued on p. 51
South African Archaeological Bulletin 70 (201): 36–52, 2015 51
APPENDIX A (continued)
Plant species Charcoal Vessel Vessel Vessel Parenchyma Parenchyma Ray width Ray frequency Ray type Vessel deposits,
specimen distribution diameter density apotracheal paratracheal and height, and cells canals, tubes
storied structure and minerals
and tracheids
Mystroxylon Allott 39 9 40 49 85 97 116 106
aethiopicum E3d 41 9 40 49 85 97 116 106
Nuxia floribunda IND1265 7 41 49 78, 79 97 107
E3d 30 7 41 49, 78, 79 97, (98) 115 107
Ochna serrulata IND 1063 10 40 49 76 78 96, (97) 115 106
C6a 50 10 40 49 76 78 96, (97) 115 106 138
Olea europaea ssp. Allott 108 7 40 49 79 97 116 104
E3d 49 7 40 49 79 97 116 106
Ozoroa paniculosa SJL 20 7, (11 ) 41 48 78 97 115 106
E3d 51 7, (11) 41 47 78 97 115 106 58
Pappea capensis SJL 91 7, (10) 41 49 78,79 97 116 106 58
cf. C6a 47 7 41 49 78,79 96 116 106
Peltophorum africanum Allott 186 7 41 48 79, (80) 96 115 106
E3d 56 7 41 48 79, 80 96 115 106
Protea nitida IND 1184 9 40 46 79 99 106 58
E3d 45 9 40 46 79 98 115 106 58
Protorhus longifolia Allott 5 7, (6, 10, 11 ) (v) 49 78 97 115 106 56, 136
cf. E3d 26 7 41 48 78 97 115 106 58
Ptaeroxylon obliquum Allott 118 10 40 49 75 96 116 Ho: 104 (105)
E3d 61 10 41 49 75 96 115 104
Pterocarpus Allott 209 9, (6, 7) 41 49 86, 85 79 96 Ho:104 (105)
E3d 22 7 41 49 80, 83 96 115 Ho: 104 (105) 138
Rhoicissus rhomboidea SJL54 9 (11) 42 47, 48 78 97 60, 102, 114 Ho:105 58
C6a 06 9 42 47 78 97 60, 102, 114, He:105
Rothmannia capensis Allott 137 7 40 49 79 97 115 He:105
cf. E4a 73 7 40 48 79 97 115 He:105
Sclerocroton SJL 88 7 41 48 76 96 115 104, (109) 159, 160
E3d 8 7 41 48 76 96 115 104, (109) 159, 160
(Lennox &
Bamford 2015)
Searsia chirindensis Allott 7 7 41 49 79 97 116, 102 130
Searsia chirindensis cf. E3d 36 7 40 49 79 96, (97) 116, 102 106
Searsia divaricata Allott 9 10 40 49 78 116
Searsia divaricata cf. E3d 39 10 40 49 78 97 116 He:105
Searsia lancea Allott 12 7, (11) 41 49 79 97 115 Ho:105 138
Searsia lancea cf. E3d 68 7, (11) 40, 41 48 79 97 115 Ho:105
Searsia rehmanniana Allott 14 7, (11) 41 49 85 79 97 116 Ho:105 130
Searsia rehmannia cf. C6a 44 7, (11) 41 48 85 83 97 115 104
Shirakiopsis elliptica SJL67 7 42, 43 47 76 96, (97) 115 109 159, 160
C6a 46 7 42 47 76 96, (97) 115 109 159. 160
(Lennox &
Bamford 2015)
Spirostachys africana SJL 103 10 40 48, 49 76 96 115 104, (109) 58, 138, 139
C6a 39 10 40 49 76 96 115 104, (109) 138, 139
(Lennox &
Bamford 2015)
Continued on p. 52
52 South African Archaeological Bulletin 70 (201): 36–52, 2015
APPENDIX A (continued)
Plant species Charcoal Vessel Vessel Vessel Parenchyma Parenchyma Ray width Ray frequency Ray type Vessel deposits,
specimen distribution diameter density apotracheal paratracheal and height, and cells canals, tubes
storied structure and minerals
and tracheids
Syzigium cordatum Allott 104 7 40 48 79, 80, 83 97 116, 102 108
C6a 55 9 42 47 79, 83 97 102 108
Trema orientalis IND1305 9, 7 41 47 79 97 115 106
Allott 172 9, 7, 10, (11) (v) 49 79 97 116, 102 106
C6a 33 7, 11 41 49 79 (83) 97 115 106
Trichilia dregeana Allott 90 9, (7, 11) 41 40 78 96 115 Ho:105
Trichilia dregeana/ Détienne: 42 47 86, (85) 79, 80, 82, 83 96 115 104, 106 136, 159
T. emetica (n.d.)
Trichilia emetica IND1058 7, 9 42 47 79 96 115 Ho: 105, (104)
Allott 91 7, 9 (v) 49 79, 80, 83 96 Ho: 105, (104)
E4a 36 7, 9 41 49 75 79 96 115 Ho: 105, (104)
Vangueria cyanescens SJL 36 9, 7 40 49 78, 79 97 115 109, (106) 58
Vangueria cyanescens cf. E4a 15 9 40 47 77 78 96, (97) 115 109
Vangueria randii Allott 142 9 40 49 76 79 97 115 He:105
E4a 33 9 40 49 79 97 106
Vangueria randii cf. E3d 47 9 40 48 76 78 96 116 Ho:105
Monocotyledon cf. E4a 13 Circular 40 (metaxylem & protoxylem) ground 2–3 115 109
(Neumann et al. 2000) E4a 38 bundles parenchyma
... In southern Africa, these studies are mainly from Late or Middle Stone Age archaeological sites (e.g. Wadley et al. 1992;Esterhuysen and Mitchell 1996;Cartwright and Parkington 1997;Parkington et al. 2000;Allott 2006;Lennox et al. 2015). A further, and mostly unexplored, application for the taxonomic data that charcoal affords is the insight it can provide as to the inhabitants' culture, practices, habits, economy, and their relationship to the local environment. ...
... Although the production of iron was only possible once humanity had the ability to utilise wood to fire and smelt ore, it has been speculated-on the basis of some evidence-that even past or early communities may have used particular species of wood for different activities or tasks (Lorenz et al. 2017;Ntinou and Tsartsidou 2017;Vaz et al. 2017). In southern Africa, this suggestion has been based on the discovery that different MSA hearths contained different woody species (Allott 2006;Lennox et al. 2015). Evidence suggests that Iron Age communities purposefully selected and utilised different woody species for a variety of applications ranging from the construction of fences and dwellings, cooking, and smelting as well as for ritualistic purposes relating to cultural beliefs (e.g. ...
... Use was made of existing literature documenting anatomical characteristics of hardwood to assist in identifying the main features (Barefoot and Hankins 1982;Wheeler et al. 1989). To assist in the identification of the archaeological charcoal specimens, the observed features were compared with those of modern reference charcoal specimens, from the collection housed at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand (contributions made by : Allott 2005;Chikumbirike 2014;Lennox 2016). Photographs of specimens were also compared with data from other archaeological charcoal studies (Kromhout 1975;Dechamps 1993;Neumann et al. 2001). ...
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Ndondondwane in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, is an Early Iron Age site of a single, short-term occupation within the time period A.D. 750 to A.D. 950. This makes it a unique and ideal site to study cultural and social settlement organisation in this region. The site has been extensively excavated for archaeological research and a vast assemblage of charcoal retrieved. The charcoal assemblage was collected from three Cultural Horizons and each was analysed separately. This paper, the first to analyse the charcoal from this site, deals with charcoal collected from the deepest horizon represented by the livestock byre (Dung Area). Charcoal specimens were examined using reflective light microscopy to identify their characteristic anatomical features in order to determine the taxonomic group they represent. The majority of the charcoal from this layer was identified to six distinguishable species representing the genus previously known as Acacia, indicating this thorny wood was preferentially selected for constructing the byre and providing evidence for the usage of specific woody species for a particular purpose. In order to distinguish between the closely related species, a combination of morphological features was chosen and a comparison to modern charcoal reference samples and published wood anatomy descriptions were made. An attempt has been made to document the differences, as members of this genus are difficult to differentiate in terms of wood anatomy alone.
... The selection of woods by people for various uses, primarily fuel and tinder, is a reflection of the trees or shrub woods available locally (Dincauze 2000). Charcoal might also represent plants or parts brought by people or animals from any distance for the purpose of food supply and economic resources for occupants, waste and debris of food preparation activities, medicinal properties and uses, or any combination of these (Asouti & Austin 2005;Esterhuysen 1996;Lennox & Bamford 2015a;Lennox et al. 2015b;Marston 2009;Tusenius 1986;Wadley et al. 1992). The assumption is that on site plant remains of all classes distinctly reflect the environment of the site and its surroundings (Dincauze 2000;Tusenius 1986). ...
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In most of Africa, archaeological charcoal samples are often used to establish chronology through radiocarbon dating, but are rarely used to address why people may have selected specific wood taxa for particular purposes. The use of charcoal in palaeo-ethnobotanical and palaeoecological studies has been given little attention, but it can be used for vegetation studies and use of woods for purposes such as iron smelting, construction and domestic hearths. Previous excavations at Great Zimbabwe produced large samples of charcoal at specific activity sites and at different depths, thus giving perspective of time. This study is an enquiry into charcoal assemblages dated to the Late Holocene from the Great Zimbabwe. An extensive modern vegetation reference collection of charcoal from Great Zimbabwe was established and then used in the identification of archaeological charcoal samples. The analysis has provided a more detailed picture than previously available, of socioeconomic utilisation of wood at Great Zimbabwe. Anthracology has enhanced our knowledge of woody vegetation selection during the ancient Great Zimbabwe. From this study it was concluded that there was long-distance movement of wood particularly from those taxa with good construction qualities such as Spirostachys africana and Colophospermum mopane.
This paper presents the first insight into the interpretation of the wood charcoal from the Holocene layers of Wonderwerk Cave. Situated in the Northern Cape Province in the arid interior of South Africa, the site provides a unique and valuable chronological record of past environmental fluctuations and responding human behavioural adaptations spanning the last two million years. The Holocene strata have been dated to cover the last 12.5 ka cal BP years, but exclude the last 100 years because of contamination. A sizeable amount of charcoal was recovered from these strata and remnants have been identified, described and the species composition amongst the strata compared. Most identified species are those that tolerate hot, dry conditions, signalling an arid trend during the Holocene. Comparison with present day species distributions suggests an eastwards shift in modern vegetation. The charcoal data also indicate that during the mid Holocene there was a wetter period from 6.2 to 4.5 ka cal BP, coinciding with stratum 4a.
Here we present charcoal identifications for Rose Cottage Cave, Eastern Free State, from layers dated between about 96,000 and 35,000 years ago (∼96 and ∼35 ka ago). We then suggest plant community types that might have been established in the area in warm Marine Isotope Stage 5 (MIS5) versus cooler MIS4/MIS3 phases. The hypothesis is that frost-tender plants should occur in warm phases while hardy Leucosidea sericea, Protea spp. and Erica spp. should be more common during cooler phases more recent than ∼74 ka ago. Leucosidea sericea thrives under moist conditions and its presence in late MIS4 and in several MIS3 layers at Rose Cottage implies that the area may have been moister than many other sites in the interior of southern Africa, thereby making it attractive for occupation. The charcoal identifications at ∼96 ka ago included taxa like Buddleja salvifolia that need somewhat warmer conditions than taxa such as Leucosidea sericea. Taxa diversity based on the charcoal identifications is generally low at the site throughout the Middle Stone Age, but the vegetation from relatively warm MIS5 seems more diverse than that of MIS4 and MIS3. Some taxa identified, for example, Calodendrum capense, Leucosidea sericea, Erica caffra and Protea caffra no longer grow near the cave although they are commonly found in other parts of eastern South Africa.
The aim of this paper is to investigate the Sibudu Cave habitat that is dated to the late Pleistocene using archaeological wood charcoal, in order to reconstruct the environment and the activity of the people who interacted with the landscape. Standard anthracology procedures were applied in this qualitative study to analyse charcoal remains from the cave. A representative subset of charcoal remains was subsampled from a larger assemblage and environmental data, as well as evidence of wood use, are interpreted from 72 charcoal types that include 42 types that we identified taxonomically. We highlight that the environment at Sibudu supported a multi-layered Forest with Savanna vegetation based on the presence of many important taxa of these vegetation communities. The wood of the identified taxa has much rot fungi and was also burrowed by pests; however, it is not possible to infer at this stage if the fungi seen here were pathogenic. The presence of fungi is indicative of an environmental setting with high humidity and warm temperatures, such as is optimal for these types of fungi to flourish. Climatic conditions interpreted here agree with previous interpretations that were made from other environmental proxies. These conditions were only intense enough to disturb the microhabitat at Sibudu and did not change the vegetation near the cave. Also noted during the analysis, is that burning wood logs that were infected with brown rot consistently from c.73 to 72 ka probably produced very warm fires.
Archeological charcoal from hearths on three layers was analyzed to identify burnt woody taxa in terms of wood use in a larger study (Lennox et al. 2015 and 2017). A detailed anatomical study was made of a selection of Lauraceae charcoal by means of a modern reference collection and the Inside Wood database. The anatomical features were observed by means of reflective light microscopy. The IAWA features were arranged in a key so Cryptocarya spp. were identified amongst archeological charcoal. The distinguishing characteristics of Cryptocarya spp. are the multiseriate rays, ray cell type and vessel arrangement. Charcoal representing Cryptocarya cf. wyliei was identified in hearths from occupational layers, Brown under Yellow Ash (i), BYA2(i) and Spotty Camel, SPCA from ~ 58 ka, which implies the use of aromatic smoke during the Middle Stone Age; Ocotea bullata smoke is used medicinally in traditional herbal medicine.
New charcoal identifications are reported from the archaeological site, Sibudu Cave, KwaZulu-Natal. From six layers dated 77,000 to 65,000 years ago, 617/769 specimens were identified to 54 different woody taxa and of these 37 were identified to species level. The wood bundles are mostly from taxa suitable as fuel (including tinder); to a lesser extent there is wood from plants that may have been collected for medicinal purposes. The woody taxa in combustion features vary spatially, suggesting that specific wood may have been collected for predetermined purposes. Low and medium-density wood occurs in the combustion features more often than high-density wood and this supports previous studies which concluded that moderate fire temperatures were desired and that people deliberately selected wood types to achieve such temperatures. Identified woody taxa are from evergreen forest and savanna or cliff scrub vegetation communities so a mosaic of habitats is implied. Trees such as Afrocarpus/Podocarpus, Ptaeroxylon obliquum, Buxus macowanii, Harpephyllum caffrum and Curtisia dentata belong to forest, Searsia spp. to the forest margins, and Protea caffra and Erica caffra to cliff scrub. Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 5a and 4 are represented in the 77,000 to 65,000-year-old occupations at Sibudu and during the cooler conditions that probably existed in MIS4 the numbers of deciduous genera increased together with taxa diversity, possibly implying that both the forest and forest margins expanded. Numbers of evergreen genera remained constant through time.
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Seeds identified from the Middle Stone Age occupations of Sibudu Cave provide some insight into changes in the vegetation surrounding the cave between about 61 500 and 26 000 years ago. Many of the evergreen fruiting trees present today were also represented in the past, but during some periods there may have been a greater deciduous element than at present. This suggests that, on some occasions in the past, the Sibudu area had less forest and more savanna than today. Such an interpretation is consistent with conditions that prevailed during parts of Oxygen Isotope Stage 3.
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The Middle Stone Age deposits at Sibudu contain sedge (Cyperaceae) nutlets, which previously have been interpreted as indirect evidence of bedding. Scanning electron microscopy was used to identify the sedge nutlets through comparison of archaeological specimens with modern analogues. The presence of nutlets of Cladium mariscus (L.) Pohl subsp. jamaicense (Crantz) Kük, a 1-3 m tall sedge with long scabrid leaves, was unexpected and challenges the bedding hypothesis because of the minute sharp hairs along the midrib and margins of the leaf blades. Nevertheless, we argue for the use of Cladium as bedding material, possibly as the foundation on which softer matter was laid. It is possible that the Cladium nutlets and rhizomes may have been eaten and that the plant was also used as kindling or fuel.
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Sibudu, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, has good organic preservation that results in the occasional discovery of 'moments in time'. Two such moments are described here. One is at 77.2 ± 2.1 thousand years ago (ka) when deliberately constructed bedding probably served as a work area as well as a sleeping place. Sedge leaves and stems were laid directly on the shelter floor and then covered with Cryptocarya woodii leaves. These River Wild Quince leaves are insect-repelling and their use provides early evidence for the exploitation of medicinal plants. The second 'moment in time' described here is at 70.5 ± 2.0 ka, in a Still Bay Industry. Perforated Afrolittorina africana marine shells, one of which has red ochre stains, were found clustered with some unperforated shells close to small combustion features. The assemblage may represent an area where beads were made or where apparel was decorated. Rock fall from the roof of the shelter influenced the placement of features and the organization of activities. A large rock fall event occurred after the use of the insect-repelling bedding at ∼77 ka, but before ∼73 ka. The rocks affected all later occupations until the more recent Howiesons Poort ones at ∼64 ka.
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Inside Wood is an Internet-accessible wood anatomy reference, research, and teaching tool. The Inside Wood database has coded wood anatomical descriptions based on the IAWA List of Microscopic Features for Hardwood Identification and is accompanied by a collection of photomicrographs. As of November 2010 there were over 5,800 descriptions and 36,000 images of modern woods, and over 1,600 descriptions and 2,000 images of fossil woods. CITES-listed timber species and other endangered woody plants are included in this digital collection hosted by North Carolina State University's library. This web site has value in helping with wood identification because it has a multiple entry key that allows searching by presence or absence of IAWA features and it serves as a virtual reference collection whereby descriptions and images can be retrieved by searching by scientific or common name or other keywords.
Quel que soit notre objet d'étude, l'environnement végétal sensu stricto, les pratiques anthropiques liées à l'usage du feu, ou les interactions entre l'homme et son environnement, la prise en compte des agents taphonomiques de distorsion des assemblages anthracologiques constitue une étape essentielle de la recherche. Ces processus que nous appelons filtres ou agents sont de plusieurs natures : les pratiques anthropiques de la collecte et la gestion du foyer lui-même, la combustion, les processus dépositionnels et post-dépositionnels, enfin, le filtre de l'archéologue et de l'anthracologue qui, selon le mode opératoire d'échantillonnage et de quantification induit une distorsion de l'assemblage tel qu'il apparait lors de sa découverte. Dans cet article, nous nous intéressons en détail à l'incidence de l'un de ces processus sur la représentation finale des essences mises au feu : la combustion. Les résultats présentés ici proviennent de 110 combustions expérimentales standardisées, réalisées en conditions de laboratoire et l'étude quantitative de 295000 charbons de bois. Nous avons ainsi pu montrer (i) que le taux de résidus n'est pas dans une simple relation de proportionnalité avec la quantité de bois mis au feu, même moyennant des conditions de combustion standardisées ; (ii) qu'il existe un comportement au feu stationnel (intra-spécifique) aléatoire ; (iii) qu'il existe une variabilité spécifique qui discrimine trois groupes de taxons. Cette variabilité spécifique ne s'explique par aucune des variables testées (humidité, densité, proximité taxinomique, températures, durée de la combustion). Le travail expérimental met ainsi en exergue la difficulté à trouver une adéquation entre des variables, dont l'incidence semble a priori évidente, et le taux de charbons de bois résiduels.