Fresh knowledge on ancient people

11 June 2007

Genevieve Dewar's doctoral thesis contributes fresh knowledge on the ancient inhabitants of the coastal desert of Namaqualand.

In her study, titled The Archeology of the Coastal Desert of Namaqualand, South Africa: a regional synthesis, Dewar shows that human settlements are closely linked to climate change and the availability of water.

During her research, Dewar, with the help of her supervisor, Professor Judith Sealy of the Department of Archeology, excavated nine especially promising sites in the Namaqualand region. Dewar then analysed the finds to create the first model of human occupation of this region over the past several thousand years.

Through her analysis, Dewar revealed that people couldn't live in Namaqualand during warm arid stages due to the shortage of water.

"A lot about a society can be learnt though analysing their deposits," explains Dewar. "We can see what they ate, how big the groups were and the nature of their social systems."

Deposits that include large animals, for example, is evidence for a large social group, as it takes big groups to successfully hunt and kill larger animals. The relative size of smaller animals can reveal evidence for social pressure of the area at that time. Smaller and therefore younger animal bones are evidence for higher population density because the animals didn't get a chance to grow fully before they were eaten.

Dewar's thesis makes a significant contribution to the long-term history in Southern Africa and to our knowledge of human survival and adaptation in coastal and desert environments.

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