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Mid-Pleistocene environments of the lower Vaal River

Mid-Pleistocene environments of the lower Vaal River


The project ‘MinErVa: Mid-Pleistocene Environments of the lower Vaal River’ seeks a multidisciplinary perspective on the effects of environmental change on human evolution by examining the palaeoenvironmental context of the first anatomically modern humans in the arid interior of southern Africa (c. 300-100ka).
The MinErVa project is focused around the archaeological site of Pniel, an Early Middle Stone Age open-air site on the Vaal River that I have been excavating for two seasons since 2017. The site is located in an area with fossil evidence for early human evolution, however, there is a lack of terrestrial proxy records to reconstruct climate and environment during this time period.
Specifically, the project will test the hypothesis that the local environment included phases of persistent wetness and significant biome shifts, caused by increased winter rainfall, though carbon and oxygen stable isotope analysis on herbivore teeth. Furthermore, MinErVa will apply innovative carbon and hydrogen stable isotope analysis on leaf wax n-alkanes in sediment to reconstruct vegetation and palaeohydrology. In a synthesis with isotopic, zooarchaeological, geomorphological, phytolith and lithic data sets recovered from my ongoing excavations, this project will explore how the first Homo sapiens were adapting to their environment.
The project offers scope for testing the application of stable isotope analysis of leaf wax isotopes in sediment for the first time in a terrestrial context of this antiquity on South Africa and will therefore offer unique training to the applicant in a novel method which can has the scope to establish new proxy records in a region where there is a distinct lack of them.
Leaflet | Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors, Credit: EC-GISCO, © EuroGeographics for the administrative boundaries




Olshausenstrasse 40
24118 Kiel


Activity type

Higher or Secondary Education Establishments

EU Contribution

€ 162 806,40

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 837730


Ongoing project

  • Start date

    1 May 2019

  • End date

    30 April 2021

Funded under:


  • Overall budget:

    € 162 806,40

  • EU contribution

    € 162 806,40

Coordinated by: