Umhlatuzana Rock Shelter Excavation 2018

My Ph.D. research within the “Finding resolution for the Middle to Later Stone Age transition in South Africa” project discusses scientific debates about the South African archaeology during the Pleistocene. The project is reexamining two archaeological sites located in KwaZulu-Natal (eastern South Africa), the Shongweni and Umhlatuzana rock shelters, both of which demonstrate occupational deposits during the Middle Stone Age to Later Stone Age transition. By determining the site formation processes, the geoarchaeological study aims to answer questions raised in relation to the archaeological contexts of the individual sites.

This blog entry shortly describes the fieldwork strategies we followed during the Umhlatuzana excavation (June-August 2018). A second blog post will follow describing the micromorphological sampling process.

Feedback, comments, and thoughts are highly welcomed.


The fieldwork strategies:

Step 1: Initial profile description

The first step was to identify and describe stratigraphic layers on the profile of the previous excavation. After producing an archaeological drawing, we compared our observations to the stratigraphic descriptions of the original excavation (Kaplan, 1990). We identified the units that were not clearly defined and established site-specific research questions.

Step 2: Excavation

The second step was to start excavating the stratigraphic layers (Single Context Excavation System) while keeping track of sediment changes. We excavated in 25×25 cm squares using ~2cm spits and documenting the relative location of finds larger than 2cm using a Robotic Total Station.

Step 3: Profile description

After the excavation, we re-identified the stratigraphic layers and units. This revised stratigraphic description was based both on the initial profile and the observations made along the excavation. Archaeological drawings of the new sections were produced.  

Step 4: Sampling Strategy

Based on the stratigraphic description we established the sampling strategies for chronological (OSL, radiocarbon), micromorphological, phytolith, and geochemical analyses. We focused on sampling specific sections that addressed our research questions. These sections included the MSA-LSA transitional deposits, poorly understood stratigraphic layers, and features with anthropogenic (hearths) or biological (bioturbation) input.


Kaplan, J. The Umhlatuzana Rock Shelter sequence: 100 000 years of Stone Age history. Southern African Humanities. 2, (1), 1-94.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s