GIS Virtual Reconstructions of the Temporal and Spatial Relations of Fossil Deposits at Wonderwerk Cave (South Africa)

Abstract

Geographic information systems (GIS) are generally used in archaeology to analyze sites where finds were collected using precise plotting methods. In order to assess the suitability of GIS analyses for excavations where georeferenced information on finds are lacking, we have developed a method for reconstructing the site archive by “back-plotting” finds for the Early to Mid-Pleistocene strata at the site of Wonderwerk Cave, for which only relative locational data (square and depth) are available. We used a digital archive comprising the location data for all finds previously excavated from the site (fauna, flora, lithic artifacts, and geological materials), to construct 3D visualizations of the stratigraphy, stratigraphic relations distant from the existing witness sections; create virtual sections at any transect through the site; and examine vertical and horizontal find associations. Our study shows that this is a valid approach that facilitates improved temporal and spatial analyses of excavations lacking precision-plotted data.

Résumé

En archéologie, les systèmes d'information géographiques (SIG) sont généralement utilisés pour analyser des sites où le matériel a été localisé précisément, à l’aide des coordonnées x-y-z. Afin d’évaluer la pertinence d’une analyse SIG dans le cas d’enregistrements moins précis, nous avons appliqué cette méthode à la grotte de Wonderwerk, dans le but d’archiver le Pléistocène ancien et moyen pour lesquels seules les coordonnées de location sont disponibles (le carré et la profondeur). En utilisation des archives numériques comprenant les données d'emplacement location pour l’ensemble du matériel précédemment récolté dans le site (faune et flore fossiles, mobiliers lithiques et données géologiques), nous avons été en mesure de créer des visualisations 3D de la stratigraphie et des relations stratigraphiques éloignées des sections de témoins existants. Nous avons également pu créer des sections virtuelles à n'importe quelle coupe transversale du site et examiner des associations de matériel verticales et horizontales. Nous avons ainsi démontré qu’il est possible d’améliorer les analyses temporelles et spatiales dans le cas de sites pour lesquels l’enregistrement des données manque pourtant de précision.

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Acknowledgments

This project builds on the work undertaken at Wonderwerk Cave by Peter Beaumont. The analyses took place on the basis of an agreement with the McGregor Museum (South Africa) concerning access to these collections for members of the project directed by M. Chazan and L.K. Horwitz. Fieldwork and artifact export of material relating to this research project were undertaken under the terms of permits issued by SAHRA (South African Heritage Resources Agency) to the McGregor Museum and members of the team. We extend our thanks to the following: Michael Chazan (University of Toronto) for his enthusiastic support of this research; David Morris (McGregor Museum) for facilitating access to the Wonderwerk Cave collections; Melony Jafta, Jane Joubert, and Chantelle Wilson of the McGregor Museum who created the original find catalog and Ilana Sacher for consolidating this catalog in Excel; and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on an earlier draft of this paper. This research has been funded by grants from the Canadian SSHRC to Michael Chazan.

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Birkenfeld, M., Avery, M.D. & Horwitz, L.K. GIS Virtual Reconstructions of the Temporal and Spatial Relations of Fossil Deposits at Wonderwerk Cave (South Africa). Afr Archaeol Rev 32, 857–876 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-015-9209-4

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Keywords

  • GIS
  • Early to Mid-Pleistocene
  • Virtual reconstruction
  • Virtual sections