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  • E-mailKaren.Niekerk@uib.no
  • Phone+47 55 58 38 14
  • Visitor Address
    Øysteins gate 3
  • Postal Address
    Postboks 7805
    5020 Bergen

SapienCE - Tracing the origins of behaviourally modern Homo sapiens in southern Africa

Our project focuses explicitly on the period between 100-50 ka (thousand years ago), a time of remarkable technological and behavioural expansion amongst ancestral modern humans. This project is unique and innovative in taking a macro and micro-scale approach to examine the links between material culture, innovation, subsistence and micro-environments. Currently we have only episodic views or ‘snapshots’ of early human behaviour. Also existing ages of occupations at post-100 ka archaeological sites in southern Africa are queried and need review, as does the reliance on environmental proxies disconnected from the human record. Focusing on the southern Cape, a key locus for early human occupation, our research teams analysed materials excavated from three Middle Stone Age archaeological sites Blombos Cave, Klipdrift Shelter, Klipdrift  Cave Lower and one Later Stone Age site, Klipdrift Cave. Our 2015-2016 published results about these sites have demonstrated their unequalled richness and integrity, and highlights their ground-breaking contribution to our understanding of modern humans in this region, indeed for Africa as a whole. The benefits of our team using precision excavation and recording techniques, innovative analytical and dating methods, and new theoretical approaches are demonstrated in our publications that highlight the behavioural innovations and subsistence practices that emerged in this region after 100 ka. Additionally our publications have directly linked these cultural records to changing environmental conditions observed in site-based archives. Our integrated macro- and microscale approach is defining a new paradigm in international archaeological research. With our inter-disciplinary team of archaeologists, dating specialists and climatologists, we believe that our research group will continue to establish a new scientific standard for assessing the relationships between human culture and the natural world in which it operates.

Selected publications
  • Coutinho, Alexandra; Malmström, Helena; Edlund, Hanna; Henshilwood, Christopher; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Lombard, Marlize; Schlebusch, Carina; Jakobsson, Mattias. 2021. Later Stone Age human hair from Vaalkrans Shelter, Cape Floristic Region of South Africa, reveals genetic affinity to Khoe groups. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.24236
  • Badenhorst, Shaw; Ezeimo, Joel; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Henshilwood, Christopher. 2021. Differential accumulation of large mammal remains by carnivores and humans during the Middle Stone Age in the Eastern and Western Cape, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. doi: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102752
  • Haaland, Magnus Mathisen; Strauss, André M.; Velliky, Elizabeth; Mentzer, Susan M; Miller, Christopher; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Henshilwood, Christopher. 2020. Hidden in plain sight: A microanalytical study of a Middle Stone Age ochre piece trapped inside a micromorphological block sample. Geoarchaeology. 31 pages. doi: 10.1002/gea.21830
  • Haaland, Magnus Mathisen; Miller, Christopher; Unhammer, Ole Fredrik; Reynard, Jerome P.; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Ligouis, Bertrand; Mentzer, Susan M; Henshilwood, Christopher. 2020. Geoarchaeological investigation of occupation deposits in Blombos Cave in South Africa indicate changes in site use and settlement dynamics in the southern Cape during MIS 5b-4. Quaternary Research. 1-54. doi: 10.1017/qua.2020.75
  • Discamps, Emmanuel; Henshilwood, Christopher; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise. 2020. Large mammal exploitation during the c. 14-11 ka Oakhurst techno-complex at Klipdrift Cave, South Africa. South African Journal of Science. 116. 7 pages. doi: https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2020/6754
  • Ryano, Kokeli Peter; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Wurz, Sarah Jacoba Deborah; Henshilwood, Christopher. 2019. Shellfish exploitation during the Oakhurst at Klipdrift Cave, southern Cape, South Africa. South African Journal of Science. 115. 8 pages. doi: 10.17159/sajs.2019/5578
  • Henshilwood, Christopher; d'Errico, Francesco; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Dayet, Laure; Queffelec, Alain; Pollarolo, Luca. 2018. An abstract drawing from the 73,000-year-old levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Nature. 562: 115-118. doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0514-3
  • Ryano, Kokeli Peter; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Henshilwood, Christopher; Wurz, Sarah Jacoba Deborah. 2018. Shellfishing at Klipdrift Cave during the Oakhurst, ca. 12–10 ka, in the southern Cape coast, South Africa: human predation pressure, dietary and climatic implications.
  • d'Errico, Francesco; Banks, William E.; Warren, Dan L.; Sgubin, Giovanni; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Henshilwood, Christopher; Daniau, A; Goñi, María Fernanda Sánchez. 2017. Identifying early modern human ecological niche expansions and associated cultural dynamics in the South African Middle Stone Age. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 114: 7869-7876. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1620752114
  • Badenhorst, Shaw; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Henshilwood, Christopher. 2016. Large mammal remains from the 100 ka Middle Stone Age layers of Blombos Cave, South Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin. 71: 46-52.
  • Roberts, Patrick; Henshilwood, Christopher; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Keene, Petro; Gledhill, Andrew; Reynard, Jerome; Badenhorst, Shaw; Lee-thorp, Julia. 2016. Climate, environment and early human innovation: Stable isotope and faunal proxy evidence from archaeological sites (98-59ka) in the southern Cape, South Africa. PLOS ONE. 11:e0157408. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0157408
  • Ryano, Kokeli Peter; Wurz, Sarah Jacoba Deborah; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Henshilwood, Christopher. 2017. The Technology of the Early Oakhurst Lithic Techno-Complex from Klipdrift Cave, Southern Cape, South Africa. African Archaeological Review. 34: 93-119. doi: 10.1007/s10437-017-9246-2
  • Reynard, Jerome; Discamps, Emmanuel; Wurz, Sarah Jacoba Deborah; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Badenhorst, Shaw; Henshilwood, Christopher. 2016. Occupational intensity and environmental changes during the Howiesons Poort at Klipdrift Shelter, southern Cape, South Africa. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 449: 349-364. doi: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.02.035
  • Moyo, Stanley; Mphuti, Dikeledi; Cukrowska, Ewa; Henshilwood, Christopher; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Chimuka, Luke. 2016. Blombos Cave: Middle Stone Age ochre differentiation through FTIR, ICP OES, ED XRF and XRD. Quaternary International. 404: 20-29. doi: 10.1016/j.quaint.2015.09.041
  • Reynard, Jerome; Discamps, Emmanuel; Badenhorst, Shaw; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Henshilwood, Christopher. 2016. Subsistence strategies in the southern Cape during the Howiesons Poort: Taphonomic and zooarchaeological analyses of Klipdrift Shelter, South Africa. Quaternary International. 404: 2-19. doi: 10.1016/j.quaint.2015.07.041
  • Harvati, Katerina; Bauer, Catherine C.; Grine, Frederick E.; Benazzi, Stefano; Ackerman, Rebecca Rogers; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Henshilwood, Christopher. 2015. A human deciduous molar from the Middle Stone Age (Howiesons Poort) of Klipdrift Shelter, South Africa. Journal of Human Evolution. 82: 190-196. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2015.03.001
  • Badenhorst, Shaw; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Henshilwood, Christopher. 2014. Rock hyraxes (Procavia capensis) from Middle Stone Age levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa. African Archaeological Review. 31: 25-43. doi: 10.1007/s10437-014-9154-7
  • Vanhaeren, Marian; d'Errico, Francesco; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Henshilwood, Christopher; Erasmus, Rudolph M. 2013. Thinking strings: Additional evidence for personal ornament use in the Middle Stone Age at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Journal of Human Evolution. 64: 500-517. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2013.02.001
  • Henshilwood, Christopher; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Wurz, Sarah Jacoba Deborah; Delagnes, Anne; Armitage, Simon; Rifkin, Riaan; Douze, Katja; Keene, Petro; Haaland, Magnus Mathisen; Reynard, Jerome; Discamps, Emmanuel; Mienies, Samantha. 2014. Klipdrift Shelter, southern Cape, South Africa: preliminary report on the Howiesons Poort layers. Journal of Archaeological Science. 45: 284-303. doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2014.01.033
  • Henshilwood, Christopher; d'Errico, Francesco; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Coquinot, Yvan; Jacobs, Zenobia; Lauritzen, Stein-Erik; Menu, Michel; Garcia-Moreno, Renata. 2011. A 100,000-Year-Old Ochre-Processing Workshop at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Science. 334: 219-222. doi: 10.1126/science.1211535
  • Langejans, Geeske H.J.; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise; Dusseldorp, Gerrit L.; Thackeray, J. Francis. 2012. Middle Stone Age shellfish exploitation: Potential indications for mass collecting and resource intensification at Blombos Cave and Klasies River, South Africa. Quaternary International. 270: 80-94. doi: 10.1016/j.quaint.2011.09.003

DISSEMINATION OF RESEARCH IN POPULAR MEDIA

There have been many articles on our research in international newspapers including front page articles in The Times and New York Times, and numerous articles in popular journals including New Scientist, Scientific American, National Geographic Magazine and Time.

Following the publication of our 2011 paper in Science on the Blombos Cave ochre processing toolkits, 794 articles appeared in the popular press in 66 countries with a potential viewership of nearly 600 million people (Newsclip Media Monitoring).

Our work as a team has been widely publicised on CNN, BBC, CBC, National Geographic, Japanese, Scandinavian and other European television channels.

In January, 2015, our work at Blombos Cave & Klipdrift featured on the cover, and as the lead story, in National Geographic Magazine.

Link to our latest dissemination programme 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5_JctzoxXA&feature=em‐upload_owner

POPULAR ARTICLES (selected)

·         Henshilwood, Christopher; Van Niekerk, Karen Loise. 2016. What excavated beads tell us about the when and where of human evolution. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/profiles/christopher-henshilwood-222991

·         National Geographic Magazine 2015  http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/01/first-artists/walter-text

·         Dybas, C.L. 2013. Ripple marks—The story behind the story. Oceanography 26(3):10–13, http://dx.doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2013.69

·         Dybas, C.L. 2013. Article on Blombos Cave in Oceanography . http://www.tos.org/oceanography/archive/26-3_dybas.html#abstract

·         Henshilwood, C. & van Niekerk, K. 2012. Middle Stone Age Chemists: A 100,000 Year Old Pigment Processing Workshop at Blombos Cave, South Africa. The Digging Stick.

·         Jeff Tollefson, 2012. Human evolution: Cultural roots. Nature 482, 290–292 (16 February 2012) doi:10.1038/482290a http://www.nature.com/news/human-evolution-cultural-roots-1.10025

 

  • Show author(s) 2021. Later Stone Age human hair from Vaalkrans Shelter, Cape Floristic Region of South Africa, reveals genetic affinity to Khoe groups. American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
  • Show author(s) 2021. Differential accumulation of large mammal remains by carnivores and humans during the Middle Stone Age in the Eastern and Western Cape, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
  • Show author(s) 2020. The Origins of Early Sapiens Behaviour 'Mother Africa - Welcome Home'.
  • Show author(s) 2020. Large mammal exploitation during the c. 14-11 ka Oakhurst techno-complex at Klipdrift Cave, South Africa. . South African Journal of Science. 7 pages.
  • Show author(s) 2020. Hidden in plain sight: A microanalytical study of a Middle Stone Age ochre piece trapped inside a micromorphological block sample. Geoarchaeology. 31 pages.
  • Show author(s) 2020. Geoarchaeological investigation of occupation deposits in Blombos Cave in South Africa indicate changes in site use and settlement dynamics in the southern Cape during MIS 5b-4. Quaternary Research. 1-54.
  • Show author(s) 2020. 230Th/U Burial Dating of Ostrich Eggshell: A New Geochronometer for Pleistocene Archaeological Sites.
  • Show author(s) 2019. Shellfish exploitation during the Oakhurst at Klipdrift Cave, southern Cape, South Africa. South African Journal of Science. 8 pages.
  • Show author(s) 2019. Patterns of U uptake and implications for diagenesis and trace element records in biomineral eggshell.
  • Show author(s) 2019. Origins of Early Sapiens Behaviour.
  • Show author(s) 2019. MIS 5c-d at Klasies River: An analysis of microfossils to infe paleoenvironmental conditions.
  • Show author(s) 2019. Local environmental context of the Howiesons Poort sequence at Klipdrift Shelter, South Africa .
  • Show author(s) 2019. Excavation and analysis from Blombos Cave and Klipdrift Shelter.
  • Show author(s) 2019. Evaluating the temporal range of 230Th/U burial dating of ostrich eggshell, a new chronometer for Pleistocene terrestrial strata .
  • Show author(s) 2019. A reassessment of the luminescence chronology for Blombos Cave, South Africa.
  • Show author(s) 2019. 'Origins of Early Sapiens Behaviour - Mother Africa - Welcome Home'.
  • Show author(s) 2018. The 3D-reconstruction of a modified ochre fragment trapped inside a micromorphological block sample from the Middle Stone Age levels of Blombos Cave, South Africa.
  • Show author(s) 2018. South Africa’s Blombos cave is home to the earliest drawing by a human. The Conversation.
  • Show author(s) 2018. Shellfishing at Klipdrift Cave during the Oakhurst, ca. 12–10 ka, in the southern Cape coast, South Africa: human predation pressure, dietary and climatic implications.
  • Show author(s) 2018. Les premières utilisations du rouge en Afrique.
  • Show author(s) 2018. Investigation of Middle Stone Age occupation deposits in Blombos Cave, South Africa: evidence for changes in site-use and settlement dynamics in the Southern Cape during the MIS 5b-4 (94 – 72 ka).
  • Show author(s) 2018. Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour exhibition.
  • Show author(s) 2018. An abstract drawing from the 73,000-year-old levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Nature. 115-118.
  • Show author(s) 2018. #L13 - The earliest drawing sheds light on the origin of symbolism.
  • Show author(s) 2017. U-TH BURIAL DATING OF OSTRICH EGGSHELLS: A NOVEL APPROACH TO DATING AFRICAN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SEQUENCES BEYOND THE 14C LIMIT.
  • Show author(s) 2017. The Technology of the Early Oakhurst Lithic Techno-Complex from Klipdrift Cave, Southern Cape, South Africa. African Archaeological Review. 93-119.
  • Show author(s) 2017. Shellfish and tortoise exploitation during the Oakhurst at Klipdrift Cave, southern Cape, South Africa: human predation pressure and climatic implications.
  • Show author(s) 2017. Middle Stone Age ochre contexts in Blombos Cave, South-Africa: a macro- and micro-contextual background.
  • Show author(s) 2017. Identifying early modern human ecological niche expansions and associated cultural dynamics in the South African Middle Stone Age. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 7869-7876.
  • Show author(s) 2017. Evaluating the nature and behavioral implications of laterally extensive occupation deposits in the Middle Stone Age levels of Blombos Cave, South Africa.
  • Show author(s) 2016. What excavated beads tell us about the when and where of human evolution. The Conversation.
  • Show author(s) 2016. The habitual heat treatment of silcrete by the Howiesons Poort groups from southern Africa.
  • Show author(s) 2016. Subsistence strategies in the southern Cape during the Howiesons Poort: Taphonomic and zooarchaeological analyses of Klipdrift Shelter, South Africa. Quaternary International. 2-19.
  • Show author(s) 2016. Occupational intensity and environmental changes during the Howiesons Poort at Klipdrift Shelter, southern Cape, South Africa. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 349-364.
  • Show author(s) 2016. Large mammal remains from the 100 ka Middle Stone Age layers of Blombos Cave, South Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin. 46-52.
  • Show author(s) 2016. Homo sapiens: Blombos Cave. 4 pages.
  • Show author(s) 2016. Early evidence for the extensive heat treatment of silcrete in the Howiesons Poort at Klipdrift Shelter (layer PBD, 65 ka), South Africa. PLOS ONE.
  • Show author(s) 2016. Climate, environment and early human innovation: Stable isotope and faunal proxy evidence from archaeological sites (98-59ka) in the southern Cape, South Africa. PLOS ONE.
  • Show author(s) 2016. Blombos Cave: Middle Stone Age ochre differentiation through FTIR, ICP OES, ED XRF and XRD. Quaternary International. 20-29.
  • Show author(s) 2016. Blombos.
  • Show author(s) 2015. Tracing the behavioural evolution of Homo sapiens in southern Africa.
  • Show author(s) 2015. The engraved ostrich eggshell from the Howiesons Poort layers at Klipdrift Shelter, southern Cape, South Africa.
  • Show author(s) 2015. Single-grain OSL dating of the Howiesons Poort layers at Klipdrift Shelter, Southern Cape, South Africa. AFQUA, Inaugural Conference and Workshops, 30 Jan - 7 Feb, 2015, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.
  • Show author(s) 2015. New archaeological excavations of Later and Middle Stone Age deposits at the Klipdrift Complex, southern Cape, South Africa: 2010-2013.
  • Show author(s) 2015. Heating silcrete: innovation, invention or simple opportunistic behavior for the MSA groups?
  • Show author(s) 2015. Diachronic change within the Still Bay at Blombos Cave, South Africa. PLOS ONE.
  • Show author(s) 2015. Assessing the accidental versus deliberate color modification of shell beads. A case study on perforated Nassarius kraussianus from Blombos Cave Middle Stone Age levels. Archaeometry. 51-76.
  • Show author(s) 2015. A human deciduous molar from the Middle Stone Age (Howiesons Poort) of Klipdrift Shelter, South Africa. Journal of Human Evolution. 190-196.
  • Show author(s) 2014. Stable carbon and oxygen isotope analysis of ostrich eggshell provides evidence for climatic change during the emergence of the Still Bay and Howiesons Poort technocomplexes on the southern Cape coast of South Africa.
  • Show author(s) 2014. Single-grain OSL dating of the Howiesons Poort layers at Klipdrift Shelter, southern Cape, South Africa.
  • Show author(s) 2014. Rock hyraxes (Procavia capensis) from Middle Stone Age levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa. African Archaeological Review. 25-43.
  • Show author(s) 2014. Patterns of changes over the Howiesons Poort sequence at Klipdrift Shelter (South Africa).
  • Show author(s) 2014. New archaeological excavations of Later and Middle Stone Age deposits at the Klipdrift Complex, southern Cape, South Africa: 2010-2013.
  • Show author(s) 2014. Middle Stone Age fauna from Blombos Cave.
  • Show author(s) 2014. Klipdrift Shelter, southern Cape, South Africa: preliminary report on the Howiesons Poort layers. Journal of Archaeological Science. 284-303.
  • Show author(s) 2014. Il y a 100 000 ans, un atelier pour la préparation et le stockage de mélanges pigmentés. Paleo. 117-124.
  • Show author(s) 2014. Heat treatment of silcrete in the southern African MSA: the heating procedure and its implications for the chaine operatoire.
  • Show author(s) 2014. Engraved ostrich eggshells from the Howiesons Poort layers at Klipdrift Shelter, southern Cape, South Africa.
  • Show author(s) 2014. ED-XRF and FTIR Differentiation of ochre from the Middle Stone Age Layers of Blombos Cave, South Africa-A Preliminary study.
  • Show author(s) 2014. Blombos Cave: The Middle Stone Age Levels.
  • Show author(s) 2013. Thinking strings: Additional evidence for personal ornament use in the Middle Stone Age at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Journal of Human Evolution. 500-517.
  • Show author(s) 2013. Preliminary report on the shellfish remains from the Mesolithic layers at Olsteinhelleren (5.6 – 4.7ka BC) and Sævarhelleren (7-5.8ka BC) (presented in absentia).
  • Show author(s) 2013. A hazy shade of winter: Late Pleistocene environments and behavioural adaptations at Blombos Cave, South Africa. 33 pages.
  • Show author(s) 2012. Trekking the Shore. Changing Coastlines and the Antiquity of Coastal Settlement. Bicho, N.F., Haws, J.A. & Davis, L.G. (editors) 2011. New York: Springer. I–XXX 496 pp. ISBN 978-1- 4419-8218-6 (hardback). South African Archaeological Bulletin. 150-151.
  • Show author(s) 2012. Preliminary report on Klipdrift Shelter.
  • Show author(s) 2012. Middle Stone Age shellfish exploitation: Potential indications for mass collecting and resource intensification at Blombos Cave and Klasies River, South Africa. Quaternary International. 80-94.
  • Show author(s) 2012. Middle Stone Age Chemists - a 100 000-year-old pigment processing workshop at Blombos Cave. The Digging Stick. 1-5.
  • Show author(s) 2012. Analytical techniques: Deciphering a 100,000 Year Old Ochre Processing Workshop at Blombos Cave, South Africa.
  • Show author(s) 2011. Marine fish exploitation during the Middle and Later Stone Age of South Africa.
  • Show author(s) 2011. A 100,000-Year-Old Ochre-Processing Workshop at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Science. 219-222.
  • Show author(s) 2009. From the origin of language to the diversification of languages: What can archaeology and palaeoanthropology say? 56 pages.
  • Show author(s) 2008. The > 100 ka levels at Blombos Cave, southern Cape: an update on recent and older excavations at the site.
  • Show author(s) 2005. The Archaeology of Fishing: Establishing a Comparative Collection and Subsequent Analysis of Marine Fish Bone from Holocene levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa.
  • Show author(s) 2005. Nassarius kraussianus shell beads from Blombos Cave: evidence for symbolic behaviour in the Middle Stone Age. Journal of Human Evolution. 3-24.
  • Show author(s) 2001. Blombos Cave, southern Cape, South Africa: Preliminary report on the 1992 – 1999 excavations of the Middle Stone Age levels. Journal of Archaeological Science. 421-448.

More information in national current research information system (CRIStin)

Klipdrift Shelter, southern Cape, South Africa - excavation and analysis of the cultural and faunal material from the Middle Stone Age Howiesons Poort and Post Howiesons Poort technocomplexes (60-65ka)

Klipdrift Cave, southern Cape, South Africa - analysis of faunal and cultural remains from the Later Stone Age layers dating to the Oakhurst period (c. 10-14ka)

Blombos Cave, southern Cape, South Africa - excavation and analysis of marine fauna and cultural artefacts from the Middle Stone Age layers dating to between 100 and 70ka

 

2011 PhD in Archaeology, University of Cape Town, South Africa. Title: Marine fish exploitation during the Middle and Later Stone Age of South Africa

2005 M. Phil in Archaeology (cum laude), University of Bergen, Norway. Title: The Archaeology of Fishing: Establishing a Comparative Collection and Subsequent Analysis of Marine Fish Bone from Holocene levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa

2002 BSc Honours (cum laude), University of Cape Town, South Africa. Title: An analysis of the archaeological freshwater fish remains from Rose Cottage Cave

1993 Diploma in Jewellery manufacture and design, Ruth Prowse School of Art, Cape Town, South Africa