Intensification, Diet, and Group Boundaries among Later Stone Age Coastal Hunter-gatherers along the Western and Southern Coasts of South Africa
Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses of bone collagen from a large sample of Holocene human skeletons from South Africa show regional and chronological variations in diet, especially in the importance of marine foods. Isotopic variability suggests that hunter-gatherers were more territorial than previously recognized, at least between 4000 and 2000 radiocarbon years ago. There is also evidence for population growth; some sites preserve very large volumes of archaeological deposit and dietary breadth increased—a pattern of ‘intensification’ that occurred elsewhere in the world. Here, it raises questions of similarity (e.g. in artefact types) and difference (e.g. in settlement pattern) between archaeological hunter-gatherers and anthropologically documented southern African foragers. Variation in the quantities of grave goods is intriguing, but there is insufficient evidence to detect patterning beyond broad geographical trends. This work contributes to our understanding of coastal hunter-gatherers, who are poorly documented in most parts of the world.