A petrographic and geochemical record of climate change over the last 4600years from a northern Namibia stalagmite, with evidence of abruptly wetter climate at the beginning of southern Africa's Iron Age

Hillary R. Sletten, L. Bruce Railsback, Fuyuan Liang, George A. Brook, Eugene Marais, Benjamin F. Hardt, Hai Cheng, Larry Edwards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations

Abstract

Stalagmite DP1, a speleothem 1.6. m in length from Dante Cave in northeastern Namibia, provides a paleoclimate record of a gradual transition from wetter to drier conditions from 4.6 to 3.3. ka. BP, a variable but pronounced dry period from 3.3 to 1.8. ka, and a wetter but variable period from 1.8. ka to the present. This record is based on 30. U/Th radiometric dates and their resulting calculated growth rates, and on C and O stable isotope data, relative proportions of aragonite and calcite in layers, measurements of stalagmite width along layers, and observation of petrographic surfaces suggestive of changes from drier to wetter conditions and vice versa. The stalagmite's first deposition, which seemingly followed conditions too wet for deposition, coincided with desiccation in the Sahara and the end of the African Humid Period there. Gradual drying continued and led to a sustained very dry period from 3322 ± 11 to 1786 ± 10. BP, a "2-3. ka. BP Dry Period". That dry period began and ended abruptly. The abrupt transition from drier to wetter conditions at 1.8. ka coincides with the beginning of the Iron Age in southern Africa, suggesting that wetter conditions facilitated migrations and/or changes in food production that may have contributed to a transition in human technologies and lifestyles. This transition is coeval with transitions to colder conditions in ice core records from Greenland and Antarctica. The DP1 record suggests considerable change over the past 1800. years, with at least three wet/dry cycles. The wettest conditions may have occurred relatively recently, between 230 and 100. BP (A.D. 1720 and 1850), so that early European explorers may have seen and/or heard reports of conditions among the wettest during the later Holocene in southern Africa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-162
Number of pages14
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Volume376
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 15 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Mr. Jurg-Reiner Otto and Dr. Renate Otto allowed access to the cave. Relevant permits to carry out research on stalagmites were granted by the National Heritage Council, the Ministry of Environment and the Commissioner of Mines in Namibia. Stalagmite DP1 was sectioned with the kind help of Mr. Tom Oglesby and the staff of Keystone Memorials Inc. of Elberton, Georgia. UGA students Tony Gesualdo and Joelle Freeman and UGA Stable Isotope Lab Research Coordinator Julia Cox provided considerable help in performing the research. Comments regarding petrographic relationships by Dr. Guglielmo Angelo Caddeo also improved the manuscript. Funding was provided by National Science Foundation Grant 0002193 to Brook.

Copyright:
Copyright 2013 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • Africa
  • Holocene
  • Namibia
  • Paleoclimate
  • Stalagmite

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