Human Impacts on Ancient Marine Ecosystems: A Global Perspective

By Torben C. Rick; Jon M. Erlandson | Go to book overview

12
Human Impact on Precolonial West Coast
Marine Environments of South Africa

Antonieta Jerardino, George M. Branch, and Rene Navarro

WITH VERY EXTENSIVE, DIVERSE, and productive coastlines, it is no surprise that South Africa offers a superb opportunity to understand how marine ecosystems function, and the effects of people on these environments. This prospect is heightened by the realization of the tremendous time depth of human occupation, including the first emergence of modern humans in Africa and, by default, in the world (Erlandson 2001; Marean et al. 2007). This endeavor is multidisciplinary by necessity: marine ecology and archaeology go hand in hand, along with other closely related specialities such as oceanography, geology, and palaeoenvironmental studies. While ecological studies can provide an understanding of the ecology of present species, their vulnerability to harvesting, and the way they are influenced by physical factors, archaeology and palaeoenvironmental studies offer a window into the past where such ecological relationships and physical variables can be seen changing through time. The result of this multidisciplinary dialogue not only feeds much needed academic debate but also brings new and important dimensions into marine conservation policies and fisheries management. Because of this, the relevance of archaeology to modern society extends beyond its perceived status as a highly specialized and rather esoteric field (Erlandson and Rick, this volume). As demonstrated below, we also propose that this multidisciplinary dialogue benefits the way coastal archaeological sites are studied, by bringing a more exhaustive and systematic approach to answering questions, and by highlighting their main trait as archives of both human and environmental history. Seen in this perspective, the protection, conservation, and management of coastal archaeological sites must be a priority as promoted by the current South African heritage legislation (National Heritage Resources Act, No. 25, 1999).

In this chapter, we explore the relationship that people established with the marine environment on the South African West Coast over several millennia. Such effects have frequently been demonstrated for terrestrial environments worldwide (Redman 1999), but few convincing cases have been made for marine systems. A broad account of the long-term precolonial human settlement of the West Coast of South Africa sets the background for a more focused analysis of selected archaeological sequences in the Lamberts Bay area. An integrated approach

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