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The Effects of Burrowing Activity on Archaeological Sites



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GEA Wiley RIGHT BATCH The Effects of Burrowing Activity on Archaeological Sites Ndondondwane South Africa Kent D Fowler 1 Haskel J Green eld 2 and Leonard O van Schalkwyk3 1 Department of Archaeology University of Calgary Calgary Alberta T2N 1N4 Canada 2 Department of Anthropology University of Manitoba Fletcher Argue 435 Winnipeg Manitoba R3T 5V5 Canada 3eThembeni Cultural Heritage Pietermaritzburg KwaZulu Natal South Africa Burrowing activity is a widely recognized source of site modi cation Most taphonomic studies of burrowers emphasize their destructive aspects on the archaeological record Excavations at Ndondondwane South Africa suggest burrowing activity is destructive in some ways but may also preserve cultural behavior Drawing on both direct and indirect sources of evidence we discuss how burrowing activity by rodents earthworms and termites can inform about pedogenic and depositional processes at archaeological sites and both preserve and destroy evidence of intra settlement patterns and early African cultigens Speci cally we demonstrate the limited effect of earthworms on site stratigraphy how the localized activity of termites have preserved casts of early African cultigens and how the ability of archaeologists to distinguish the devastating effects of rodent burrowing from remains of architectural features have permitted important inferences about social and ritual life in early African farming communities 2004 Wiley Periodicals Inc INTRODUCTION In the past 20 years it has become widely appreciated that an understanding of the nature and extent of natural and cultural taphonomic postburial processes are a prerequisite for interpreting past cultural behavior at archaeological sites It is no longer assumed that there are direct links between the patterning of artefact and feature distributions on sites and human behavior Many physical and biological processes that affect the movement and positioning of artefacts ecofacts and features within the three dimensional context of a site only some of which are well understood Wood and Johnson 1978 Butzer 1982 Nash and Petraglia 1987 Schiffer 1987 Lyman 1994 Canti 2003 Most often studies of postburial processes are concerned with the destruction or distortion of archaeological data In reality postburial processes not only destroy and distort but also can modify and preserve evidence of past cultural behavior Please direct all correspondence to this author Geoarchaeology An International Journal Vol 19 No 5 441 470 2004 2004 Wiley Periodicals Inc Published online in Wiley Interscience www interscience wiley com DOI 10 1002 gea 20005 short standard GEA Wiley LEFT BATCH top of RH base of RH FOWLER GREENFIELD AND VAN SCHALKWYK One of the most widely recognized sources of site modi cation is burrowing activity Almost all archaeological sites have some evidence of burrowing activity and it is commonly treated as a destructive force on sites for a recent review of bioturbation see Balek 2002 Burrowers either spend most of their life underground a fossorial lifestyle or they may live above ground using burrows for shelter nesting hibernation or birthing a semifossorial lifestyle Schiffer 1987 Wilkins 1989 Alone or in combination both lifestyles can damage the integrity of a site s stratigraphy and the distribution of cultural debris However the precise effects of different burrowing animal species on archaeological sites are poorly documented As a result discussions of the relationship between material cultural patterning on sites cannot proceed without considering both the positive and negative effects that burrowing animals have on the distribution and preservation of cultural remains Archaeologists are aware of the destructive effects caused burrowing vertebrate mammals amphibians birds and reptiles Wood and Johnson 1978 Waters 1992 During excavation however most archaeologists only record the highly visible disturbances caused by burrowing vertebrates e g rodent tunnels In contrast burrowing invertebrates insects earthworms and crustaceans have received comparably less attention This situation cannot always be attributed to archaeological negligence in terms of research design excavation strategy or inattention to bioturbation processes in general Instead it is a function of the ability of archaeologists to identify the presence of burrowing invertebrates acting on sites In this article we take a somewhat different approach to the issue of postburial disturbance processes Most taphonomic studies of burrowing activity emphasize the destructive aspects on the archaeological record including the works cited above while few document how burrowing animals may preserve the original horizontal and vertical relationships of cultural materials Darwin 1896 Johnson 1989 Michie 1990 Kries 1995 Van Nest 1997 Instead we will show how burrowing activity is destructive in some ways but may also preserve cultural behavior To illustrate this point data from the Early Iron Age site of Ndondondwane in South Africa will be presented top of text base of text THE SITE Regional Context Early Iron Age EIA A D 420 1050 farmers in southeastern South Africa typically established small permanent villages on the rich alluvial soils beside lakes and rivers Maggs 1980a Most EIA sites were occupied for a relatively long duration of time often several hundred years Maggs 1984b 1989 These reoccupations of the same places have created a palimpsest of at expansive settlements As a result most of the archaeological research on EIA sites in the region has focused on cultural disturbance processes as more immediate obstacles in dating archaeological sites elucidating pan site stratigraphic relationships and determining the relationships between coterminous features and activities at settlements 442 VOL 19 NO 5 short standard GEA Wiley RIGHT BATCH BURROWING ACTIVITY AT NDONDONDWANE SOUTH AFRICA Table I Early Iron Age chronology of the eastern lowlands in South Africa Uncalibrated ages are summarized from Fowler 2002 Table 5 1 a Ceramic Phase Mzonjani Msuluzi Ndondonwane Ntshekane Uncalibrated Age Range B P Calibrated Age Range A D 40 1540 50 1275 50 1190 45 1076 420 590 640 780 780 890 890 1050 1670 1460 1300 1126 60 60 50 50 top of RH base of RH top of text base of text a Calibrated ages are given using the Pretoria Calibration Program Talma and Vogel 1993 based on the data of Stuiver and Pearson 1993 and adjusted for the southern hemisphere Vogal et al 1993


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