The project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust (2022-2025), examines the potential impact of climate change on early modern humans over the last 300,000 years. The region chosen contains some of the earliest Homo sapiens fossils in Africa and lies on the NW edge of the Sahara in areas that experienced extreme environmental variability in this period. The project uses archaeological and environmental records from caves in Morocco and proxy evidence from continuous marine core records to test whether periods of increased environmental variability were linked to known phases of behavioural innovation in Middle Stone Age humans. The detailed reconstruction of past environments will be achieved by a multidisciplinary approach, combining stable isotopic analyses of small mammal teeth in caves, high resolution geochemical and isotopic studies of the marine core, and comparing these sources with archaeological archives. Dated volcanic ash layers from the Canary Islands and the Azores will be employed to tie the different records together, using microscopic ash traces in the cave and marine deposits (tephrochronology). The overall objective is to provide a first, high-precision interlinked record for understanding environmental conditions during the Middle Stone Age and how periods of increased climate instability may have impacted on behavioural developments in human societies.
News and updates
“Agencies of Behavioural Change in Early Humans in North Africa” by Prof. Nick Barton.
Annual Lecture November 2023 to the British Institute of Libyan & Northern African Studies.
Funding Support from The Royal Society, November 2023
Stacy Carolin and Scott Blumenthal (University of Oregon) have received funding from The Royal Society's International Exchanges scheme to support their new collaborative efforts to explore the use of laser-ablation stable isotope analysis on very small rodent tooth enamel. Prof. Scott Blumenthal has extensive expertise in the application of stable light isotopes for investigating the ecology of mammals through laboratory- and museum-based projects on both fossil and living animals. His lab at the University of Oregon is one of the few in the world which specialises in laser-based micro-sampling methods for isotopic analysis of rodent tooth enamel. Laser ablation isotopic analysis is ideally suited for analysing particularly small rodent teeth, which are often the most prevalent in fossil sediments, but difficult to analyse using traditional methods.
Heather Upton joins the team for a UNIQ+ graduate access project working in our Tephrochronology Laboratory, July-August 2023. Read what Heather got up to during their eight-week internship here
INQUA 2023 Rome Conference, July 2023
Prof. Victoria Smith and Dr Danielle McLean travel to Rome to present at INQUA 2023 (International Union for Quaternary Research). Danielle's CAVES poster presentation can be viewed below!
Funding Support from NEIF
Danielle McLean and Emma Horn had their NEIF (National Environmental Isotope Facility) project application fully supported, entitled ‘Constraining the chronology of eruption sequences across the Azores archipelago’. The NERC ‘Grant-in-kind’ full ecomonic cost (FEC) is £8,489 for nine radiocarbon dates for organic samples across the Azores.
Funding Support from the British Institute for Libyan and Northern African Studies
Stacy Carolin has received £7,940 in project grant funding from British Institute for Libyan & Northern African Studies (BILNAS) for her project "Resolving the impact of environmental change on Middle Stone Age humans in North Africa”. This funding will assist in developing and refining the non-destructive approach of laser ablation for museum-archived small rodent teeth isotopic analysis. The isotope measurements on fossil teeth will be used to reconstruct past humidity at three sites in Northern Morocco during the Middle Stone Age.
Field Trip to Central Islands (Azores), May 2023
The CAVES Oxford Tephrochronology Team (Prof. Victoria Smith, Dr Emma Horn & Dr Danielle McLean) were joined by Dr Adriano Pimental for a two-week sampling trip to the islands of Terceira, Graciosa and Faial. Continuing the work from the previous visit to the Azores in October, the team sampled volcanic deposits from each of the different volcanic centres with the aim of compiling a large tephra glass geochemical database for explosive eruptions across the Azores. 126 samples were collected on this trip and brought back to Oxford, where sample preparation and major element analysis will be undertaken.
Visit with Dr. Emma Stoetzel at the Musée de l’Homme, Paris
During the last week of March 2023, Stacy Carolin traveled by train to Paris to meet with project collaborator Dr. Emmanuelle Stoetzel and to collect samples of modern and fossil mouse and gerbil teeth for isotope analysis. Tooth samples for isotopic analysis were chosen from the collections of Dr. Emmanuelle Stoetzel, Dr. Violaine Nicolas, and Prof. Christiane Denys, currently stored at the Musée de l’Homme (fossil) and the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (modern) in Paris. The fossil tooth samples were originally collected from El Harhoura 2 and El Mnasra caves, located on the Atlantic coast near Rabat, Morocco. The Mission Archéologique El Harhoura-Témara (Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs in France, Ministry of Culture in Morocco, directed by Roland Nespoulet and Mohammed Abdeljalil El Hajraoui) procured the material, and the Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine (INSAP), in Rabat, allowing export of the materials for study.
Funding support from the Boise Trust to date Azores eruptions, March 2023
Dr Danielle McLean (CAVES Oxford Tephrochronology Team) was awarded Boise Trust funding for their research proposal ‘Establishing new dating constraints for archaeological and climate records in NW Africa’. This funding will allow several key eruptions on São Miguel Island (Azores) to be argon-argon dated using samples of the pumice and ash. These dates will generate new constraints on the timing and frequency of past eruptions, and offer new absolute ages to be imported into other sedimentary records containing the ash.
Dr Danielle McLean and Dr Emma Horn travel to New Zealand to present their work at IAVCEI (International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior) an international volcanology conference attended by over 800 scientists from across the world. Read about the trip in a presentation report by Emma published in the VMSG (Volcanic and Magmatic Studies Group) Newsletter.
Emma joins the CAVES project team! January 2023
Dr Emma Horn starts with Oxford Tephrochronology Team after completing their PhD at the University of Southampton.
Trip to Rabat (Morocco), November 2022
Prof Nick Barton, Amy Styring and Victoria Smith visited Rabat, Morocco for the 11ème Rencontre des Quaternaristes Marocains (RQM11) conference to meet collaborators and present details of the project. They also went into the field and took samples from Contrebandiers and Dar es-Soltane 2 for cryptotephra investigations. This research is in collaboration with Jean-Jacques Hublin and Zeljko Rezek.
Field Trip to São Miguel (Azores), October 2022
In October 2022, the CAVES Oxford Tephrochronology Team (Dr Danielle McLean & Prof. Victoria Smith) visited São Miguel island to sample volcanic deposits around the three volcanic centres (Sete Cidades, Fogo and Furnas). This work was made possible by a generous Research Award from the British Institute for Libyan & Northern African Studies (BILNAS) and was undertaken in collaboration with Dr Adriano Pimental, Dr José Pacheco and Simone Aguiar at IVAR (Instituto de Investigação em Vulcanologia e Avaliação de Riscos, University of Azores). Over 130 samples were collected from outcrops around the island, which will be geochemically characterised to fingerprint the eruptions and secure correlations for distal ash identifications.
Excavations at Taforalt Cave, September 2022
Excavations continued at Taforalt Cave (Grotte des Pigeons), Morocco in September. Prof. Nick Barton and Dr Danielle McLean from the CAVES Team took new samples continuously through Sector 9 and Sector 12 which will be assessed for the presence of non-visible (cryptotephra) ash layers.