Burrows and bedding : site taphonomy and spatial archeaology at Tortoise cave

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Excavations at the Late Stone Age site of Tortoise Cave, a shell midden accumulation in the Western Cape, South Africa, were carried out from 1978 to 1983. The author supervised this project from 1981 onwards with the aim of expanding the cultural sample and defining more clearly the stratigraphic sequence, at the same time, to increase the objectivity of the written record, some improvements to the normal recording techniques were tested. These included the use of context sheets and a stratigraphic matrix. Methods often used elsewhere but very common in South Africa, It was felt that archaeologists had been ignoring the vital difference between stratigraphy that is observed and excavated and the actual sequence and circumstances of deposition. For this latter, the term 'Site Taphonomy' has been coined, to end the confusion that has existed concerning the meaning and correct application of the words 'Stratigraphy' and 'Stratification'. These terms should now be restricted to refer to the archaeological constructs alone, The amount of disturbance at the site led to an investigation of the processes and effects of disturbance, the implications of which are outlined here, It is thought that Tortoise Cave is not an isolated case and that considerable artefact displacement may be a common feature of local sites. Despite this, an attempt was made to find and use appropriate statistical methods of spatial analysis, It was found that some positive results, if somewhat generalised, could be obtained. The major theme of the thesis is, however, neither a description of the finds and findings from the site not simply a spatial analysis of the deposits and their contents. It attempts instead to illustrate how the understanding of the central concept of site taphonomy is essential to every aspect of the interpretation of a site and the assessment of the results.

Bibliography: pages 76-80.