Rock hyrax middens: A palaeoenvironmental archive for southern African drylands
Publication Year:

Like many of the world's subtropical regions, southern Africa is highly sensitive to changes in the earth's climate system, but a dearth of reliable palaeoenvironmental records means that relatively little is known about how regional environments have been affected over centennial to multi-millennial timescales. To a large extent this sensitivity is a function of the position of these regions at the interface between temperate and tropical circulation systems. The resulting seasonality and irregularity of rainfall have limited the development of suitable archives, such as lakes and wetlands, for the preservation of palaeoenvironmental proxies. This paper reviews and evaluates the value of rock hyrax middens as novel palaeoenvironmental archives in southern Africa. Considered are (1) the contemporary taxonomy, distribution and ecology of hyraxes, (2) the mechanisms of hyrax midden development, their physical and chemical structure, rates of accumulation and age; and (3) the palaeoenvironmental proxies preserved within hyrax middens, including fossil pollen, stable isotopes and biomarkers. The interpretive constraints and opportunities offered by these various midden characteristics are assessed with a view to demonstrating the potential of these deposits, widespread as they are through arid and semi-arid southern Africa, in providing a more detailed and chronologically resolved view of late Quaternary palaeoenvironments across the subcontinent. Keywords: Rock hyrax, Midden, Southern Africa, Palaeoenvironment, Pollen, Stable isotopes, δ13C, δ15N, Biomarkers.

Publication Title:

Quaternary Science Reviews

Item Type:
Journal Article

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