Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Using Stable Isotope Analysis to Detect Overgrazing in the Archaeological Record: A Preliminary Study from the Thukela River Valley, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa




College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Stable carbon isotope analyses of modern and archaeological cattle in the Thukela River Valley, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa indicate a pronounced shift in grazing patterns from the Early Iron Age (EIA, i.e. 1st millennium AD) to present day. Archaeological cattle feed exclusively on C4 grasses while 13C values in the modern cattle are distributed towards the C3 plant range. This same shift is seen with the ovicaprines (exclusively goats in the modern sample) moving from mixed feeders (in the EIA) to browsers (modern). Field observations in the Thukela Valley between 1998-2011 suggest that this shift is a reflection of the extreme degradation of the vegetation of the valley today and present a means to detect overgrazing in the archaeological record. In addition, the data serves as a caution for archaeological and environmental reconstructions based on modern proxies.

Conference Name

Society of Africanist Archaeologists Conference

Conference Location

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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