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Title: Exploring palaeoaridity using stable oxygen and carbon isotopes in small mammal teeth : a case study from two Late Pleistocene archaeological cave sites in Morocco, North Africa
Author: Jeffrey, Amy
ISNI:       0000 0004 6495 9181
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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Revised chronologies from Moroccan cave sites have raised questions concerning the timing of changes in human cultural behaviour in relation to past climate shifts. However, many of the inferences about past moisture regimes are based on external records. Therefore, this thesis aimed to develop a palaeoclimate record using oxygen and carbon isotope values (d18O and d13C) in Gerbillinae (gerbil) teeth from two Late Pleistocene cave sites, El Harhoura 2 and Taforalt, in Morocco. Since small mammals are not commonly used to construct proxy climate records, a modern isotope study was undertaken in northwestern Africa to understand the influences on the stable isotope composition of small mammal tissues in semi-arid and arid settings. The results from the modern study show that d18O composition of gerbil teeth is strongly correlated with mean annual precipitation (MAP), and therefore in arid settings reflects moisture availability. Predictably, the d13C values of the gerbil teeth reflected C3 and C4 dietary inputs, but arid and mesic sites could not be distinguished because of the high variability displayed in d13C. The d18O isotope-based MAP reconstructions suggest that the Mediterranean coastal region of North Africa did not experience hyper-arid conditions during the Late Pleistocene. The d13C values of the gerbil teeth show that C3 vegetation dominated in the Late Pleistocene, but there was a small amount C4 vegetation present at Taforalt. This indicates that small mammals are extremely sensitive to discreet shifts in past vegetation cover. Both the modern and archaeological studies demonstrated that the isotope values of molars and incisors differed. The results indicate that tooth choice is an important consideration for applications as proxy Quaternary records, but also highlights a new potential means to distinguish seasonal contexts. Comparisons of proxy climate records and cultural sequences at Taforalt and El Harhoura 2 show that Middle Stone Age occupations of both sites occurred during relatively humid and arid climate phases. The transition to the Later Stone Age appears to have taken place during a period of increased aridity, hinting that this cultural transition may be related to changing environmental conditions.
Supervisor: Lee-Thorp, Julia ; Barton, Nick Sponsor: Natural Environmental Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Paleoclimatology--Pleistocene ; Cave ecology ; Animal remains (Archaeology) ; Environmental archaeology--Morocco ; Oxygen--Isotopes--Analysis ; Carbon--Isotopes--Analysis ; Morocco--Antiquities