Rock hyrax middens: A palaeoenvironmental archive for southern African drylands

Brian M. Chase, Louis Scott, Michael E. Meadows, Graciela Gil-Romera, Arnoud Boom, Andrew S. Carr, Paula J. Reimer, Loic Truc, Verushka Valsecchi, Lynne J. Quick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


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. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-125
Number of pages19
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2012


  • Rock hyrax
  • Biomarkers
  • d15N
  • d13C
  • Stable isotopes
  • pollen
  • Palaeoenvironment
  • Midden
  • Southern Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geology

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