GIS Virtual Reconstructions of the Temporal and Spatial Relations of Fossil Deposits at Wonderwerk Cave (South Africa)

Michal Birkenfeld, Margaret D. Avery, Liora Kolska Horwitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Geographic information systems (GIS) are generally used in archaeology to analyze sites where finds were collected using precise plotting methods. In order to assess the suitability of GIS analyses for excavations where georeferenced information on finds are lacking, we have developed a method for reconstructing the site archive by “back-plotting” finds for the Early to Mid-Pleistocene strata at the site of Wonderwerk Cave, for which only relative locational data (square and depth) are available. We used a digital archive comprising the location data for all finds previously excavated from the site (fauna, flora, lithic artifacts, and geological materials), to construct 3D visualizations of the stratigraphy, stratigraphic relations distant from the existing witness sections; create virtual sections at any transect through the site; and examine vertical and horizontal find associations. Our study shows that this is a valid approach that facilitates improved temporal and spatial analyses of excavations lacking precision-plotted data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)857-876
Number of pages20
JournalAfrican Archaeological Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Springer Science+Business Media New York.


This project builds on the work undertaken at Wonderwerk Cave by Peter Beaumont. The analyses took place on the basis of an agreement with the McGregor Museum (South Africa) concerning access to these collections for members of the project directed by M. Chazan and L.K. Horwitz. Fieldwork and artifact export of material relating to this research project were undertaken under the terms of permits issued by SAHRA (South African Heritage Resources Agency) to the McGregor Museum and members of the team. We extend our thanks to the following: Michael Chazan (University of Toronto) for his enthusiastic support of this research; David Morris (McGregor Museum) for facilitating access to the Wonderwerk Cave collections; Melony Jafta, Jane Joubert, and Chantelle Wilson of the McGregor Museum who created the original find catalog and Ilana Sacher for consolidating this catalog in Excel; and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on an earlier draft of this paper. This research has been funded by grants from the Canadian SSHRC to Michael Chazan.

FundersFunder number
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada


    • Early to Mid-Pleistocene
    • GIS
    • Virtual reconstruction
    • Virtual sections


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