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Exploring Desert Adaptations at Spitzkloof Rockshelter B

Location: South Africa

July 20, 2014 to August 22, 2014

Application Deadline: 
Sunday, July 13, 2014

Deadline Type: 

Program Type

Field school

RPA certified



University of Michigan, University of Toronto & Institute for Field Research

Project Director:

Dr. Brian Stewart, University of Michigan; Dr. Genevieve Dewar, University of Toronto

Project Description

Spitzkloof is as series of three neighboring rockshelters in the Richtersveld region of Namaqualand, a coastal desert in the northwest corner of South Africa. Although desolate, transhumant pastoralists, the descendants of whom still live here, thrived in this landscape for millennia.  Our work at Spitzkloof is aimed at understanding how some of the world’s earliest fully modern human societies adapted to challenging African environments over the past 200,000 years, of the behavioral flexibility that so epitomizes our species – flexibility that enabled us to colonize the globe and in the process out-compete our less versatile archaic cousins, including the Neanderthals, Denisovans and Hobbits.  The three Spitzkloof Rockshelters – designated A, B and C – form the ‘backbone’ of our research in Namaqualand. The goal of the 2014 field season is to continue excavating at Spitzkloof B and to conduct archaeological and geomorphological surveys in the surrounding area.


Period(s) of Occupation: Middle Stone Age

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum age: 
18 years old

Experience required: 
No previous experience is required

Room and Board Arrangements

Cape Town – In Cape Town, students will stay at ‘The Backpack and Africa Travel Centre’ situated in the heart of the city. 
Spitzkloof – On site, where the majority of the field school will take place, we will be camping. You will be required to bring your own tent, sleeping bag, air mattress etc. You will receive an information package before we leave detailing the equipment for which you will be responsible. We bring all food and water for drinking/washing into the field. This is a rugged, isolated desert environment with absolutely no supermarkets or stores in the immediate area; the closest supermarket is a 1.5 hour drive away over rough terrain. We thus cook our own meals in the field. We take turns cooking and doing the washing up, allowing budding chefs an opportunity to wow us all. We have also built our own rock-and-sand pizza oven at the site (it works!) that we use on Sunday evenings. We eat very well with typical meals consisting of risotto, pasta, curry, pizza and even calzones. As we do not have a fridge so most meals are vegetarian with the exception of tinned tuna and dried meat (jerky, known locally as biltong). We do, however, have the occasional barbeque (meat and/or fish) on days we return from town with fresh produce and water (approximately once per week). Those who enjoy milk in their coffee/tea will also be happy to know we do have long life milk in camp. We can accommodate vegetarians, people with lactose intolerance, or who require Halal or Kosher food.  Toilet and shower facilities are very basic but functional. Our toilets are frequently renewed, open-air (but secluded) long-drops. We wash using solar showers, which everyone is required to bring. There is enough water for everyone to wash at the end of every workday.

All room and board costs are included in tuition

Academic Credit

Name of institution offering credit: 
Connecticut College
Number of credits offered 8 semester credit units (equivalent to 12 quarter units)


Contact Information
Institute for Field Research
1855 Industrial St. #106
Los Angeles
United States
424 226-6130
Recommended Bibliography: 
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winter-rainfall desert ecosystem. Plant Ecology 142: 3-21.
Desmet, P.G. (2007). Namaqualand: a brief overview of the physical and floristic environment. Journal of
Arid Environments 70: 570-587.
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