We report the first luminescence ages for the archeological and geological sediments forming the substrate of the Birimi archaeological site in the Northern Region of Ghana. The site's significance rests on the fact that it contains a rich collection of artifact assemblages representative of three distinct cultures, and that, on the basis of artifact typology, the earliest assemblage is diagnostic of the Middle Stone Age (MSA) . In situ occurrences of MSA artifacts are found at over 1 m below today's surface. They are overlain by a ceramic-rich complex of a sedentary or semi-sendentary Later Stone Age culture known as the Kintampo. The western half of the site is dominated by the industrial remains of Iron Age smelting activity. Elemental, mineralogical, and sedimentological analysis of the cultural and sub-cultural sedimentary horizons at the site revealed at least three distinct lithostratigraphic units. The quartz sediments are derived from the sandstone of the Gambaga escarpment, mass wasted and accreted fluvially at a rate of 3.2 cm/ka, forming a wide terrace at Birimi. Silts and finer fractions derive from windblown dust, likely from White Volta River and granitic sources to the north. Soil forming processes and wide fluctuations in moisture have progressively reduced the sediments at depth to the resistant quartz and kaolinite, with rich iron oxide coatings, and created two ironstone horizons composed of goethite-cemented quartz nodules. Multiple aliquot green-light stimulated optical ages for 125–150 μm quartz grains yielded ages of 23.6±2.9 and 40.8±11.8 ka for the MSA-bearing sediments, and 58.4±15.3 ka for the base of the terrace. Radiocarbon ages on charcoal from Kintampo-bearing units are 3.36–3.83 ka cal BP, and are supported by thermoluminescence (TL) ages on pottery sherds and burnt house daub fragments of this cultural complex. A 0.4 ka age on sediment from the site's surface confirms that the quartz zeroes well when exposed to natural light. Sediments bearing the Kintampo artifacts, however, yielded ages of 7.8–16.9 ka. These ages were obtained on sediments from large pits, some over 50 cm deep, and they deviate only slightly from the ages expected for naturally aggraded sediments at these depths. We conclude, therefore, that extensive digging of pits by the Kintampo dwellers was followed by rapid refilling, and that the bulk mobilization of the matrix did not permit the sedimentary quartz grains to experience any appreciable zeroing at that time.
Quaternary Science Reviews – Elsevier
Published: May 1, 2003
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