Kgalagadi Human Origins (KHO) 2021-2027 Read more here

The Northern Cape Archaeology and Ecology Project (NCAEP) 2019-ongoing

The NCAEP Project is led by Sara Rhodes (Interdisciplinary Center for Archaeology and Evolution of Human Behaviour (ICArEHB), University of the Algarve) and Michael Chazan (University of Toronto). It aims to expand our knowledge on the paleoecological context of the Later Stone Age in the Northern Cape, South Africa. This includes new excavations into the Later Stone Age at Wonderwerk Cave and on the Ghaap plateau escarpment coupled with analysis of new high-resolution paleoecological material records firmly situated in robust radiocarbon chronologies. Michaela Ecker joined the project with the main responsibility of reconstructing the past environment using sediment leaf wax biomarkers. More information:

Results: Rhodes, S.E., Goldberg, P., Ecker, M., Horwitz, L.K., Boaretto, E. and Chazan, M., 2021. Exploring the Later Stone Age at a micro-scale: New high-resolution excavations at Wonderwerk Cave. Quaternary International.

Wonderwerk Cave Project, South Africa 2013 – ongoing

Wonderwerk Cave currently has the oldest evidence for hominin use of cave sites in the world as well as evidence for use of fire by hominins c. 1 million years ago. Its archaeological layers span almost two million years, resulting in an unique archaeological and sedimentological repository in this arid region.

Michaela Ecker joined the project in 2013 as field director with the main responsibility of setting up of a digital survey system in the cave and database creation and management in addition to her doctorate work in stable isotope biogeochemistry at Wonderwerk. The Wonderwerk Cave research project is lead since 2004 by Michael Chazan (University of Toronto), Liora Horwitz (The Hebrew University Jerusalem) and includes c. 30 international researchers. Find more information at


Mid-Pleistocene environments of the lower Vaal river (MINERVA), Marie Sklodowska-Curie Project 2019-2021 Read more here

Modelling of climatic drivers in the summer rainfall zone of southern Africa during the Mid-Pleistocene 2016-2020

Together with Hiromitsu Sato (University of Toronto, Canada) and Douglas Kelley (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, UK) we are exploring the possible drivers (CO2, rainfall seasonality, fire) leading to the signals we see in palaeoenvironmental records using climate models.

Results: Ecker, M., Kelley, D. & Sato, H. Modelling the effects of CO2 on C3 and C4 grass competition during the mid-Pleistocene transition in South Africa. Sci Rep 10, 16234 (2020).

Excavations at Pniel, lower Vaal River, South Africa 2017-2019

Principal Investigators: Michaela Ecker & David Morris (McGregor Museum).

Funded by the Quaternary Research Association (QRA) Quaternary Research Fund; Rust Family Foundation & The Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST), Johannesburg, South Africa.

Results: Ecker, M., Bank. C.-G., Chazan, M., Chen, Y., Green, G., Morris, D., Stoikopoulos, N., Shadrach, K., Stratford, D., Duke, H. 2021, Revisiting Pniel 6: the 2017-2019 excavations. South African Archaeological Bulletin 76(214), 57-69.

Ostrich eggshell: preservation, dating and environmental analyses

Ostrich eggshell is abundant in archaeological sites in southern Africa. It is easily recognisable and can be used for palaeoenvironmental analsyis as well as for dating by various methods.

Published results:

Demarchi et al. 2016 in eLife. Project lead by Julia Lee-Thorp (University of Oxford) and Kirsty Penkman  (University of York) on amino acid dating and protein diagenesis of ostrich eggshell.

Ecker et al. 2015 in Palaeoecology of Africa. PDF

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