Kalambo Falls

Kalambo Falls

The Kalambo Falls on the Kalambo River is a 772 ft (235m) single drop waterfall on the border of Zambia and Tanzania at the southeast end of Lake Tanganyika. The falls are some of the tallest uninterrupted falls in Africa (after South Africa's Tugela Falls, Ethiopia's Jin Bahir Falls and others). Downstream of the falls, is the Kalambo Gorge which has a width of about 1 km and a depth of up to 300 m, running for about 5 km before opening out into the Lake Tanganyika rift valley.

The falls were first seen by non-natives in approximately 1913. Initially it was assumed that the height of falls exceeded 300 m, but measurements in the 1920s gave a more modest result, above 200 m. Later measurements, in 1956, gave a result of 221 m. After this several more measurements have been made, each with slightly different results. The width of the falls is 3.6 – 18 m.


Archaeologically, Kalambo Falls is one of the most important sites in Africa. It has produced a sequence of past human activity stretching over more than two hundred and fifty thousand years, with evidence of continuous habitation since the Late Early Stone Age until modern times. It was first excavated in 1953 by John Desmond Clark who recognized archaeological activity around a small basin lake upstream of the falls. His excavations in 1953, 1956, 1959, and 1963 allowed for JD Clark to make conclusions about the multiple different cultures inhabiting the area over thousands of years of time.


Early Stone Age

The Early Stone Age is described by Barham and Mitchel as the time period where the ancient ancestors of Homo Sapiens sapiens first emerged, branching from the Australopithecus Afarensis, evolving into Homo Habilus and then Homo Erectus[1] 2.6 million years ago to 280,000 years ago. Archaeologists hypothesize that the technological progression over time can be examined in the morphological characteristics of tools that are associated with different eras of habitation. The earliest identified stone tools, made by Homo Habilus are known as Oldowan tools, and they consist of the basic large pounding stones and small pebble flakes, known as Mode 1 technology. As time progressed and Homo Habilus evolved into Homo Erectus, so did the technology as more specialized stone tools were being developed, even tools that were used for making other tools, Mode 2 and 3 technologies.

These Late Acheulian stone tools,along with hearths and well-preserved organic objects were found at Kalambo falls and documented by JD Clark. These organic artifacts collected included a wooden club and digging sticks as well as the dietary evidence for fruit consumption. Tools excavated from Kalambo Gorge have been analyzed and OSL dating of quartzite within the soil context to between 500,000 and 50,000 years ago, with Amino Acid Racemization dating the oldest artifacts to 100,000 years ago.

Middle Stone Age

The Middle Stone age, dated at 280,000 years ago to roughly 40,000 years ago,[2] is the period where the final stages of Hominid evolution brought what are known today as the "Modern Human Beings".

During this time, the Acheulian industry of Kalambo Falls was superseded by the Sangoan culture. This shift is considered by Clark as a result to a n ecological shift to a cooler and wetter climate. It is at this time in the Archaeological record that the large, Acheulian Handaxe disappears and is replaced by the Core Axe and Chopping tools characteristic of Sangoan technologies. Heavy woodworking tools and small, notched and denticulated tools, collected by Clark, were dated to have been made before 41,000 BC. This rapid change is predicted to be a result of population movement during this time period, as the "Acheulean man" who lived in open settlements were replaced by a culture associated with Homo Rhodesiensis found at Broken Hill,[3] The Sangoan culture. The evidence of Sangoan habitation has been collected from less open Rock Shelters and Cave areas, possibly due to the persisting, wetter climate.

Evidence of fire technologies, such as hearths, charred logs, reddened clay, and stone heat spalls were also collected and found in association with charcoal remains. Radiocarbon dates of the scattered charcoal indicate people were using fire systematically there some 60,000 years ago.

The cool, wet climates of the region were similar to that of the Congo, and similar cultural practices have been identified at Kalambo Falls, known as Lupemban industries.

Later Stone Age

The Later Stone Age is the final age of the Paleolithic Era of Africa. It's beginning and end are the subject of multiple debates, as many argue that the beginning is the origin of the "modern human being", which evidence suggests was not sudden but very gradual over the course of thousands of years during the Middle Stone Age.[2]

Around 10,000 years ago the site was occupied by the Magosian culture which in turn gave way to Wilton activity. Finally, around the fourth century AD, a more industrialized Bantu speaking people began to farm and occupy the area.[4] These Bantu speaking people made ceramic vessels that have characteristics of East African pottery, which suggests a population movement during the LSA from the Rift Valley. Burials from this period are characterized by Clark as shaft grave burials, which are similar to those of the earlier cultures of the East African Rift as opposed to the Kalambo region.

Iron Age and the Luangwa tradition

The Iron Age in Zambia is split into an earlier, regionally categorized period and a later period of materialistically differing traditions. Early assemblages of Iron tools and pottery have been collected from the Kalambo Falls and are categorized as being from the Kalambo Group tradition[5]. At Kalambo falls, Early Iron Age traditions are believed to have continued into the 11th century.

The Kalambo group was replaced by the Luangwa tradition, whose pottery is similar to the Early Iron Age Chondwe Group of the Central African Copperbelt. Luangwa Pottery is characteristic of necked pots and shallow bowls, with the most common comb-stamped decoration pressed in a horizontal pattern of delineated lines. There has yet to be found any evidence for an interface between this Luangwa tradition and the Early Iron Age tradition at Kalambo falls, whereas sites at the Eastern Province of Zambia exhibit this interrelationship. Exact dates for this transition in the Kalambo area are inconclusive, but the tradition has continued through to the present.

Recent discoveries

2006 excavations and discoveries made by Geoff A.T. Duller, Stephen Tooth, Lawrence Barham, and Sumiko Tsukamoto have furthered the knowledge of early hominids living in the area.[6]

Issues in chronology

Attempts by Lee and McKinney to date artifacts from the area have resulted in inconsistent years ranging from 110,000 years ago with racemization to 182,000 ±10,000 to 76,000 ±10,000 years ago with applied uranium series dating. These discoveries indicated the difficulty in establishing a chronology for habitation at the falls which lead many archaeologists to disregard its significance in the African archaeological record.[6]

OSL dating

Geoff A.T. Duller based his methods off of the attempts at dating the cultural material before him and decided to use Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) on quartz artifacts to determine the ages. OSL works by sending signals through a crystaline material and collects data on how long ago the stone was exposed to light or heat.

Non-cultural stones from the soil matrix around artifacts of 6 different levels of stratigraphy, referred to as stages 1–6. OSL results of Stage 1 range between around 500,000 and 300,000 years ago. Stage 2 range from 300,000 to 50,000 years ago. Stage 3 deposits range from 50,000 and 30,000 years ago. Stage 4 deposits date to 1,500 to 500 years ago and Stage 5 follows after 490 years ago.

Acheulean stone tools of Mode 2 and 3[1] technologies were collected from the first and second stages of the collected soils. More complex, mode 3 tools come from the first 3 stages and are also found in stage 4 with a mix of stone and iron age artifacts that were the most frequent artifacts of the stage.[6]

Zambia and UNESCO significance

In 1964 the archaeological site was gazetted as a national monument by Zambia's National Heritage Conservation Commission. It has since been protected under Zambia's national heritage conservation act, cap.23 of 1989.

In 2009, Kalambo Falls was included on UNESCO list of tentative World Heritage Sites. Justifications for the inclusion are that the Kalambo Falls are the 2nd highest waterfalls in Africa, the evidence of one of the longest examples of human occupation in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the collected stone tool technologies including that of the first authentic tool industry, Acheulian.

As of today, Kalambo Falls remains on the tentative list for recognition as a protected World Heritage site.[7]

Contemporary ecology

The falls' cliff-face ledges provide nesting places and breeding sites for a marabou stork colony.


  1. 1 2 Barham, Lawrence and Peter Mitchell (2008). The First Africans: African Archaeology From The Earliest Toolmakers to Most Recent Foragers. Cambridge University Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-521-61265-4.
  2. 1 2 McBrearty, S and Brooks, A 1999. The Revolution that Wasn't: a new interpretation of the origin of modern human behavior .https://cashp.columbian.gwu.edu/sites/cashp.columbian.gwu.edu/files/downloads/ASBrooks_The%20Revolution%20that%20wasn't.pdf
  3. Clark, JD & Van Zinderen Bakker, EM 1964. Prehistoric Culture and Pleistocene Vegetation at Kalambo Falls, North Rhodesia
  4. Pavils, Gatis (7/4/2011). [Wondermondo.com/Countries/Af/Zambia/Northern/Kalambo.htmz "Kalambo Falls"] Check |url= value (help). Wondermondo.com. Retrieved 11/8/2016. Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  5. Phillipson, D.W. (1974). [www.jstor.org/stable/180367 "Iron Age History and Archaeology of Zambia"] Check |url= value (help). The Journal of African History. 15(1): 1–25 via JSTOR.
  6. 1 2 3 "New investigations at Kalambo Falls, Zambia: Luminescence chronology, site formation, and archaeological significance". Journal of Human Evolution. 2015.
  7. Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Kalambo Falls - UNESCO World Heritage Centre". whc.unesco.org. Retrieved 2016-11-09.

Coordinates: 8°35′47″S 31°14′25″E / 8.59639°S 31.24028°E / -8.59639; 31.24028

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 12/3/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.