Late Quaternary fluvial activity in the dry valleys (mekgacha) of the Middle and Southern Kalahari, southern Africa

Paul A. Shaw, David S.G. Thomas, David J. Nash

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Kalahari dry ‘fossil’ valleys (mekgacha) have been little used in palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, partly because the origins and functions of the valleys are a subject of debate, and partly because they contain few datable sediments. In the Middle Kalahari the valleys are endoreic, and, following a decline in ground‐water tables owing to human interference over the past 150 years, rarely contain water. Evidence from three sites suggests that the valleys contained standing water between 15000 and 12000 yr BP, and that the main Okwa‐Mmone system flowed into palaeolake Makgadikgadi at 920 m a.s.l. during this period. The Southern Kalahari contains the exoreic Molopo network which is hydrologically more active, being prone to surface flows in response to extreme rainfall events. The spring—fed Kuruman valley has two terraces, the lower composed of a series of flood deposits of late Holocene age. The flood of February 1988 provides a useful analogue for the conditions under which these deposits were formed, and of the temporal regime of the Kuruman River. Comparison with adjacent sites suggests that evidence put forward to indicate cycles of climatic amelioration in the last 4000 yr may, in part, represents the effect of extreme precipitation events. Historical floods show a strong correlation to Southern Oscillation high‐phase (cold event) episodes, suggesting possibilities for extension of the Southern Oscillation record through palaeoflood studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-281
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Quaternary Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1992


  • dry valleys
  • floods
  • geomorphology
  • Kalahari
  • Late Quaternary


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