Stratigraphy and paleoenvironments of the early to middle Holocene Chipalamawamba Beds (Malawi Basin, Africa)
We describe the Chipalamawamba Beds, early to middle Holocene deposits at the southern margin of long-lived Lake Malawi. The beds are exposed because of downcutting of the upper Shire River. The Chipalamawamba sediments are medium to coarse, yellow to brown sands deposited in lenses varying in horizontal extent from a few meters to several hundreds of meters. Four units are recognized; the first three mainly contain lacustrine sediments deposited during lake high stands about 10.6–9.7 cal ka BP (Unit 1), 7.6–6.5 cal ka BP (Unit 2) and 5.9–5.3 cal ka BP (Unit 3). Sediments of Unit 4 overlay Units 1 to 3, are coarser and display regular foresets and oblique-bedding, suggesting deposition in riverine environments after installation of the Shire River (~ 5.5–5.0 ka BP). Freshwater mollusk assemblages and bioturbation regularly occur in the lacustrine sediments, but are largely absent from Unit 4. Diverse and often contradicting hypotheses on the lake levels of Lake Malawi have been proposed for the early and middle Holocene. The Chipalamawamba Beds allow straightforward recognition of water levels and provide strong evidence for oscillating lake levels during this period, rather than continuous high or low levels. Sedimentation rates have been high and individual shell beds have typically been deposited during a few decades. Because the Chipalamawamba Beds contain a sequence of mollusk assemblages with intervals between subsequent shell beds ranging from a century to a few millennia, they enable paleontological analysis of the fauna with an unusually high temporal resolution. That some mollusk lineages inhabiting Lake Malawi are in the early stages of diversification and radiation increases the paleobiological relevance of these beds.