Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) measurements are reported for single grains of quartz from deposits within Sibudu rock shelter. Such measurements enable rejection of unrepresentative grains and application of the finite mixture and central age models to obtain the most reliable age estimates. Three types of single-grain equivalent dose (De) distributions were observed: one sample represented a single dose population, three samples indicated mixing between Iron Age (IA) and Middle Stone Age (MSA) deposits, and 10 samples (in addition to the three mixed samples) showed scattered distributions. The latter type resulted from differences in the beta dose received by individual grains. For these samples, the beta doses were modelled and adjusted accordingly. Ages for the 14 samples collected from MSA deposits post-dating the Howiesons Poort (HP) resulted in three age clusters, which are stratigraphically consistent with the three informally named cultural phases at Sibudu: namely, the post-HP, late MSA and final MSA. Weighted mean ages of 58.5 +/- 1.4 ka, 47.7 +/- 1.4 ka and 38.6 +/- 1.9 ka were calculated for these phases, respectively. The three phases were separated by two occupational hiatuses with durations of 10.8 +/- 1.3 ka and 9.1 +/- 3.6 ka. We hypothesise that the punctuated presence of humans at Sibudu was determined by large-scale fluctuations in climate during oxygen isotope stage (OIS) 3, which resulted in alternating wet and dry periods. Phases of occupation correspond to wet periods when fresh water was available in the Tongati River, whereas intervals of site abandonment correspond to dry periods when people were forced to migrate in search of a reliable source of fresh water. Where people migrated to, remains unresolved. (c) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.