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Southern African Middle Stone Age  

Sarah Wurz

Currently the concept of the Middle Stone Age (MSA) denotes the period between c. 300 and 25 ka. It is a phase marked by prepared core reduction methods used to knap predetermined flakes and blades that are occasionally retouched into various types of tools. Denticulates, notches, and scrapers occur regularly, and bifacial and unifacial points and backed geometrics are sometimes linked to time-restricted regional patterns, especially for the Still Bay and Howiesons Poort technocomplexes. An uneven geographical representation of data and insufficient dating resolution preclude a coherent consensus chrono-culture stratigraphic framework for the southern African region, the area south of the Kunene and Zambezi Rivers encompassing the modern political entities of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique, Swaziland (eSwatini), Lesotho, and South Africa. Therefore many assemblages are described in relation to the marine isotope stages and local industries. Perhaps the most radical development in MSA research during the 20th century relates to the characterization of culture and behavior. In the formation years, when mostly surface collections of stone tools, organized into industries and variants were available, MSA “cultures” of the region were seen as the product of waves of immigrants that entered dark Africa from Europe, in increasingly “advanced” forms. In the latter part of the 20th century, the prevailing Eurocentric paradigm suggested that it was only with the Upper Paleolithic–like Later Stone Age that “modern” culture developed in southern Africa. Although Eurocentric thinking prevails, “modernity” is now linked to the MSA especially after 100 ka. Fluctuating complexity in behavior may relate to various degrees of social interaction within dynamic landscapes. Paleoenvironmental data is growing and, combined with cutting-edge geoarchaeological and digital methods, allow a deeper understanding of past habitats and ecological contexts. Studies on the MSA from southern Africa are expanding rapidly. This growth would be most productive and ethical if research is integrated with African socio-political realities, engaging with decoloniality and inclusivity.