Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Anthropology. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 29 March 2023



  • Elena A.A. GarceaElena A.A. GarceaUniversity of Cassino and Southern Lazio


The Aterian is a North African late Middle Stone Age techno-complex. It is spread from the Atlantic coast in Morocco to the Middle Nile Valley in Sudan and from the Mediterranean hinterland to the Southern Sahara. Chronologically, it covers the period between c. 145,000 years bp and 29,000 bp, spanning across discontinuous, alternating dry (end of MIS 6 and MIS 4) and humid (MIS 5 and MIS 3) climatic phases. Few, but significant human remains indicate that the makers of the Aterian complex belong to early Homo sapiens. Their osteological features show affinities with the early anatomically modern human record in the Levant (Skhul and Qafzeh), suggesting that Aterian groups may have taken part in the initial dispersals out of Africa by Homo sapiens. Toolkits consist of a variety of implements not only made of stone but also of bone (points, spatulas, knives, and retouchers). They include tools that were lacking in earlier or other North African contemporary contexts, namely bifacial foliates, blades, perforators, burins, endscrapers, and particularly tanged pieces. Overemphasis on tanged tools often obscured the complexity of the Aterian, which instead displays a wide range of cultural and behavioral innovations. New mobility patterns and intra-site organization, as well as early symbolism with the use of Nassariidae shells and ochre, corroborate early fully complex behavior by these populations. Given the broad geographic and chronological extension of the Aterian, differences are evident at both local and regional scales. They suggest the development of a flexible and variable techno-complex mirroring considerable adaptive cognitive and behavioral plasticity derived from nonlinear processes. Such diversified behavioral experiments result from multiple and noncumulative trajectories due to different internal and external stimuli but are still part of a single cultural entity.


  • Archaeology

You do not currently have access to this article


Please login to access the full content.


Access to the full content requires a subscription