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Article

Alexander F. Blackwood and Jayne Wilkins

The Middle Stone Age (MSA) is a period of African prehistory characterized by the production of flake-based assemblages, often with a focus on stone points and blades using prepared core reduction techniques. The MSA follows the Earlier Stone Age and precedes the Later Stone Age, although the boundaries between these periods are not as sharp as originally defined. The MSA is generally regarded as having started by at least three hundred thousand years ago (ka) and lasted until roughly forty to twenty thousand years ago. Identifying the chronological limits for the MSA is challenging because some aspects of MSA technology are found in assemblages outside this time range that also have Earlier or Later Stone Age-type tools. The earlier part of the MSA is associated with fossils belonging to the Homo sapiens clade (alternatively referred to as Homo heidelbergensis, Homo rhodesiensis, or archaic Homo sapiens). The later part of the MSA post 200 ka is associated with Homo sapiens. Determining the processes underlying the anatomical evolution of Homo sapiens during the MSA is a major aim of ongoing research, however fossil remains are rare. Across the African continent and through time, the MSA exhibits a high degree of variability in the types of stone tools that were manufactured and used. Archaeologists have used this variability to define several technocomplexes and industries within the MSA that include, but are not limited to, the “Aterian,” “Howiesons Poort,” “Still Bay,” and “Lupemban.” Variation in point styles, presumably hafted to wooden handles or in some cases projectiles, is considered a hallmark of the regional diversification that originates in the MSA. This variability, which is temporally and spatially restricted, differs in both degree and kind from the preceding Earlier Stone Age. The MSA is significant from an evolutionary perspective because, in addition to being associated with the anatomical origins of Homo sapiens, this period in time documents several significant changes in human behavior. Populations in the MSA practiced a foraging economy, were proficient hunters, and began efficiently and systematically utilizing aquatic resources such as shellfish and freshwater fish for the first time. Other significant changes include the elaboration of and increased reliance on symbolic resources and complex technologies. For example, the first known externally stored symbols in the form of crosshatched incised pigments date to ~100 ka. In contexts of similar age, shell beads for making jewelry have been recovered from Morocco and South Africa. The earliest evidence for complex projectiles dates to at least 74 ka. The meaning, utility, and persistence of symbols and complex technologies depend on social conventions and confer advantages in contexts that involve long-distance, complex social networks. While many of these earliest finds linked to behavioral modernity have so far been geographically restricted, the combined suite of genetic, fossil, and archaeological evidence may better support a polycentric African origin for Homo sapiens over the course of the MSA.

Article

Kendra A. Sirak, Elizabeth A. Sawchuk, and Mary E. Prendergast

Ancient DNA has emerged as a powerful tool for investigating the human past and reconstructing the movements, mixtures, and adaptations that have structured genetic variation throughout human history. While the study of genome-wide ancient human DNA was initially restricted to regions with temperate climates, methodological breakthroughs have now extended the reach of ancient DNA analysis to parts of the world with hot and humid climates that are less conducive to biomolecular preservation. This includes Africa, where people harbor more genetic diversity than can be found anywhere else on the planet, reflecting deep and complex population histories. Since the first ancient African genome was published in 2015, the number of individuals with genome-wide data has increased to nearly 200, with greater coverage of diverse geographical, temporal, and cultural contexts. Ancient DNA sequences have revealed genetic variation in ancient African foragers that no longer exists in unadmixed form; illuminated how local-, regional-, and continental-scale demographic processes associated with the spread of food production and new technologies changed genetic landscapes; and discerned notable variation in interactions among people with distinct genetic ancestries, cultural practices, and, likely, languages. Despite an increasing number of studies focused on African ancient DNA, multiple regions and time periods have yet to be explored. Research to date has primarily focused on the past several thousand years in eastern and southern Africa, setting up northern, western, and central Africa, as well as deeper time periods, as key areas for future investigation. As ancient DNA research becomes increasingly integrated with anthropology and archaeology, it is advantageous to understand the basic methodological and analytical techniques, the types of questions that can be investigated, and the ways in which the discipline may continue to grow and evolve. Critically, the growth and evolution of ancient DNA research must include attention to the ethics of this work, both in African contexts and globally. In particular, it is essential that research is conducted in a way that minimizes the potential of harm to both the living and the dead. Scientists conducting ancient DNA research in Africa especially must also contend with structural challenges, including a lack of ancient DNA facilities on the continent, the extensive fragmentation of African heritage (including ancient human remains) among curating institutions worldwide, and the complexities of identifying descendant groups and other stakeholders in the wake of colonial and postcolonial disruptions and displacements. Ancient DNA research projects should be designed in a way that contributes to capacity building and the reduction of inequities between the Global North and South to ensure that the research benefits the people and communities with connections to the ancient individuals studied. While ensuring that future studies are rooted in ethical and equitable practices will require considerable collective action, ancient DNA research has already become an integral part of our understanding of African population history and will continue to shape our understanding of the African past.

Article

Christine Lee

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article. Roman Catholicism has often been a subject of interest for anthropology, from Julian Pitt-Rivers’s early ethnography of an Andalusian Catholic community to Talal Asad’s historical anthropological work on medieval monastics. Furthermore, a number of prominent social anthropologists of the mid-20th century (for example, E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Mary Douglas, Victor Turner, and Godfrey Lienhardt) were themselves Catholics—a fact which infused not just their biography but also, often, their subsequent work. At the same time, anthropologists on the whole have rarely taken Roman Catholicism as the focus of study; instead, Roman Catholicism has often been the invisible backdrop against which the main ethnographic action takes place. In more recent years, however, an anthropology of Catholicism has burgeoned in the wake of the development of the anthropology of Christianity. The modern Catholic Church, with around 1.3 billion members worldwide, is the largest institution in history. Scholars have often examined the way the Church maintains itself as a unified institution even while containing vast spectrums of diversity in practice, theology, and lived experience. Resulting literature has often focused on this, examining institutional continuity over both time—such as the legacy of Catholic evangelization as a key part of colonial endeavors—and space—such as the question of syncretism and the nature of Catholicism’s relationship with Indigenous cultures around the world.

Article

Southern Africa’s past five thousand years include significant shifts in the peopling of the subcontinent. Archaeological approaches tend to characterize this period following these changes. This includes the appearance of herding and food production on a landscape that only hosted hunting and gathering, the arrival of new and competing worldviews and settlements systems, the local development of complex and state-level society that involved multiple groups, the arrival and eventual colonization of the region by European settlers, and the segregation, imbrication, articulation, and creolization of various identities. As part of studying this phase, quite often it is viewed as a series of “wholes” that share space and time. These “wholes” are usually identity groups: foragers, herders, farmers, or colonists. While regularly kept separate, archaeological remains and historic records more often indicate inter-digiting and fluid social entities that interacted in complex ways. However, the past is frequently constructed around rigid concepts of people that usually reflect contemporary groups to some extent. Understanding past identities is historically contingent and rooted in contemporary approaches, methods, and frameworks. This is no different in the mid- to late Holocene in southern Africa, which also involves the construction of pasts and people associated with non-colonial communities. The role of identity in how the past is formed has played a significant role in building sequences, interpreting material culture, and assigning change to migrations and movements within the subcontinent. Archaeologists regularly grapple with issues involving identity that include the influence of colonial writings, the impact of social contacts, and the relationship between past and present people. Taxonomizing the archaeological past by following ethnic groups and subsistence practices has led to intense and frequent discussion and debate. The nature of identity, however, is hard to define and relinquish from the influence of Western ontologies of being and community. Archaeologists are therefore forced to orientate themselves betwixt and between the past and the present to more accurately reflect people.

Article

Erich Fisher

Computational and digital technologies have fundamentally transformed archaeological practice. Archaeologists routinely use computers and the internet for digitally recording, archiving, displaying, and communicating archaeological knowledge and ideas. Many governmental and funding agencies even stipulate that primary data acquired through grant funding now must be made publicly accessible through digital data archives. Archaeoinformatics is the study of computational and digital technologies to analyze, archive, and disseminate archaeological records and the locations, contexts, and characteristics of the materials that embody those records. The strength of archaeoinformatics, though, is not in the ubiquitous use of computers or other digital technologies; it is the integrative framework that these technologies provide to create intrinsically interdisciplinary studies of complex archaeological problems. This integrative framework is sustained by adapting knowledge and methods from other disciplines. As a result, archaeoinformatics specialists are often skilled at traversing disciplinary boundaries, and archaeoinformatics, therefore, can be considered a unifying science that bridges disciplines via a digital platform allowing researchers to tackle complex research questions using multipronged research strategies.

Article

Geeske Langejans, Alessandro Aleo, Sebastian Fajardo, and Paul Kozowyk

An adhesive is any substance that bonds different materials together. This broad definition includes materials used in everything from hafted stone tools to monumental architecture. In addition, the combination of bonding, plasticity, and insolubility meant that some adhesives were exploited for waterproofing and sealing of materials, as self-adhering inlays and putties, and as paints, varnishes, and inks. Adhesives have a history of at least 200,000 years. Throughout (pre)history and around the world, people used materials, including bitumen/asphalt, carbohydrate polymers such as starches and gums, natural rubbers, mortars, proteins (from casein, soy, blood, and animal connective tissue), insect and plant resins, and tars made from various barks and woods. Adhesives thus are very diverse and have widely varying properties: they can be tacky, pliable, elastic, brittle, water-resistant, fluid, viscous, clear, dark, and much more. They are a plastic avant la lettre. These properties can and were tweaked by mixing ingredients or by further processing. In the study of archaeological adhesives, their characterization is essential and this is best done with chemical and spectroscopic methods. When larger coherent samples as opposed to single finds are analyzed, adhesive studies can provide data on past technologies, socioeconomic organizations, and environments and raw material availability. Through sourcing and mapping of ingredients and adhesive end products, travel and transfer of materials and knowledge can be illuminated. Additionally, experimental reproductions provide data on technological aspects that otherwise are lost in the archaeological record. An archaeology of adhesives can reveal the transport networks, subsistence, mobility strategies, division of labor, and technological know-how that held societies together.

Article

Archaeologies of the recent and contemporary world represent a relatively young movement within Africa. Rather than being conceived as relative to a particular chronology, this movement is often characterized as concerned with investigating the practice of archaeology itself, especially its politics and its understanding of time. The small but growing body of literature in this subfield is reviewed both to highlight a moment of disciplinary innovation and to reflect on what modifications of methodology, ethics, and theory are necessary to adapt an intellectual movement developed in other parts of the world for the African continent. These include an emphasis on foregrounding African knowledge systems, especially diverse experiences of time and materiality; the potential for co-creation of data through relationships between these and Western ways of knowing; and mixed research methods. Themes such as time, materiality, and reflexivity are considered in contexts across the continent, as well as where archaeologies of the contemporary world overlap or exist in tension with related moves in cognate African Studies fields.

Article

Pauline Chiripanhura, Ancila Katsamudanga, and Justen Manasa

Throughout history, communicable diseases have impacted humanity. If present experiences are any indication, diseases must have had significant impact on transforming the economic and social organization of past communities. Some aspects of what is regarded as normal modern human behavior must have emanated from responses to diseases, especially epidemics and pandemics. Unfortunately, few studies have been conducted in this area of archaeological investigations to shed more light on the influence of these on past communities. This is more so in African countries such as Zimbabwe where the history of pandemics stretches only as far as the beginning of colonialism, less than 200 years ago. Although the earliest world epidemic was recorded during the 5th century, it was not until 1918 that Zimbabwe recorded the first incidence of a worldwide epidemic. There is little knowledge on how precolonial communities were affected by global pandemics such as Black Death, the bubonic plague, and similar occurrences. It has to be noted that global pandemics became more threatening as society made the shift to agrarian life around 10,000 years ago. This has led many scholars to regard the adoption of agriculture as the worst mistake in the history of the human race as they argue that the creation of more closely connected communities gave rise to infectious diseases and presented these diseases with the chance to grow into epidemics. Diseases such as influenza, smallpox, leprosy, malaria, and tuberculosis are among those that have thrived since this shift. With its long human history, Africa is well positioned to shed light on the occurrence of global pandemics as well as their distinct impact on communities living in diverse social, economic, and natural environments. As such, it is important to explore the study of diseases, especially epidemics and global pandemics, to augment the worldwide knowledge generated from other continents. This knowledge should also be juxtaposed with what is already known about changing social, economic, and political developments to see the potential impacts that these pandemics had on the human past. The history of migration should be viewed as a potential history of the spread of new diseases. For all the known pandemics, the South African coast has served as the major corridor of transmission of disease pandemics into Zimbabwe. However, archaeologically, it is known that migrations were mostly over land from the northern and eastern regions. It is interesting to delve into how the spread of diseases could have differed when the movements of people over land, rather than coastal ports, are the nodes. Since there are few documentary sources to help in the comprehension of past outbreaks in the precolonial period, archaeological evidence becomes key. Without doubt, human skeletons represent the most ubiquitous source of information on ancient diseases. Zimbabwe has remains that stretch from the Stone Age to historical times. Paleopathology is an underdeveloped discipline in southern Africa, but with increased awareness of the possibilities of the presence of various diseases in prehistory, it is expected to grow.

Article

Ahmed Adam and Shadia Taha

Sudan is a vast country marked by heterogeneity, dissimilarities, and diversities in its climates, topography, natural features, cultures, and people. Sudan’s multiplicity of cultures and communities is steeped in history and heritage as remarkable as anywhere else in the ancient world and the rest of Africa. Despite this, Africa’s heritage has been overlooked for centuries as a result of prejudice and stereotyping. The 19th and 20th centuries were characterized by supposition and fixation on an external origin of African civilizations, a focus that was based on European ethnocentrism and a sense of racial superiority. In common with the rest of Africa, archaeology was founded during the colonial period and, to a large extent, remained unchanged, retaining past management and interpretative approaches and influencing current practices and planning policies. Sudan’s rich and outstanding heritage, the home of the first great civilizations in Sub-Saharan Africa, was frequently overlooked. When discussing the civilizations of the Nile Valley, many historians and archaeologists focus entirely on the role of Egypt. Ancient civilizations in Sudan were constantly interpreted as the work of colonizers and were believed to be less advanced than Egyptian civilizations. The building of the Aswan High Dam threatened the lives of Nubians and their heritage. It necessitated the forced displacement of Nubian and Bushareen nomadic tribes from their homelands and submerged considerable heritage. Nonetheless, this was the first time an organized survey was undertaken in Sudanese Nubia. The rescue campaign provided archaeological evidence and replaced ethnic prehistory with new theories. Archaeology in Sudan underwent a dreadful experience throughout the thirty years it was under the governance of the ousted dictatorial regime. The government in power in 1989–2019, an autocratic rule with a different political ideology, took control over Sudan’s heritage. Along with an oil boom, fast modernization, urbanization, and unrest in the country, all these factors had a tremendous impact on archaeology and heritage and on the operation of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM). Moreover, the military forces, which used archaeological sites as military bases, took control over and demolished significant heritage and disconnected local communities from their heritage. From the 1980s, the number of native archaeologists and departments of archaeology increased. This period witnessed an expansion in research projects, themes, topics, periods, methods, and regions explored by Sudanese and foreign teams. There is a move away from focusing on single sites to understanding and exploring past environments and landscapes using new scientific methods of investigation. There are multiple challenges ahead, including climate change (flooding, destratification, shifting sands), globalization, mega-developments, lack of sufficient funding and resources, and, most recently, Covid-19. These are complex issues to deal with, especially for poor counties. Development and unrest in Sudan continue to force communities to move from their homelands and threaten the loss of traditional knowledge, diversity of culture, and connectedness with the land.

Article

Considered within the broader corpus of studies of food and foodways, feasting in African archaeological contexts has not been reported to the same degree as in other world areas. The reasons for this could be a genuine lack of feasting practices in African contexts as well as the focus on feasts as empowering events in more hierarchical societies. Where feasting has been identified, it is done with the aid of documentary or oral sources. Most of these studies are focused on locations and time periods of interoceanic trade in west and east Africa. Feasting has been identified in these contexts by utilizing multiple lines of material evidence, including ceramics, fauna, and items such as pipes related to leisure activities that would be part of a large celebration. In some, evidence is limited to location and fauna.

Article

Food production constitutes a way of life that involves the management of plant and animal resources and related products to ensure food security for the sustenance of a society. Primary data in support of this culture was drawn primarily from archaeobotanical (micro and macro) and linguistics data from the region. Food production began with the hunting of game and the gathering and management of diverse wild fruit trees and vegetables. The strategy adopted during the early period was, or was synonymous with, garden-based agroforestry. Garden-based agroforestry, a process that involves the management of wild fruit trees and vegetables as well animals, is a deliberate and conscious anthropogenic modification of the immediate environment of a people to achieve food security. This strategy was indigenous to the region, began before the practice of a cereal-based subsistence, and did not require environmental changes or forest crises to stimulate its existence. The diversity of the archaeological data and the regularity of occurrence indicate that the peoples experienced significant levels of food security in the past.

Article

Luca Maria Olivieri

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article. The main themes of archaeological research in Gandhāra are currently developing along a timeline that starts in the Late Bronze Age and ends in the Shahi period. The majority of scholarship, however, is focused on the chronological phase between 150 bce and 300 ce. Because of the unbalanced level of studies, it is not easy to define what archaeology can positively say about the knowledge of the ancient world in this corner of Asia. However, the overall result of archaeological research in Gandhāra shows that the region was itself a center, not simply a frontier region of interaction between Central Asia and Iran, India, and its coastlands. Gandhāra appears to have played a central role in many of the developments that occurred throughout the period considered here. With the spread of domesticated rice during the mid-2nd millennium, a double-crop agricultural system and associated farm breeding system developed, linking Gandhāra with Kashmir and trans-Himalaya. Toward the end of the 1st millennium, the northern valleys saw the diffusion of burial and settlement features and associated material culture, which allows archaeological and genetic comparisons with earlier complexes of Central Asia and Iran up to 1000 ce. The initial urban phase in Gandhāra (500–150 bce) is defined by the evidence from Barikot, Bhir Mound (Taxila I), and Charsadda. Mature urban phases (150 bce–350 ce) are defined by the evidence of the restructuring of old cities (such as Barikot) and new urban foundations (e.g., Taxila III and Charsadda/Shahikhan-dheri) during the phases of contact with the Indo-Greek, Saka-Parthian, Kushana, and Kushano-Sasanian systems of power. During the last three centuries of the mature urban phase, the Buddhist art of Gandhāra developed a narrative biographical mode, which represents its most distinctive feature. The following period until 650 ce, distinguished by uncertain or scarce assemblages, is defined as post-urban. The post-650 to c. 1000 ce evidence, marked by cultural material associated with the Shahi dynasties and the first phase of contact with the Islamic dynasty of the Ghaznavids, defines the late ancient period.

Article

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article. Archaeological research began relatively late in southeastern Nigeria compared with other African countries. The site of Igboukwu, despite the remarkable discoveries made there accidentally in 1938, was not investigated thoroughly until 1959. The first systematic archaeological excavations in the region took place between December 1959 and January 1960. The Igboukwu excavations yielded hundreds of glass beads, intricately produced bronze objects, elaborately decorated potsherds, and various iron tools that revealed the artistic ingenuity of the Igbo people. These archaeological findings laid a good foundation for archaeological research in southeastern Nigeria. Subsequently, from 1964 to 1978, human-made tools including hand axes, flakes, cores, polished stone axes, ground stone axes, and microliths were discovered at various locations in the region. At the Lejja, Opi, and Aku iron smelting sites, evidence of slag blocks, tuyere fragments, furnace remains, iron ores, and potsherds are seen on the surface, suggesting large-scale intensive iron-working production in the past. These archaeological remains from stratified archaeological deposits showcase a people with a distinctive past.

Article

The archaeology of missionization in colonial Senegambia is a nascent area of study within the broader historical archaeology of colonialism that explores the historical processes of evangelization and conversion as they were experienced by Senegambian converts. Senegambia was a prominent target of Catholic and Protestant missionaries throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Archaeology is a uniquely situated discipline for expanding our understanding of missionization beyond the historical and anthropological perspectives because—through its focus on material remains—it uncovers the experience of proselytization and conversion from the ground up by illuminating the daily lives of mission residents who are often underrepresented in archival sources: African converts themselves, including women and children. The archaeology of missionization exposes lines of evidence that have left behind a robust footprint of religious and institutional architecture, landscape elements, and material culture accessible through archaeological survey and excavation. Furthermore, missionization was deeply rooted in the materiality of everyday life, so it is not simply because mission sites exist that they should be excavated, but because missionaries widely considered material practices to be integral to the broader conversion process. The archaeology of missionization interrogates the relationship between the theory and practice of evangelization during the period of colonization, and reveals the lived experience of religious conversion among Senegambian mission residents, both neophytes and those who did not embrace Christianity.

Article

The late 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe and the United States saw a wave of evangelical revivalism and hence the establishment of a large number of missionary societies who dispersed missionaries throughout the globe. Southern Africa was viewed as a potentially fruitful mission field and, as a result, a large number of mission stations were established in the region during the 19th century under the auspices of a wide array of missionary societies, although there are some examples of missionization prior to this. Missionary activity in southern Africa has long been the topic of academic investigation by historians and others but was only sporadically so by archaeologists until the second decade of the 21st century, when a critical mass of mission archaeology projects was ongoing to the extent that there was collaboration and discussion among the scholars concerned. As a result, in the early 21st century, it became an acknowledged focus of southern African historical archaeology. In their study of missions, missionaries, and missionization, archaeologists draw on a diverse toolkit of methodologies, including mapping, landscape survey, geophysical survey, excavation, artifact analysis, rock art analysis, museum collections analysis, and the comparative study of documents, pictorial records, and the archaeological record. Archaeologists have contributed by placing mission sites into their wider landscapes; exploring changing material practices in architecture, clothing, household goods, and burial practices; and studying missionary activity and mission sites in diachronic perspective.

Article

Archaeological research on natural disasters has increased significantly since the 1970s, with archaeologists paying more attention to the potential cultural effects of natural disasters. In the 21st century, archaeological investigations of natural disasters have become more sophisticated, and researchers have produced substantial literature on the topic. In Eurasia and the Americas, archaeological studies increasingly invoke natural disasters as the cause of socioeconomic transformations in past societies. In East Africa, however, few archaeological studies have yet considered the impact of natural disasters on local communities. As media coverage and research on natural disasters increases globally, East African archaeology is beginning to contribute to the discussion. Preliminary works in East Africa have applied disaster-study basic concepts to investigate ancient natural disasters that befell early coastal communities in the area. Researchers studying the Pangani Bay on the northeast Tanzanian coast, for example, have deduced from archaeological and geological evidence that ocean-originating floods caused the destruction of an early Swahili village there a thousand years ago. Researchers in this new field of study are focusing on the relationships between natural disasters (floods), their cultural impacts, and human responses to them. Disaster archeology focused on East Africa is expected to increase significantly because such research may provide historical records (including strategies people employed to cope with extreme natural events in the past) to inform researchers and policymakers dealing with extreme natural-event impacts in the 21st century.

Article

Aterian  

Elena A.A. Garcea

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.

Article

Bone, like other organic materials, featured prominently in the technological repertoires of most historically documented hunter-gatherer communities practising a Stone Age economy. Unlike stone, however, bone does not survive as well archaeologically, resulting in less attention generally being paid to this aspect of material culture. Yet, despite their poorer preservation, bone tools are found in several hominin sites dating to the last two million years in South and East Africa, where two regionally distinct varieties of bone tool occur. Traceological analyses (which comprise use-wear, fracture, and residue analyses) have gone a long way in elucidating the functions of these tools and those from younger periods. Deliberately modified bone tools are found sporadically at archaeological sites dating throughout the last two million years, but never in large numbers. Bone tools offer us many insights into past cultures and now-vanished technologies. For example, insect extraction, musicality, basket weaving, and garden agriculture were all expressed through the medium of bone. These bone artefacts often constitute the sole evidence for such technologies and their associated behaviors. To this list might be added bow-and-arrow technology, although here there is plenty of confirmatory evidence from lithic and residue studies. Despite their ubiquitously fewer numbers, bone tools are no less important for understanding aspects of the past than their lithic counterparts and have been the focus of several anthropological debates. The degree of similarity in manufacturing techniques, finished product morphology, and decorative motifs have led some researchers to extrapolate similarities in overarching cultural traditions. But the same similarities are seen in other parts of the world. Even a recurrence of decorative motifs may mean different things to different people at different times. The presence of well-made bone tools in Iron Age sites continues to be seen as evidence for trade between hunter-gatherers and farmers. But without concrete evidence that the bone tools moved from one place to another, such facile interpretations only serve to underplay farmer agency. Apart from trying to work out function, bone tool studies globally are focused on identifying the specific animal species selected to make tools and what such selection strategies might reveal about the symbolic importance of animals in human societies.

Article

The identification of the Taung Child Australopithecus africanus type specimen as an early human fossil (hominin) by Raymond Dart in 1924, followed by key discoveries at sites like Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, and Makapansgat in the 1930s and ’40s, was key to understanding that humans first arose in Africa, not Europe or Asia. Later discoveries in eastern Africa have shown that the earliest potential hominins (e.g., Orrorin tugenensis) date back to at least 6 million years ago. In contrast, the oldest fossils hominins in South Africa are those of Australopithecus from the sites of Taung and Makapansgat and are dated to between about 3.0 and about 2.6 million years ago (Ma); only one specimen, from Sterkfontein, potentially dates to earlier than this sometime between 3.7 and 2.2 Ma. However, the majority of early hominin fossils in southern Africa come from 2.8- to 1.8-million-year-old palaeocave remnants in the Malmani dolomite of the Gauteng province. These sites have a rich record of hominin species, including Australopithecus africanus, Australopithecus sediba, Paranthropus robustus, and Homo erectus. Most of these species, except for Homo erectus, are endemic to South Africa. However, the DNH 134 specimen from Drimolen Main Quarry does represents the oldest fossil of Homo erectus anywhere in the world. This specimen occurs at a time around 2 Ma when there is a turnover in hominin species with the extinction of Australopithecus and the first occurrence of Homo, Paranthropus, and an archaeological record of Oldowan and bone tools. Acheulian technology occurs from at least 1.4 Ma and is associated with specimens simply attributed to early Homo. The oldest hominin fossil outside the northern Malmani dolomite karst is dated to between 1.1 and 1.0 Ma, at Cornelia-Uitzoek in the Free State, and also represents the last specimen defined as early Homo. Paranthropus is also last seen around 1 million years ago, when the first specimen attributed to Homo rhodesiensis may also have occurred at Elandsfontein in the Western Cape. There is a dearth of hominin fossils from the terminal Early Pleistocene until the late Middle Pleistocene when a high diversity of hominin species occurs between about 340,000 and about 240,000 years ago (c. 340 and c. 240 ka). This includes a late occurring specimen of Homo rhodesiensis from Broken Hill in Zambia, Homo helmei or early modern humans from Florisbad, and Homo naledi from Rising Star. This is also a period (post 435 ka) containing both late occurring Acheulian and early Middle Stone Age (MSA) technology, but none of these fossils is directly associated with archaeology. Definitively early modern human fossils are not found until after 180 ka in direct association with MSA technology, and the majority, if not all, of the record occurs during the last 120 ka.

Article

Interest in the material remains of the past in Europe dates to the early 17th century, though archaeology as a discipline developed only two hundred years later. It was transposed to the Indian subcontinent once British colonial rule was established in the region, in the 19th century. Archaeological practice has often been discussed in secondary writings as presenting a “scientific” approach to the study of the past, though from the 1990s onward its political implications have been highlighted bringing into focus the search for remnants of the Greeks and Greco-Roman civilization by British archaeologists such as John Marshall (1876–1958) and Mortimer Wheeler (1890–1976), who worked as director-generals of the Archaeological Survey of India. This reliance on models worked out in Europe had a significant impact on the study of the beginnings of writing in the subcontinent, the development of epigraphy, and collections of inscriptions and copper plates. To stress the bias that has crept into an understanding of the significance of the written word in the Indian past, writings on ceramics need to be brought into the discussion as these have often been used in the colonial period for establishing chronology or “Roman” influence as evident in Wheeler’s 1946 excavations at Arikamedu on the Tamil coast. The development of several new trends over the last seven decades in the subcontinent has challenged colonial constructs and helped provide a balance.