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Vertical topography, high altitude, infertile soils, and an arid climate make the Andes of South America a difficult region for agriculture. Nonetheless, archaeologists have found that potatoes, oca, quinoa, and kañawa were first domesticated by ancient famers in and near a region known as the Altiplano. Research indicates that approximately 6,000 years ago hunter-gatherers began to cultivate wild ancestors of these crops. Shortler thereafter, llama and alpaca herders played an important role in developing crop cultivation strategies; potatoes were uniquely adapted to a mobile pastoral lifestyle. By about 1,500 bce there is archaeological evidence that these crops were fully domesticated and supported early village life. Eventually tubers and chenopods were foundational sustenance for civilization and cities across the pre-Hispanic Andean highlands. Breeding over the last four millennia by generations of Indigenous Andean farmers in the diverse environments and climatic conditions of the Andes has resulted in a hugely diverse array of these crops. The outcome of these efforts is that hundreds of varieties of quinoa and over 5,000 varieties of potatoes are grown by Andean farmers in the 21st century. Potatoes in particular are a unique case of domestication for two reasons: (a) ancient farmers figured out how to store them long term through a freeze-drying process; (b) chemicals that are toxic to humans were not bred out of all varieties; rather, ancient people figured out that eating particular clays made the toxic potatoes less bitter and edible. Through paleoethnobotanical and genetic research, archaeologists have begun to shed light on the tangled history of Andean peoples and their crops.

Article

Patrick Randolph-Quinney and Anthony Sinclair

The Osteodontokeratic (ODK for short) is a technological and cultural hypothesis first proposed by Raymond A. Dart in 1957, based on fossils recovered from the South African cave site of Makapansgat. Dart proposed that the extinct hominin species Australopithecus prometheus were predatory, cannibalistic meat eaters, and specialized hunters. He suggested that they manufactured and used a toolkit based on the bones (osteo), teeth (donto), and horns (keratic) of prey animals, and that these first tools were evidence for the “predatory transition from ape to man” as a distinct stage in human evolutionary development. Dart based his hypothesis on the analysis of bones of fossil ungulates and other prey species found at Makapansgat. The parts of the skeleton recovered from the cave were biased toward the skull and limb bones, whilst the thorax, pelvis, and tail were largely absent, indicating a selection agent at work. The bones also exhibited evidence of damage, which Dart suggested could only have been caused by intentional violence. Many of the bones were blackened, which he suggested was due to burning or charring in a controlled fire. In his mind, the hominins of Makapansgat were prodigious hunters who used organic tools to kill their prey, whereupon they cooked and ate the meat, discarding waste bone but utilizing some of the skeletal material to make new tools. Dart developed a detailed typology of complete or modified bones that he indicated could be used as clubs, projectiles, daggers, picks, saws, scoops, and cups—in doing so, he confused form with function. Dart and the ODK were championed by the American playwright Robert Ardrey across four hugely successful popular science books starting with African Genesis in 1961. Following Dart, these books portrayed our early ancestors as aggressive hunters killing prey and each other, driven by a need to protect their territory. This concept infiltrated popular culture through the opening sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey released in 1968, making the ODK perhaps the most famous scientific claim for an original form of human technology. Dart’s hypothesis was not widely accepted by contemporary scientists such as Kenneth Oakley, Sherburn Washburn, John Robinson, and C. K. “Bob” Brain, and led Brain to conduct his own field research on the agents of fossil accumulation and site formation processes in South Africa. Brain later demonstrated that the pattern of bone damage and skeletal part representation recorded by Dart at Makapansgat was the result of nonhuman modification, particularly accumulation and dietary processing of ungulate carcasses by large carnivores such as leopard or hyena. Furthermore, the blackening of bone was caused by manganese mineral staining. In testing and falsifying the ODK hypothesis, Brain and fellow researchers laid the experimental groundwork for the discipline of vertebrate taphonomy (the laws of burial and postmortem processes) which is now a cornerstone in paleolithic archaeology and the study of early human origins. It is debatable whether this scientific specialism would exist in its present form without Dart’s claims for the ODK.

Article

Ostrich eggshell (OES) beads are a common feature of Later Stone Age (LSA) archaeology throughout eastern and southern Africa and have the potential to inform on site use, cultural diversity, social networks, and site formation. However, too often OES bead assemblages have not been recorded or studied in the necessary detail to make meaningful contributions to these important questions. In this respect, and to aid future research focusing on the African LSA, OES and OES beads must be discussed in detail, beginning with a background to ostriches and their eggs and commenting on why OES is an important raw material. Then, one should consider OES beads in detail, specifically, the manufacturing process, the social context in which they were made, and how they may have been used in the past. Subsequently, the focus should be on how OES bead assemblages are analyzed, as well as archaeometric approaches to studying OES bead residues and OES bead provenance. The potential insights gained from these diverse and multidisciplinary analytical approaches, especially when combined, are then highlighted through discussing trends in OES bead research from African LSA contexts. These trends include the contribution of OES beads to understanding the complex transition from hunter-gatherers to herders, the identification of different cultural groups in the past, and identifying the presence and extent of past social networks. The final focus should be on future research directions that will benefit OES bead research, specifically more detailed approaches to understanding OES bead diversity and the expansion of experimentally derived taphonomic frameworks for identifying past human and nonhuman behaviors in OES bead assemblages. Future research should build on the growing body of detailed OES bead analyses, as they provide unique insight and a strong complement to traditional archaeological approaches to understanding past peoples, groups, and cultures during the African LSA.

Article

In Zimbabwe, the term “rock art” refers mainly to prehistoric engravings and paintings that were executed on the walls of shallow caves, rock shelters, or faces of boulders across the country. Rock paintings were executed using pigments in a variety of colors and textures while engravings were etched into the rock using incisions, polishing, or pecking methods. The paintings dominate the corpus of rock art in the country. They are found within the granitic boulders that cover much of the country while rock engravings are confined to narrow belts in the eastern, southern, and southwestern parts where the sandstone is found. The spatial distribution of rock art in Zimbabwe helps to show that geology was the influential factor in choosing whether to paint or to engrave. In terms of subject matter, the rock art of Zimbabwe is mostly dominated by what is known as hunter-gatherer art, with a few sites having what has been termed “farmer art.” There is a possibility of some of the art having been made by herders but this requires further research and conformation. The hunter-gatherer art is made up of mostly animals and humans. Nevertheless, the occurrence of plants and geometric figures, especially the “formlings,” sets the rock art of Zimbabwe apart from that of other areas in southern Africa. Farmer art has animal and human figures, mostly in white kaolin and usually found superpositioned on top of the hunter-gatherer images. The color and superpositions led the art to be termed the Late Whites. The possibility of herder art has been raised due to the occurrence of depictions such as handprints and finger-painted dots. These images are associated with herders in neighboring countries such as South Africa and Botswana. Research in Zimbabwe has tended to favor the dominant aspects of rock art. As such, rock paintings have been extensively investigated at the expense of engravings. In the same vein, hunter-gatherer research art has been preponderant as compared to the study of farmer and possibly herder art. Nevertheless, it is important to note that although a lot of strides have been made in rock art research, fewer researchers, especially among the indigenous, have had an interest in these aspects of the Zimbabwean past. Rock art is often overshadowed by the archaeology of the farming communities, which has Zimbabwe culture and particularly Great Zimbabwe as its hallmark. However, it is encouraging to note that there has been an upsurge in students working on projects concerning rock art, which foretells good prospects for the uptake of rock art research in the future

Article

The contexts of hunter-gatherer rock arts of the southern Maloti-Drakensberg are characterized by enduring patterns of cultural acquisition and social transformation, resulting in communities with highly contextual identities and cultural possessions, but with nonlinear relationships between the two. Attempts to mitigate discontinuities between ethnographic source and interpretive subject, however, have left interpretive methodologies to represent authorship in more singular terms, to the exclusion of potential contextual sources who express identities not outwardly San, despite ancestral trajectories overlapping those of the artists. Recognition of the inheritances of the communities of the present Maloti-Drakensberg, and their transformative histories, necessitates their inclusion not only as sources, but as contributors to ethnoarchaeological process.

Article

Lucas Oliviera and Bruna Triana

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article. A postcolonial approach to the right to the city involves the intersection of two multifaceted topics, both of which have yielded an extensive body of scholarship. On the one hand, a postcolonial perspective conceives the production of knowledge as a process connected to the colonial matrix of power, which resulted in a narrow and West-centered understanding of the world. On the other hand, the right to the city, a political slogan associated with the French Marxist Henri Lefebvre, focuses on rebalancing the power over urbanization processes, by embracing citizens’ prerogatives to participate in decision-making concerning the city. To begin with, tackling the debate on the right to the city from the standpoint of postcolonial spaces includes exploring a range of social, political, economic, cultural, and spatial axes that offer renewed engagements with the “urban question” from across the social sciences and humanities. In this sense, it is essential to question the universal grammar of the “city,” considering urban changes and local variations, as well as the metrocentric tendencies in urban studies, such as the concentration on large cities based on a normative and Eurocentric conception of urbanity. A postcolonial approach to the right to the city takes the variety of processes, experiences, projects, spatialities, and agencies into account, and considers theoretical, epistemological, and political proposals from the Global South. Critical urban theory, for instance, has analyzed varied contexts, time, and places to determine current patterns of urbanization under global capitalism and their far-reaching consequences for contemporary urban life, especially for groups at the margins. At the same time, subaltern urbanism, whether led by political and social movements or scholars, has drawn attention to how colonialism and imperialism have profoundly shaped city landscapes and positioned urbanism within a singular script centered on Western capitalism, modernization, and progress. Both perspectives outline a postcolonial call to rethinking and decentering the debate on the right to the city, confronting topics related to contemporary urban dynamics. These topics may include, but are not limited to, new designs of citizenship and agency; center–periphery relations; multifaceted processes of city-making not restricted to the Western system of meaning; urban precarity, housing displacement, and gentrification; environmental racism; and the consequences of housing injustice in different geographical contexts.

Article

Recent multidisciplinary research combining archaeology, bioarchaeology, and DNA and isotope analyses has revolutionized our understanding of the Inca empire and the astonishing diversity of its inhabitant. This article aims to shed light on the sociopolitical dynamics of this pre-Columbian empire and the associated breakthrough research. The first two sections (Land of the Four Parts Together, and Building the Inca Empire: Historical Narratives), offer a discussion on the political structure of the Inca empire, including the chronology and sequence of expansion using historical documents and the emerging challenges. The following sections (Cuzco: The Imperial Capital and Sacred Center, and The Heartland: An Incomplete Project?) are dedicated to the capital of Cuzco, the current research on the imperial heartland that highlights processes of state formation, and disparate imperial transformations at the time of Spanish conquest. Emerging debates on the complex relationship between Inca material culture and imperial expansion are also included. In the next sections (The Swift Inca Expansion: Competing Explanations, and Tradition and Innovation: Socioeconomic Institutions in Imperial Expansion), a discussion on the competing explanations and challenges on the timing and scale of expansion is provided. This includes the ways in which the millions of participating communities in the Inca imperial project actively adapted, but also transformed many of the state socioeconomic institutions and practices. Comparatively, the next sections (Infrastructure and Imperial Power: Royal Estates and Imperial Centers, and Imperial Appropriations: Places of Creation and the “Other Cuzcos”) examine the role that royal estates, imperial centers, and “Other Cuzcos” played in broader socioeconomic processes. The final section (Elite Incanization and Indigenous Agency: Provincial Archaeologies) is dedicated to indigenous agency and the importance of provincial archaeologies in understanding the nature of the Inca empire on a finer scale.

Article

Africa hosts some of the oldest mines (for exploiting ochre used in personal adornment) in the world, but the ones that relate to the transformation of rocks to metal occur much later when compared to those found in Eurasia. Throughout the world, the processes of identifying and winning ores from parent rock in order to transform them into metals and, ultimately, into usable objects is indeed considered to be a novelty. African ethno-archaeological research suggests that the realization that certain rocks contained sufficient quantities of metal for heat-mediated reduction into metals, as well as the appreciation of the different properties of targeted metals, have never been difficult issues to the local Africans but archaeometallurgists are still rationalizing how this novelty began without an apprenticeship phase, especially south of the Egyptian pyramids. Indigenous sub-Saharan Africa metallurgy is laden with symbolism, ritual, and taboos. This particular aspect made the whole craft to be derided by Western science as magical and therefore unworthy of proper scientific study. This prejudiced thinking has since been discredited by sound research, but the ripple effects still linger and archaeometallurgical research is still generally underfunded when compared to other elements of anthropological inquiry. Nonetheless, the limited research conducted to date firmly highlight the direction of preindustrial mining and metallurgical research in this region. In a pattern unknown in Eurasia, where copper and bronze preceded iron production in a very gradual process, sub-Saharan Africa metallurgy was ushered in by the simultaneous advent of iron and copper in parts of East, Central, and West Africa before this metallurgy was introduced to the southern subcontinent. Gold, tin, and cuprous alloys (mostly bronze and brass) were then introduced after centuries of ongoing iron and copper metallurgy. As the last block to take up metallurgy, Southern Africa is often uncritically assumed not to have had an innovative aptitude, but the historiography of mining and metallurgy of the whole sub-Saharan Africa constantly evokes prejudiced thinking about African incapacity or the counter discourse. A more careful reading of sub-Saharan metallurgy literature places this craft at par with the equivalent from Eurasia. Considering that the African continent is the cradle of humankind, this is not surprising. Fortunately, as products of a high-temperature process, archaeometallurgical objects and waste by-products retain in their physical and chemical properties partial histories of the transformations they went through, allowing archaeometallurgists glimpses into the technologies of past societies. Guided by concepts such as “materiality” and in agreement with Maussian thinking, Africanist archaeometallurgists consider the so-called magic to be just as important as the technical control because there is no chasm between the technological and anthropological factors of artifacts, and all technologies falls within the broader social paradigm of their construction.

Article

The study of temple-pyramids and other public buildings has long been an important focus in Mesoamerican archaeology. Scholars generally use the term public architecture to refer to structures for use, visitations, and gatherings beyond individual households, but the term public needs to be examined more critically. Public buildings are tied to the formation and transformation of the public sphere, a social field shaped in specific historical contexts that enables and restrains the political action of people. Traditional studies commonly viewed public buildings as reflections of society, political organization, or worldviews. Investigations before the 1960s often focused on the descriptions of public buildings or used them to define cultural areas and traditions. The rise of processual archaeology in the 1960s and 1970s encouraged researchers to examine social processes through the analysis of buildings. Some scholars assumed that the size of public buildings and the labor investments in their constructions reflected the levels of political centralization. At the same time, the symbolic aspect of buildings continued to be an important theme in Mesoamerican archaeology. The underlying assumption was that public buildings, through their shapes and orientations, or associated images and texts, represented worldviews or cosmologies. While these approaches continue to be common, various Mesoamerican archaeologists have begun to examine the recursive processes in which buildings shaped, and were shaped by, society. In this framework, some scholars focus on people’s actions and perceptions, whereas others view buildings as active agents in social processes. Sensory perceptions, particularly visibility, are examined as critical media, through which the recursive relations between buildings and people unfolded. Construction events are also viewed as critical processes, in which collective identities and social relations are created, negotiated, and transformed. The meanings of buildings still represent an important focus, but instead of searching for fixed, homogeneous meanings, the new theoretical perspectives have urged scholars to analyze how diverse groups negotiated multiple meanings. In the early 21st century, public buildings at archaeological sites continue to be a subject of negotiation among diverse groups, including the governments, descendant communities, archaeologists, developers, and the general public.

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. The Chalcolithic period of India, first identified at the site of Jorwe in the 1950s, is an important period in the history of India’s cultural and civilizational development, especially for the central, Deccan, southern, and eastern regions of the subcontinent. The period ranges from the 3rd millennium bce to the mid-1st millennium bce and covers the origin, development, and decline of these cultures in the region. While traditionally referred to as two distinct groups, the Central and Deccan Chalcolithic cultures represent a cultural continuum across the region of southeast Rajasthan or Mewar, Central India or Malwa, and the Deccan. Mewar is drained by the Banas, a tributary of the Chambal; Malwa by the Narmada, Tapi, Mahi, Chambal, and Betwa; and the Deccan, located between the Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats, is drained by the Tapi, Bhima, and Godavari. The archaeological sites are found along the river valleys, and some of the typological sites include Ahar, Balathal, Gilund, etc., in Mewar; Kayatha, Eran, Navdatoli, among others, in Malwa; and Savalda, Inamgaon, Daimabad, etc., in the Deccan region. The Central and Deccan Chalcolithic cultures form a cultural community defined by the black-on-red ware and the black-and-red ware ceramic type along with their associated pottery types that have helped frame the chronology and cultural sequence of origin, development, and decline. Also referred to as the early farming communities, they are defined by a sedentary lifestyle with permanent and semi-permanent structures, an agro-pastoral economy with production of goods for exchange and commerce, along with variations in religious practices which include fire worship, bull worship, and burial systems, among others, as identified by the excavators. Based on stratigraphic sequence, stylistic similarities, and material culture, five distinct cultural phases have been identified in Central India and the Deccan, namely, the Ahar, Kayatha, and Savalda, followed by Malwa and Jorwe. The origin of these cultures, while not distinctively clear, has been attributed to various native and foreign elements, including the Mesolithic and Neolithic cultures of the region, contemporary pre-, early, mature, and late Harappan cultures, and West Asian influence, among others. The Chalcolithic period in the history of the Indian subcontinent, while forming a bridge between prehistory and early history, also raises relevant questions with regard to its identity in terms of its origin and influence; its placement within the general frame of existing archaeological chronology between the Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Iron Age; and interaction and trade networks with contemporary cultures such as the Southern Neolithic Harappans, including the early, mature and late periods of Haryana, Gujarat, and north Rajasthan that contributed to its rich material assemblage. In addition to these, it is important to look again at the excavated material from these sites and possibly undertake fresh excavations, in light of new information from sites in southeast Rajasthan, to establish the cultural continuum that these Chalcolithic cultures represent within the chronology of cultural development of the subcontinent.

Article

Michael Brass, Isabelle Vella Gregory, Ahmed Adam, and Rayan Abdallah

What might an archaeology of pastoralism in the Sudan look like? This challenging question is hampered by an uneven archaeological record and a lifestyle that has a long and complex biography. While acknowledging that pastoralism continues to be a part of contemporary life, the period up to the early 1st millennium ce, contemporary with the end of the Meroitic state, was a particularly important period for pastoralism in the Sudan. Moreover, the nature of pastoralism after the 1st millennium ce is significantly different to this period.

Article

Ghilraen Laue and J. Claire Dean

Rock art sites around the world are disappearing due to natural weathering, vandalism, and development. In Africa, conservation problems are compounded by the continent’s colonial legacy. Conservation can no longer just be seen in the narrow sense of conserving only the rock art; rather, there is a need for “consultative conservation” that includes the broader significance of a site and accommodates all stakeholders, including local communities. In this way, we can decolonize practices and work toward ideas for sustainable African conservation. Before embarking on conservation projects, all the values and significance of a site need to be considered. There is no point conserving an object or a site unless people find meaning in that conservation. The natural deterioration of a site can be due to exposure to the elements, rain, fluctuations in humidity and temperature, biological growth both on the art and in front of it, animal activity, wildfires, and geological and seismic activity. Human activities that degrade a site include scratching or writing of graffiti, repainting or adding details to images, water or other liquids splashed on the paintings to bring out the details, smoke from fires made in the shelters, and target practice. Some of these conservation problems can be mitigated with remedial interventions, but these require the skills of professional conservators that are often expensive and out of reach for many rock art conservation projects. Conservation through the management of sites is far more common and feasible in Africa. In working toward management practices that take all a site’s significance into account, there is a need to acknowledge and work toward undoing injustices, coercions, and exploitation in both conservation practice and legislation. Rather than seeing the conservators’ way of doing things as “best practice” to be implemented from a top-down level, local conservation practices that have worked for centuries need to be considered alongside other conservation measures. Although attempts here are made to be as inclusive as possible the authors’ experience means that the focus and many of the examples given are from southern Africa.

Article

Alexander Antonites

Salt was an important commodity throughout the human past. Although salt (sodium chloride) is essential to human health, the desire for salt in humans cannot be explained by physiological need alone. Instead, both biology and culture drive the taste for salt. The result is that salt was frequently highly valued, with its production and trade important in economic, social, and political systems of the past. Despite this importance, salt is an elusive item to study since it does not preserve well and is mostly consumed. Production sites are often the only places with any discernible remains related to salt use. However, historical and ethnographic material are rich sources of analogies of how salt was produced and traded in preindustrial societies. There are frequently large-scale similarities in traditional salt-making practices despite tremendous technological, organizational, and environmental contexts. These show that salt production technology is mostly robust and fairly simple and that salt can be made with very little investment in infrastructure. As a result, many communities with access to salt sources could be self-sufficient. In the absence of readily available salt, trade networks developed around its distribution over medium and long distances. Consequently, control over this spatially restricted resource was often an important factor in regional politics, and in several cases played an important role in the development of hierarchical systems of power. It is, however, important to discern between specialization production for trade by a small group of producers and production by multiple small-scale producers for their own use, since the archaeological remains of these two different production strategies may look very similar. As a result, archaeologists need to employ multiple lines of evidence in discerning the organization of production.

Article

Sangoan  

Nicholas Taylor

The Sangoan is a stone tool industry associated with the transition from the Early Stone Age (ESA) to the Middle Stone Age (MSA) in sub-Saharan Africa. The Sangoan overlies the Acheulean at sites including Nsongezi (Uganda) and Kalambo Falls (Zambia), and across much of Africa is the earliest technological marker for the shift from iconic Acheulean handaxes to the hafted points, blades, and smaller bifaces that characterize the MSA. Given its chronological position and status as an immediate post-Acheulean technology, the industry is pertinent to evolutionary questions about the origins of Homo sapiens in the late Middle Pleistocene. The Sangoan was named after the site of Sango Bay on the western shore of Lake Victoria in Uganda and was first described based on an assemblage of rugged tools dominated by thick, heavy-duty bifaces, choppers, and core scrapers. It was historically observed to cluster in and around the central African forest belt, but recent claims of Sangoan tools in North, West, and Southern Africa indicate that it may have a far wider distribution. These findings, along with the recovery of Sangoan artefacts in an open paleohabitat at Simbi (Kenya), have queried the long-standing association of the industry with woodland and rain forest ecosystems. Identifying and correlating Sangoan occurrences is made harder by the fact it has rarely been recovered from undisturbed archaeological contexts and it thus remains loosely defined and poorly dated. The few sites that have been dated are widely dispersed and broadly coalesce on a time frame of 250,000 to 300,000 years ago (ka BP), but these are likely to be significant underestimates. The paucity of well-stratified intact sequences that sample the Sangoan means that critical questions remain about its technological content, variability, and behavioral significance. The absence of any significant small tool component within many Sangoan assemblages has led to questions over whether this often bulky technology is suitable for hafting and whether, therefore, it may be better understood as a functional variant of the late Acheulean than as an MSA technocomplex. Recent use-wear analysis on Sangoan core axes at Sai Island (Sudan), however, has confirmed that many of the industry’s bifaces did serve as composite implements. At Kalambo Falls (Zambia), the presence of a small tool component, some with typical MSA characteristics, reinforces the Sangoan’s characterization as a mosaic technology that falls comfortably into neither the ESA nor the MSA.

Article

John Parkington and Ruan Brand

Shell middens, the residues of shellfish gathering, consumption, and disposal in the past, have attracted the attention of archaeologists for more than one hundred and fifty years. Although there has been a tendency to view these sites as simply waste heaps, it is increasingly clear that this is usually not the case and that, sometimes, spatially meaningful arrangements of domestic debris of all kinds (fireplaces, artifacts, cooking and sleeping areas) are recognizable if excavations are sensitive enough. Some issues are as relevant and as intransigent as they have been from the beginning: Are they really food waste or could they be natural shell accumulations? Were people living at these sites or are they simply large piles of waste resulting from shell processing? In what ways and how fast did the middens accumulate? How are shell middens related to other archaeological sites inland, contemporary but without shell food waste? Because shell middens are found on all continents except Antarctica and throughout the Holocene time period (the last twelve thousand years), the literature on their excavation and interpretation is enormous and illustrates that archaeologists worldwide engage similarly with counting, measuring, weighing the shellfish, and associated faunal and artifactual remains from these sites. Often, the research involves developing proxies for the kinds of invisible but interesting aspects of the lives of the shellfish gatherers, such as: How many people lived here? How long did people stay at this site? Why did they come when they did and leave when they did? Where else did people live? While Holocene shell middens are ubiquitous, it is also clear that Pleistocene shell middens, while fairly widespread, are found more commonly in coastal areas where early modern humans have dispersed early in their migrations across the globe. It is likely that these traces, in Africa, in Europe, in island South-East Asia and Australia, and along the shores of western North America mark the routes whereby our earliest modern human ancestors peopled the world.

Article

Alioune Dème and Moustapha Sall

There are hundreds of shell midden sites along the Senegambian coastline. The shell middens were first formed during an eustatic event known as the Nouakchottien marine transgression (6,800–4,000 bp). During that marine transgression, the sea shoreline was pushed back hundreds of miles in the interior. This engendered the flourishing of malacological fauna and several fish species. As a result of this, several natural shell midden were formed. From the Late Stone Age to the 2nd millennium ce, populations exploited the aquatic fauna, which resulted in the formation of anthropogenic shell middens. The littoral where these shell middens are found is divided into three archaeological culture areas. Archaeological excavations at some of those sites, such as Khant and Dioron Boumak, have shed light on the nature of the material culture, subsistence activities, and the cultural history in these areas. Research at Soukouta has added new data on iron technology to understanding of the shell middens culture. These findings have also called into question the division of Senegambian prehistory into four distinct cultural areas known as aires culturelles.

Article

Sibudan  

Manuel Will

The Sibudan is a technocomplex within the cultural stratigraphy of the southern African Middle Stone Age (MSA), first formulated in 2012. The term was introduced as a working concept to organize the spatio-temporal variability in material culture among the archaeological record following the Howiesons Poort during Marine Isotope Stage 3 (MIS 3; ~59–24 ka). In contrast to the more widely used name “post-Howiesons Poort” (“post-HP”)—an umbrella term resting primarily upon temporal aspects—the Sibudan possesses a formal definition based on characteristic elements of its lithic technology. The site of Sibudu, located in the eastern part of southern Africa (KwaZulu-Natal), serves as type locality since it has yielded a rich and high-resolution record of modern human occupations during MIS 3. The Sibudan type sequence at Sibudu, dated to ~58 ka and encompassing twenty-three layers, features both characteristic traits and diachronic variability. The consistent techno-typological elements include predominantly local raw material procurement, concomitant use of multiple core reduction methods (Levallois, discoid, platform, and bipolar), manufacture of flake and blade assemblages, as well as soft stone hammer percussion for blades. Temporal variability exists in the proportions and morphologies of tools and unifacial points in particular—including Tongati, Ndwedwe, and asymmetric convergent tools—the presence of bifacial points, as well as the frequency of blank types and different core reduction methods. Comparative studies since 2014 suggest a spatio-temporal extension of the Sibudan in the eastern part of southern Africa during early MIS 3 (~58–50 ka), with marked differences to assemblages of similar ages along the southern coast and Western Cape. The concept is thus not a direct substitute or congruent with the “post-HP” and “Sibudu technocomplex.” On a more interpretive level, the Sibudan has featured in discussions on the trajectory of cultural evolution among early modern humans, the scale and mechanisms of behavioral change during the MSA, and theoretical debate on the relevance of technocomplexes.

Article

Reviews of southern Africa’s Later Stone Age (LSA) have seen many different iterations. Generally, however, they summarize the technocomplex from its earliest industry until it ceases to be recognizable in the archaeological record, summarizing the variety of research topics, questions, and approaches. Binding much of this together, despite the diaspora of studies, is the use of ethnography to understand past hunter-gatherer lifeways. This resource has guided interpretations of the past and helped design research approaches since the 1970s. And yet, from as early as the 1980s, archaeologists as well as anthropologists have debated the influence ethnography plays in understanding the past. Nonetheless, without it, significantly less would be written of hunter-gatherer prehistory in southern Africa, which includes belief systems, settlement structures, mobility patterns, subsistence habits, and social relations. Using ethnography as a vehicle, it is possible to navigate the LSA pathways created by scholars and examine the aforementioned contributions this knowledge system has made to interpretations of the past. From this vantage, envisioning a future for ethnography within the field is possible. This should involve expanding the ethnographies archaeologists use, moving beyond the Kalahari Desert, creating a diverse group of LSA researchers, and decolonizing the discipline.

Article

Southern Africa has a long and rich archaeological record, ranging from the Oldowan lithics in the Sterkfontein valley and Wonderwerk Cave (about 2 Ma) to Iron Age smelting (less than one thousand years ago) in Zimbabwe. A brief overview of charcoal analyses indicates applications in such areas as dating, vegetation and climate reconstructions, fuel use, medicinal use, and the interpretation of human behavior. Some of the research done in the 20th century mainly focused on charcoal for the purpose of dating, but this has diversified in the 21st century to include other applications. The focus is on South African sites, but research from Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe is included. Southern Africa has a very diverse woody component with more than fifteen hundred species from a flora of more than twenty-five thousand species so the establishment of regional modern reference collections of charcoalified woods has been instrumental in improving identifications of the archaeological taxa. Early Middle Stone Age charcoal records show that a diversity of woody species was burned. By Middle Stone Age times, records show the selection of woods for fuel, tinder, and medicinal use as well as cooking of starchy rhizomes. Late Stone Age and Iron Age records, in addition, show the use of woods for smelting and intense fires.

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The Southern African Stone Age covers the longest period in human history, that is, the last three million years of human evolution and adaptation in a region south of the 18th parallel south. The region includes the countries of Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe, with a northern border marked by the Kunene River between Angola and Namibia, the Cuando River on the borders of Angola, Namibia, and Botswana, and the Zambezi River. It is divided into three main phases, known as Early, Middle, and Later Stone Age. The Early Stone Age had its beginning about three million years ago with the development of Australopithecus, found in South Africa in the region called the Cradle of Humankind. The earliest stone tools in the region were discovered in the cave of Sterkfontein and are dated to around two million years ago. These first stone tools, which include choppers, polyhedrons, and subspheroids, among other artifacts, are part of an industrial complex known as the Oldowan, which lasted for a few hundred thousand of years. It was followed by the Acheulean, known by its unique large cutting tools, the handaxes, cleavers, and picks, starting about 1.8 million years ago. During this period, species such as Homo habilis and Homo erectus/ergaster walked over southern Africa. The Middle Stone Age, starting about three hundred thousand years ago, seems to be directly associated with the emergence of a new species, Homo sapiens. This phase shows a wide cultural diversity in the region, and in fact across the whole African continent, both in time and space. This is a phase drastically marked by technological and cultural innovations, such as the use of bow and arrow, hafting, bone tools, lithic heat treatment, use of pigments, production of body ornaments such as beads, art in the form of engravings, and, finally, the systematic inclusion of shellfish and plants in the human diet. These innovations, however, were not used all in the same location. This congregation of techniques and innovations took place only during the next phase, the Later Stone Age, which started around thirty-five thousand years ago. It is likely the result of an important demographic change that occurred as a response to climatic oscillations that took place at the world level. Like the Middle Stone Age, the Later Stone Age saw an incredible range of cultural diversity in the large region of southern Africa. Traditionally, it was believed that the main differences between the Middle and Later Stone Ages were based on a dichotomy where, on one side, points and flake industries resulting from prepared cores such as Levallois were present, and on the other, simple cores producing microlithic assemblages, sometimes geometric, together with art, and beads and organic tools were present. Today, however, that simplistic contrast is known to be wrong, and the differences in cultural complexity are more a matter of concentration than innovation. The Later Stone Age hunter-gatherers were finally slowly replaced by farmers and herders and later by Iron Age populations, between twenty-five hundred years ago and the recent historical present.