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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

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

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 dichotomy between communities and archaeology (as a scientific discipline and practice) draws on the colonial experience in Africa. However, due to these colonial conditions, there has been a recurring false dichotomy between communities and the protection of their heritage (archaeological material). Since pre-colonial times in Africa, communities, especially at local grass-roots levels, have devised safeguarding measures to protect their valuable heritage (both cultural and natural), their so-called material culture and archaeological material. For many African communities, heritage resources are not mute but inscribed and imbued with meaning, symbolism, and interpretation that entrench local community claims to heritage and further underpin their experiences in protection and conservation management. This validates the indivisible but dynamic relationship between communities and archaeology, where communities have the opportunity to claim, engage, and interact with their heritage, even though issues of public access to “Protected Areas” is still problematic. On the contrary, disruptions by the colonial project in Africa sought to privilege and impose Eurocentric practices in the name of science through archaeology, among other disciplines that have since become dominant fixtures for interpretation and protection of heritage still featuring prominently in the post-colonial context. The popularization of the decolonization project in Africa has witnessed attempts to foreground communities as custodians and as main participants (beneficiaries) in archaeological practices in conservation management.

Article

The Early Middle Stone Age (EMSA) from South Africa occurred, broadly, between 300,000 and 130,000 years ago. This is a crucial phase in the history of Homo sapiens, as genetic and fossil evidence increasingly indicate that the roots of Homo sapiens reach back to this time. The fossil evidence from South Africa from this period is sparse, but the c. 260,000-year-old Homo helmei partial skull from Florisbad is especially significant in understanding modern human origins. A detailed chronological and regional framework for the EMSA is still in progress, but on the available evidence, the earliest EMSA occupations seem to be centered in the interior and northern regions. Transitional entities such as the Fauresmith and Sangoan and the first EMSA without large cutting tools, from Florisbad, are found in these areas. In the EMSA, biface technology as well as bipolar, discoidal, blade, and Levallois technologies were used to manufacture a wide variety of blanks, some of which were retouched into an array of tool types. Before lithic types such as hand-axes and bifacial points can be used as diagnostic criteria to define, for example, the Fauresmith and Pietersburg, further extended technological analyses are needed to determine their production sequences and context. Prepared core or Levallois technology occur frequently, but not always, in the EMSA. Prepared core technology entails careful planning to shape stone nodules geometrically prior to knapping the preformed blanks. EMSA hunters used Levallois and other pointed flakes as armatures in hafted thrusting spears. Levallois and composite tool technology reflect complex problem solving and hierarchical organizational cognitive capabilities. These competencies are also evident in early pigment processing. The clear footprint of the EMSA on the South African landscape indicates that several human groups populated this region during the Middle Pleistocene. It is highly likely that such groups were linked across Africa and that they collectively developed into Homo sapiens.

Article

How and in what ways did socially complex societies emerge on the East African coast and southern Africa? Scholarship has shown that elite investment in interregional trade and in extractive technologies, monopolization of wealth-creating resources, and warfare may have played a key role in the emergence of early states. To what extent was elite and non-elite engagement in local, regional, and transcontinental economic networks crucial to development of social complexity in eastern and southern Africa? Extensive research on the eastern coast of Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) and southern Africa (Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa) has yielded adequate data to enable a discussion on the trajectories of the evolution of social complexity and the state. So far, three crucial factors: (a) trade, (b) investment in extractive technologies, and (c) elite monopolization of wealth-creating resources coalesced to propel the region toward greater interaction and complexity. Major transformations in the form and increase of household size, clear differences in wealth and status, and settlement hierarchies occurred toward the end of the first millennium ad. Regional scholarship posits that elite control of internal and external trade infrastructure, restricted access to arable land and accumulation of surplus, manipulation of religious ideology, and exploitation of ecological crises were among the major factors that contributed to the rise of the state. Could these factors have also favored investment and use of organized violence as a means to gain access to and monopolize access to information and wealth-creating resources? Scholarship in the 21st century favors the notion that opportunistic use of ideological and ritual power enabled a small elite initially composed of elders, ritual specialists, and technical specialists to control the regional political economy and information flows. The timing of these transformations was continent-wide and date to the last three centuries of the first millennium ad. By all measures, the evidence points to wealth accumulation through trade, tribute, and investment in agrarianism, pastoralism, and mining.

Article

Yonatan Sahle

The Stone Age record is longer and better documented in eastern Africa. Archaeological and fossil evidence derives particularly from sites within the Rift Valley of the region, often with secure radiometric age estimates. Despite a relatively late start and disproportionate focus on earlier periods and open-air sites within the rift, scientific research into the region’s Stone Age record continues to play a central role in our understanding of human evolution. Putative stone tools and cutmarked bones from two Late Pliocene (3.6–2.58 million years ago or Ma) contexts are exclusive to eastern Africa, as is conclusive evidence for these by 2.5 Ma. The earliest indisputable technological traces appear in the form of simple flakes and core tools as well as surface-modified bones. It is not clear what triggered this invention, or whether there was a more rudimentary precursor to it. Neither is it certain which hominin lineage started this technology, or if it hunted or only scavenged carcasses. Well-provenienced archaeological occurrences predating 2.0 Ma are limited to sites in Ethiopia and Kenya, becoming more common across eastern Africa and beyond only later. By 1.75 Ma, lithic technologies that included heavy-duty and large cutting tools appeared in Ethiopian and Kenyan localities. Several details about this technological tradition are still inadequately understood, although its appearance in eastern Africa roughly coincides with that of Homo erectus/ergaster. By far the longest-lived Stone Age tradition, hominins with such technologies successfully inhabited high-altitude environments as early as 1.5 Ma, and expanded within and beyond Africaeven earlier. Hunting and use of fire probably started in the earlier part of this technological tradition. Small-sized and highly diverse tool forms gradually and variably started to replace heavy-duty and large cutting tools beginning c. 300 thousand years ago (ka). Conventional wisdom associates this technological and behavioral shift with the rise of Homo sapiens, although the oldest undisputed representatives of our species continued to use large cutting tools in eastern Africa after 200 ka. In addition to small retouched tools, often on products from prepared cores, significant innovations such as hafting and ranged weaponry emerged during the length of this technological tradition. Increasingly complex sociocultural behaviors, including mortuary practices, mark the later part of this period in eastern Africa. The consolidation of such skills and behaviors, besides ecological/demographic dynamics, may have enabled the ultimately decisive Out-of-Africa dispersal of our species, from eastern Africa, 50–80 ka. Even smaller and more diverse stone tool forms and other sociocultural innovations evolved in many areas of eastern Africa by 50 ka. Miniaturization and diversification allowed for the adoption of more complex technologies, including intentional blunting and microlithization. Some of these were used as parts of sophisticated composite implements, such as the bow and arrow. Complex behaviors involving personal ornamentation, symbolism, and rituals that resembled the lifeways of ethnographically known hunter-gatherer populations were similarly adopted. These dynamics eventually led to the development of new technological and socioeconomic systems marked by the inception of agriculture and attendant lifeways.

Article

Faunal analysis (or zooarchaeology) in African archaeology is the identification, analysis, and interpretation of the remains of animal bones recovered from archaeological sites in Africa. Its methods and theoretical underpinnings derive from archaeology, paleontology, biology, and geochemistry, and they extend across all faunal categories. Much of the work in African faunal analysis concerns large-bodied mammalian taxa, but the approach encompasses analysis of fish, shellfish, birds, reptiles, and indeed all animal remains found in association with archaeological sites. The diversity of research encompassed within faunal analysis is also especially high in Africa, where the earliest reported archaeological site is far older than the earliest archaeological site outside of Africa. The extra time depth affords the African archaeological record a wide arena of research questions that are answerable using faunal data. Major themes in African faunal analysis include the origins of unique components of human diet and hunting ability, reconstruction of the transition from hunting and gathering to food production, and analysis of the historical use of animals in trade, exchange, and social status.

Article

Silje Bentsen

Fire is one of the oldest technologies of humankind; indeed, the earliest signs of fire appeared almost two million years ago. Traces of early fire use include charcoal, baked sediments, and burnt bone, but the archaeological evidence is ambiguous due to exposure to the elements for hundreds of thousands of years. Thus the origin of fire use is debatable. The first fire users may have been occasional or opportunistic users, harvesting flames and heat-affected food from wildfires. The art of maintaining the fire developed, and eventually humans learned to make fire at will. Fire technology (pyrotechnology) then became a habitual part of life. Fire provided warmth and light, which allowed people to continue activities after dark and facilitated moving into colder climates. Cooking food over or in the fire improved digestibility; over time, humans developed a culinary technology based on fire that included the use of cooking pits or earth ovens and preservation techniques such as smoking the food. Fire could even help in the procurement of food—for example, in clearing vegetation for easier hunting, to increase the fertility of the land, and to promote the growth of certain plants or to trap animals. Many materials could be transformed through fire, such as the color of ochre for use in pigments or the knapping properties of rocks for production of stone tools. Pyrotechnology ultimately became integral to other technologies, such as the production of pottery and iron tools. Fire use also has a social component. Initially, fires for cooking and light provided a natural meeting point for people to conduct different activities, thus facilitating communication and the formation of strong social relationships. The social organization of a campsite can sometimes be interpreted from the artifact types found around a fire or in how different fires were placed. For example, access to household fires was likely restricted to certain family members, whereas communal fires allowed access for all group members. There would have been conventions governing the activities that were allowed by a household fire or a communal fire and the placement of different fire types. Furthermore, the social uses of fire included ritual and ceremonial uses, such as cleansing rituals or cremation. The fire use of a prehistoric group can, consequently, reveal information on aspects such as subsistence, social organization, and technology.

Article

The discoveries at Ounjougou (Mali), an open-air site in the Dogon Country, shed new light on the “early Neolithic” in Africa. The stratigraphic sequence and a cluster of absolute dates established a terminus ante quem of 9400 cal bc for ceramic sherds associated with a small bifacial lithic industry. The emergence of this typo-technical complex corresponds to one of the wet phases of the Pleistocene–Holocene transition in West Africa, most probably that of the climatic upturn at the beginning of the Holocene, between 10,200 and 9,400 cal bc. Paleoenvironmental results, particularly archaeobotanical ones, indicate that the landscape was in a state of change and that, for several millennia, the surfaces covered by desert overlapped an open steppe with grasses, some of which were edible. This environmental situation allowed the dispersion of prehistoric groups over the continent and probably encouraged a new behavior: the practice of intensive selective gathering (i.e., the targeted and rational harvesting of wild grasses for their seeds). However, not only must seeds be kept dry and protected from rodents, they must also be processed through cooking or fermentation. This process helps the human body to assimilate the starch, as the digestive enzymes necessary for its digestion are not naturally present. Ceramics would have been particularly useful in this process. Ceramics emerged in sub-Saharan Africa and seem to have spread toward the central Sahara during the early Holocene at the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 9th millennium cal bc, while the desert zone became increasingly greener. It has yet to be understood whether the Nile Valley was an important corridor for the diffusion of this technology or if ceramics appeared as the result of a second independent process of innovation.

Article

Gender is frequently invoked as a core explanatory factor for many aspects of past African metallurgy, including conceptualizations of the technological process by its practitioners, the organization of—and participation in—metallurgical production activity, and the acquisition of power and wealth that is associated with it. If a study of technology is to contribute to our understanding of the African past, an exploration of the socioeconomic framework of a production activity is as important as understanding the materiality of a technology; gender is an essential part of that framework. Ethnographies offer an unparalleled opportunity to consider concepts such as technological style, symbolic expression, and gender in relation to technological activity and materiality—structuring principles that can be of limited visibility in the archaeological record. It is through ethnographic and historical documentation that gender has been made highly and dramatically visible in African smelting and metalworking processes. A stark focus has tended to rest on the cosmologies of fertility and human reproduction that permeate many (though certainly not all) iron smelting technologies across the continent. Metal production is positioned as a form of social reproduction, enabling the continuation of cultural activity through technological production. Metaphors of transformation are reproduced through the design and decoration of technological artifacts, through taboos and prohibitions, and through the symbolic songs, words, and actions of the metal workers, and have been closely tied with narratives of female exclusion from (and conversely male access to) metallurgical activities. Insights from the ethnographic and historical records of sub-Saharan Africa have been used to inform archaeological interpretations, both implicitly and explicitly, within and far beyond the continent. Yet the insights they provide need to be tempered by a critical evaluation of the ways in which such analogies are selected from a vast bank of historic and ethnographic data and how they can be most appropriately utilized. Importantly, the variability that is present within the ethnographic record cautions against the construction and promulgation of overgeneralizations, and strongly suggests that gender and gendered work roles within African metallurgy, past and present, are not yet fully understood.

Article

Genetic analyses of southern African livestock have been limited and primarily focused on agricultural production rather than the reconstruction of prehistory. Attempts to sequence DNA preserved in archaeological remains of domestic stock have been hampered by the discovery of high error rates in the morphological identification of fauna. As such, much DNA sequencing effort that was directed at sequencing southern Africa’s domestic livestock has been expended sequencing wild forms. The few genetic data that are available from both modern and archaeological domestic stock show relatively low genetic diversity in maternally inherited mitochondrial lineages in both sheep and cattle. Analyses of modern stock show, in contrast, that the bi-parentally inherited nuclear genome is relatively diverse. This pattern is perhaps indicative of historic cross-breeding with stock introduced from outside Africa. Critically important to moving forward in our understanding of the prehistory of domesticates in southern Africa is attention to the high error rates in faunal analyses that have been documented both genetically and through ZooMS.

Article

Patrick Schmidt

In archaeology, heat treatment is the intentional transformation of stone (normally sedimentary silica rocks) by fire to produce materials with improved fracture properties. It has been documented on all continents, from the Africa Middle Stone Age up to subrecent times. It was an important part of the Mediterranean Neolithic and it sporadically appeared in the Paleolithc and Mesolithic of Asia and Europe. It may have been part of the knowledge of people first colonizing North and South America, and it played an important role for toolmaking in the Australian Prehistory. In all these contexts, heat treatment was normally used to improve the quality of stone raw materials for tool knapping; especially its association with pressure flaking has been highlighted, but a few examples also document the quest of making tools with improved qualities (sharper cutting edges) and intentional segmentation of large blocks of raw material to produce smaller, better-usable modules (fire fracturing). Two categories of silica rocks were most often heat-treated throughout prehistory: relatively fine-grained marine chert or flint and more coarse-grained continental silcrete. The finding of stone heat treatment in archaeological contexts opens up several research questions on its role for toolmaking, its cognitive and social implications, and the investment it required. Important venues for research are, for example: Why did people heat-treat stone? What happens to stones when heated? How can heating be recognized? By what technical means were stones heated? Which cost did heat treatment represent for its instigators? Answering these questions allows light to be shed on archaeologically relevant processes like innovation, reinvention, convergence, or the advent of complexity. The methods needed to produce these answers, however, often stem from other fields such as physics, chemistry, mineralogy, or material sciences.

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 definition of heritage in West Africa has to adopt a wider perspective to incorporate tangible and intangible heritage as recognized and defined by UNESCO. In general terms, the West African region does not feature monumental heritage, as elsewhere in Europe and the Americas. The few monumental heritage properties belong to the historic period and are located in the Sahel zone (Mali, in particular), while the coastal regions include monumental heritage properties that were essentially relics of the European contact period and colonialism (Benin Republic, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal). Heritage resources in West Africa are therefore essentially discrete and non-discrete prehistoric and historic archaeological sites that include rockshelters, relics of ancient settlements, mounds, earthworks, industrial relics such as furnaces and surface finds, isolated historic buildings and spaces, and tangible (traditional architecture and artifacts) and intangible (language, poetry and songs, dance and festivals, beliefs and value systems) ethnographic resources. Some studies in the 2010s considered all archival materials, such as audio-visual recordings of events and entertainment of the colonial and the early postcolonial periods, to be heritage resources. Heritage management in the West African region had been problematic due to various factors that could be both historical and attitudinal, such as colonialism, intrusion of foreign religions and ideologies, economic and social conditions of the people, insufficient and ineffective legal and policy frameworks for the protection and conservation of heritage resources, and a general lack of awareness and interest in matters of heritage by the populace. In spite of the foregoing, there have been some efforts at managing heritage in manners that can be interrogated. Government efforts to promote heritage seem to be more evident in the areas of cultural festivals, dance, and music, with the establishment of cultural troupes at various political administrative levels, thus creating the impression that heritage is limited to the intangible cultural resources. Museums are few and far between, priceless artifacts are still looted and illegally exported to foreign museums to join those looted during the colonial era, facilities are limited and not standard, while the staff is poorly trained and unmotivated. In the face of expanding infrastructural developments and urbanization, the most appropriate management strategy and practice would be conservation by recording of archaeological sites and historic properties.

Article

Paloma de la Peña

The Howiesons Poort is a technological tradition within the Middle Stone Age of southern Africa. This technological tradition shows different characteristics, technical and symbolic (the engraving of ostrich eggshell containers, the appearance of engraved ochre, formal bone tool technology, compound adhesives for hafting and a great variability in hunting techniques), which only developed in an extensive manner much later in other parts of the world. Therefore, the African Middle Stone Age through the material of the Howiesons Poort holds some of the oldest symbolic and complex technologies documented in prehistory. For some researchers, the Howiesons Poort still represents an unusual and ephemeral technological development within the Middle Stone Age, probably related to environmental stress, and as such there are numerous hypotheses for it as an environmental adaptation, whereas for others, on the contrary, it implies that complex cognition, deduced from the elaborated technology and symbolic expressions, was fully developed in the Middle Stone Age.

Article

The Late Iron Age period in Kenya spans between 1000 BP and 200 BP. However, not much is known regarding this time period owing to the past direction of research in Kenya. Investigations concentrated on earlier archaeological periods due to the country’s richness in early human and technological evolution. As such the bias was not only in the research periods at the time but also, in the fact that, only those areas that were believed to yield such materials were explored. Most research was therefore conducted around the Kenyan Rift Valley until the late 1960s onwards, when the British Institute in Eastern Africa and others started to explore later archaeological and historical periods in the whole of Kenya. These researches, however, failed to recognize the evidence of mosaic in Iron Age sites, which was caused by complexities of diverse processes of replacement, admixture, interactions, and resistance in encounters between expanding and existing populations. Thus the name “Iron Age” for the period in question has been maintained denoting a period when iron was the most important or unique phenomenon, in total disregard of all the other social, political, and economic aspects. Use of oral traditions and genetic materials have, however, contributed greatly in filling the gaps, thus making it possible for archaeologists to understand the mosaic nature of archaeological materials resulting from interactions between populations who may have been culturally and socially distinct but lived during the same archaeological period. The available data show that the sites of this period range from open habitations, caves, and rock shelters to drystone structures, and that the human and environmental interactions were mutually beneficial to both. However, deeper understanding of land use and crop utilization is limited due to inadequate botanical datasets, since archaeobotanical recovery methods were rarely employed as a necessary direction of inquiry. This notwithstanding, as opposed to the environmental determinism theory, the populations of this period were not in sync with the environment, but rather, they were active participants who shaped it to suit their needs. Where resources such as water were not readily available, they improvised by tapping and managing them to suit their preferred occupations. Humans took advantage of natural landforms, climatic zones, and vegetation to shape different aspects of their lifestyles including economic subsistence, habitations, trade, and human-to-human interactions especially during environmental stress. Thus these populations must not be seen as helpless receivers from the environment, but active shapers and innovators of their lifestyles.

Article

Marlize Lombard and Katharine Kyriacou

“Hunter-gatherer” refers to the range of human subsistence patterns and socio-economies since the Late Pleistocene (after about 126,000 years ago), some of which are still practiced in rare pockets across the globe. Hunter-gatherer research is centered on ethnohistorical records of the lifeways, economies, and interpersonal relationships of groups who gather field and wild foods and hunt for meat. Information collected in this way is cautiously applied to the Stone Age and Paleolithic archaeological records to inform on or build hypotheses about past human behaviors. Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers possessed the behavioral, technological, and cognitive wherewithal to populate the globe. Hunter-gatherer groups are often relatively egalitarian regarding power and gender relationships. But, as is the case for all mammals, only females bear offspring. This biological reality has socioeconomic and behavioral implications when it comes to food supply. Whereas humans share the principles of the mammalian reproductive process, only humans evolved to occupy a unique cogni-behavioral niche in which we are able to outsmart other animal competition in the quest for survival on any given landscape. Since early on in our history, women of our species gave birth to relatively large-brained offspring with considerable cognitive potential compared to that of other animals. Key to this development is the consumption of specific foods, which contain brain-selective nutrients such as omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and trace elements including iron, iodine, copper, selenium, and zinc. Such nutrients are important for all peoples past and present. Ethnohistorical and nutritional evidence shows that edible plants and small animals, most often gathered by women, represent an abundant and accessible source of “brain foods.” This is in contrast to the “man the hunter” hypothesis where big-game hunting and meat-eating are seen as prime movers in the development of biological and behavioral traits that distinguish humans from other primates.

Article

Michael Chazan

Levallois refers to a way of making stone tools that is a significant component of the technological adaptations of both Neanderthals and early modern humans. Although distinctive Levallois artifacts were identified already in the 19th century, a consensus on the definition of the Levallois and clear criteria for distinguishing Levallois from non-Levallois artifacts remain elusive. At a general level, Levallois is one variant on prepared core technology. In a prepared core approach to stone tool manufacture, the worked material (the core) is configured and maintained to allow for the production of detached pieces (flakes) whose morphology is constrained by the production process. The difficulty for archaeologists is that Levallois refers to a particular process of manufacture rather than a discrete finality. The study of Levallois exposes limitations of typological approaches to artifact analysis and forces a consideration of the challenges in creating a solid empirical basis for characterizing technological processes.

Article

Maritime archaeology in sub-Saharan Africa is still in its early development stage. An extensive literature survey indicated that relatively few projects of this nature have been undertaken in these parts. Even fewer warrant the adjective “scientific,” based on the dearth of peer-reviewed academic publications that have appeared to date. Based on the survey, it seems that most research is undertaken in South Africa, Kenya, and Namibia, and the emphasis therefore lies with these countries.

Article

Jayne Wilkins

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 Middle Stone Age (MSA) is a period of African prehistory characterized by the production of stone points and blades using prepared core reduction techniques. The MSA follows the Earlier Stone Age and precedes the Later Stone Age. The MSA is generally regarded as having started by at least 300 thousand years ago, and lasting to roughly 40 to 20 thousand years ago. Identifying the chronological limits for the MSA is challenging because some aspects of Middle Stone Age 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 Homo heidelbergensis (alternatively known as archaic Homo sapiens, or Homo rhodesiensis). The later part of the MSA, post-200-thousand-years, ago is associated with Homo sapiens. Identifying the processes underlying the evolution of Homo sapiens during the MSA is a major objective of ongoing research, but very few fossil remains have been recovered so far. Across the African continent and through time, the MSA exhibited a high degree of variability in the types of and ways that stone tools were manufactured and used. Archaeologists have used this variability to define several techno-complexes and industries within the MSA that include the Aterian, Howiesons Poort, Still Bay, and Lupemban. Variation in point styles, presumably hafted to wooden handles or projectiles in many cases, is a hallmark of the regional diversification that originates in the MSA. This kind of variability, which is temporally and spatially restricted, differs in degree from the preceding Earlier Stone Age. The MSA is significant from an evolutionary perspective because it is associated with the anatomical origins of Homo sapiens, as well as several significant changes in human behavior. Populations in the MSA practiced a foraging economy, were proficient hunters, and began efficiently utilizing aquatic resources such as shellfish and freshwater fish for the first time. Other significant changes included the elaboration of and increased reliance on symbolic resources, complex technologies, and social learning. For example, the first known externally stored symbols in the form of cross-hatched incised pigments date to 100 thousand years ago. 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 thousand years ago. The meaning, utility, and persistence of symbols and complex technologies depend on social learning and confer advantages in contexts that involve long-distance, complex social networks. While many of these earliest finds linked to behavioral modernity have been geographically restricted, the combined suite of genetic, fossil, and archaeological evidence may better support a pan-African origin for Homo sapiens over the course of the MSA.

Article

Pamela R. Willoughby

In evolutionary terms, a modern human is a member of our own species, Homo sapiens. Fossil skeletal remains assigned to Homo sapiens appear possibly as far back as 300,000 or 200,000 years ago in Africa. The first modern human skeletal remains outside of that continent are found at two sites in modern Israel, the Mugharet es Skhūl and Jebel Qafzeh; these date between 90,000 and 120,000 years ago. But this just represents a short, precocious excursion out of Africa in an unusually pleasant environmental phase. All humans who are not of direct sub-Saharan African ancestry are descended from one or more populations who left Africa around 50,000 years ago and went on to colonize the globe. Surprisingly, they successfully interbred with other kinds of humans outside of Africa, leaving traces of their archaic genomes still present in living people. Modern human behavior, however, implies people with innovative technologies, usually defined by those seen with the earliest Upper Paleolithic people in Eurasia. Some of these innovations also appear at various times in earlier African sites, but the entire Upper Paleolithic package, once known as the Human Revolution, does not. Researchers have had to split the origin of modern biology and anatomy from the beginnings of modern cultural behavior. The first clearly evolves much earlier than the latter. Or does it?