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Plant Use  

Anna Maria Mercuri

Plant use is a familiar word pair that emphasizes how the great wealth of properties and characters of different botanical species has allowed humans to develop different aspects of their culture. On one hand, plants communicate chemically with each other; on the other hand, their wealth of chemical communication tools has attracted humans, who are interested in colors and smells, taste and food, fuel, wellness, and health. The traces of plants buried in archeological sites—the subject of archeobotany—allow us to reconstruct the steps of the relationship between humans and plants. Surprisingly, the study of botanical remains from the past shows complex uses since the very early stages of human cultures, dating back even before the beginning of the Holocene. The relationship with the environment was structured in forms of increased control, at least from the invention of agriculture (as something that had never existed before) onward, undertaking complex forms of exploitation in accordance with the different cultures in the different regions of the world. In more recent times, people and plants have also progressively developed a history of greater management and interdependence, including the development of agricultural landscapes, selection of domesticated species, and creation of gardens. The relationship with plants changes as society changes, leading to the loss of much knowledge in present times because of less connection and contact with nature. Knowledge and conservation of traditions dealing with plants are studied with ethnobotany, which explores plant use in the present day. Ecology for ecosystem services is the newest perspective on plant use, where perhaps trees return to play a key role in human existence without being cut down, and the green color of chlorophyll returns as a reassuring signal to the human species.


Faunal Exploitation Strategies During the Later Pleistocene in Southern Africa  

Gerrit L. Dusseldorp and Jerome P. Reynard

Analysis of Late Pleistocene fauna exploitation (~130,000–12,000 years ago) in southern Africa is of global academic relevance. Faunal analyses from southern African sites have led to the development of influential hypotheses on the evolution of modern human hunting methods and subsistence economies. In the 1970s and 1980s, analysis of faunal remains from the Middle Stone Age site Klasies River informed the hypothesis that Middle Stone Age humans were less effective hunters than ethnographically documented hunter-gatherers. This was based on the underrepresentation of dangerous prey species in the bone assemblages. The development of detailed taphonomic research in the 1990s and 2000s demonstrated that the accumulation of faunal assemblages was the result of complex processes involving both human and nonhuman agents. These studies helped establish that Middle Stone Age hunters were as capable as those in ethnographically documented societies. Since then, important progress has been made in the identification of the weapons systems that were used to hunt animals. Analyses of lithic implements indicate bow-and-arrow use in southern Africa going back to at least 65,000 years ago. Animal exploitation strategies do change over time. Hunting strategies probably focused on large antelope during the Middle Pleistocene, and the importance of smaller animals increased This change was likely caused by a shift in prey populations that stemmed from a combination of environmental change and perhaps human population pressure. Late Pleistocene archaeological sites show increasing evidence for intensification; that is, an increase in the amount of food extracted from the environment by more thorough processing of prey, exploitation of new prey types, and development of new exploitation strategies. This pattern is usually linked to animal overexploitation and may be a result of human population expansion or environmental change if decreasing productivity limits the supply of animal prey. Notable examples of this are shellfish middens at coastal sites, the abundance of tortoises, and the presence of large numbers of small mammals that were likely snared instead of pursued.


The Fauresmith and Cultural Dynamics at the End of the Southern African Earlier Stone Age  

Michael Chazan

The Fauresmith refers to a poorly defined archeological entity that is transitional between the Earlier and Middle Stone Age in southern Africa and that has tentatively also been identified in East Africa. Recent research on sites in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa supports the validity of the Fauresmith while indicating that there is considerable variation in the lithic assemblages. There are significant cultural developments associated with the Fauresmith, including a shift from a stone tool technology focused on large bifacial tools toward flake tools produced using prepared core techniques, the use of stone-tipped spears, and the use of places and objects, including ochre, associated with particular sensory properties. The chronological position of the Fauresmith is the subject of ongoing research but currently appears to be situated between 500,000 and 300,000 years ago. No hominin fossils have yet been recovered from a Fauresmith context. The Fauresmith is best understood within the context global patterns in the hominin and archeological record in the period during which Homo erectus was replaced by an increased diversification of hominins, including modern humans. It is also important to recognize that the Fauresmith raises major questions about the nature of archeological entities and the epistemological validity of these conceptual tools.