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The coexistence of the Kansyore-Later Stone Age (LSA) hunter-gatherer and the Early Iron Age (EIA)-Urewe-farmer cultural materials in the same cultural deposits and environmental space can no longer be dismissed as accidental admixture. At Kansyore Island in western Uganda, it is clear that the Kansyore hunter-gatherer and Urewe-farmers are two cultural periods presumed to be widely separated in time and space but that coexist together in the same stratigraphic contexts suggesting interaction and coexistence. This implies that the line between the two is blurred. Therefore, the transition from hunting-gathering to farming was not linear but involved forward and backward movements and was not similar in all places but rather complex.

Article

The South Asian subcontinent contains a vast mosaic of environments and lifeways. Agriculture and pastoralism are important food producing systems within this mosaic but coexist alongside hunter-gatherer-fisher-forager groups, shifting cultivators, and nomadic pastoralists that are often marginalized. This interplay between different lifeways has deep roots in South Asian history and prehistory. Despite this, discussions of early South Asian agriculture and pastoralism often depict a limited and narrow dataset, confined to a few sites. As a result it has been argued that the origins of agriculture and pastoralism in South Asia are hard to pinpoint. However, archaeobotanical, zooarchaeological, and genetic data, alongside the growing archaeological record, are showing that the South Asian subcontinent is a rich ground for exploring the complexity and nuance of changing lifeways during the transition to agro-pastoralism. People in South Asia incorporated both nonnative crops and animals from southwest Asia, Africa, and China into existing systems, domesticated local taxa in multiple regions, and continued to exploit wild resources throughout periods of established agro-pastoral systems. A diversity of Neolithics are therefore demonstrated within the subcontinent, and the mixing of traditions is a hallmark of South Asia and is critical for discussions about what early agriculture and pastoralism looked like and what the impacts of changing lifeways and economies were over time.

Article

Stable isotope methods are firmly established as a key tool for investigating the diets of ancient humans, offering insights into broad dietary composition at the scale of an individual’s life. African archaeology and ecosystems have played an important role in the global development of stable isotope approaches, but archaeological applications have been constrained in many African settings by poor preservation conditions for organic remains and limited institutional capacity for large analytical sampling programs. Yet growing numbers of research and training laboratories around the world, declining relative analytical costs, and increasing familiarity among archaeologists and paleoecologists with both the prospects and limitations of stable isotope approaches, all indicate that such methods will continue to increase in importance for modern archaeological practice. Complex ecological patterning in carbon, nitrogen, and other isotopes within Africa offers a rich background for interpretation. Carbon isotopes largely reflect patterning in vegetation, with the major isotopic distinction between tropical grasses and most other plants aiding the reconstruction of broad food classes. Aquatic and terrestrial environments may also differ sharply in carbon isotope patterning, providing a tool for investigating marine food exploitation. Nitrogen isotope patterning, by comparison with carbon isotopes, is more complex and less well-characterized in many African environments but has been useful for identifying the consumption of marine resources. Other isotopes, including sulfur, strontium, oxygen, and metal isotopes, such as calcium and zinc, may offer complementary insights that can help to interpret ancient food systems. Analyses of enamel carbon isotopes from eastern and South African hominins have demonstrated the significance of diverse dietary resources for millions of years among several groups of hominins, including the gracile and robust australopithecines and early Homo. The puzzle of extensive consumption of 13C-enriched foods, especially among the eastern African robust australopithecines, has driven wide-ranging research into the dietary diversity of hominin species, targeting questions of ecological niche separation and dietary flexibility. In southern African coastal settings, stable isotope evidence for differential access to dietary resources among foraging groups has demonstrated the maintenance of more sedentary, territorial settlement systems during some periods in the Holocene. Research in these fields is ongoing, with new insights emerging from applications of alternative isotopic systems, increased sampling resolution, and sophisticated statistical modeling approaches.

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

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

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.

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.