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date: 26 June 2022

The Early Middle Stone Age in South Africalocked

The Early Middle Stone Age in South Africalocked

  • Sarah WurzSarah WurzUniversity of the Witwatersrand


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.


  • Archaeology

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