- Nicholas TaylorNicholas TaylorTurkana Basin Institute & Turkana University College (Kenya)
The Lupemban is an industry of the Middle Stone Age (MSA) that is found across the Congo Basin and on its plateau margins in central Africa. It takes its name from the site of Lupemba that was discovered in 1944 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, then the Belgian Congo). The Lupemban’s distinctive toolkit of elongated lanceolate bifaces, core-axes, points, blades, and other small tools coincides with the equatorial forest belt and is suitable for constructing hafted implements, which has led to speculation it was a special and specific prehistoric adaptation to rainforest foraging. Although poorly dated across most of its geographic range, radiometric dates for the Lupemban at Twin Rivers (Zambia) show it is at least ~265 ka years old, placing it among the oldest known expressions of the regional MSA. As such, the Lupemban bears on 21st-century debates about the evolution of complex cognitive abilities and behaviors that characterize the emergence of Homo sapiens at or before 300 ka bp. In spite of the Lupemban’s potential importance for understanding the evolution of technology, human–environment interactions, and cognition in early Homo sapiens, the industry remains enigmatic and poorly understood. Logistical, ecological, and political challenges continue to impede fieldwork in central Africa. Moreover, at sites including Gombe Point (DRC), severe soil bioturbation by tree roots has caused the vertical displacement of buried artifacts, which corrupts the basic integrity of stratigraphic sequences. This problem is known to be widespread and means that after 100 years of research, central Africa still lacks a refined Stone Age cultural sequence. Consequently, very little is known about spatiotemporal variability within the Lupemban, or its specific environmental or cultural adaptations. At the site of Kalambo Falls (Zambia), the industry is found in secondary but stratified context, which, as of the early 21st century, offers the best glimpse into Lupemban technology and its potential evolutionary significance.