Wednesday, 20. February 2019, 17:30

Technological features of the C–A layers of Sibudu and cultural developments in the southern African Middle Stone Age during MIS5

Viola C. Schmid (Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen; Université Paris Nanterre)

Over the last few decades of research, the Middle Stone Age (MSA) emerges as a key period concerning the biological and cultural evolution of modern humans. Yet the nature, timing and tempo of factors triggering early behavioural innovations, such as new technological achievements and symbolic practices, still require a lot more clarification. To increase our knowledge in this matter the exploration of long regional sequences and the extension of the research focus from specific purportedly precocious phases, such as the Still Bay (SB) and the Howiesons Poort (HP), to the whole of the MSA are of great importance. The site of Sibudu Cave, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, comprises a long and well-dated MSA sequence. Current excavations conducted by the University of Tübingen in the Deep Sounding of Sibudu have yielded Marine Isotopic Stage (MIS) 5 lithic assemblages that contribute to the discussion about the driving mechanisms and appearance of technological novelties and the cultural variability in the MSA during MIS 5.

Following the chaîne opératoire approach, this paper presents a technological analysis of the lithic artefacts from layers C–A of the Deep Sounding at Sibudu. During this phase of occupation, the knappers exploited a range of different raw materials mainly locally available (less than 5 km) and of variable prominence concerning blank production and tool manufacturing. The tool kit stands out because of the presence of bifacial technology, including serrated pieces, but the largest part of the retouched elements concerns a variety of unifacially pointed forms. Various scraper-like forms, as well as denticulates, occur. Furthermore, I explain how the inhabitants of Sibudu at that time focused on the production of laminar elements and developed a reduction strategy to obtain blades and elongated flakes. These strata are characterised by unidirectionally knapped cores with a lateral crest opposite a wider, flat surface that produces a triangular asymmetric volume for exploitation. The configuration of the cores facilitates the production of laminar artefacts with different intended morphological characteristics. Comparisons with the lithic assemblages of other southern African MIS 5 sites illustrate striking differences regarding the manufacturing and spectrum of tool types, as well as the organisation of the reduction strategy. However, my findings also demonstrate that one significant similarity is the aim for laminar end-products. I thus argue that human populations were regionally differentiated due to the distinguished realisation of the technological goal, but they organised themselves over distances with complex systems of connectedness and selective technology transfer. I foster the discussion on the rise and role of innovative technological choices and cultural evolution within the southern African MSA in MIS 5.