P314 Earlier Prehistory of Africa

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Middle Stone Age (MSA)

By about 200,000 years ago, a new method of making and using stone tools appears in Africa. While the Early Stone Age traditions had relatively few formal "types" of tools, and focused mostly on cores and flakes or large tools (like Acheulian handaxes), MSA industries were different:

The MSA new technology is characterized by:

MSA themes:

MSA in Northern Africa... a brief overview

Geographically, North Africa today has several major environments: coastal plain, highlands in Maghreb and in interior, central plateau (Sahara). Nile River is one major drainage through region.

In relatively wetter times (warm/wet inter-glacials, and cool/moist glacial periods) large lakes occurred across Sahara. Interesting side note: RADAR RIVERS have been detected in eastern Sahara, draining Libyan highlands and running SE into lowlands.

Overall, there are two main archaeological "complexes" in the MSA of North Africa:

Mousterian assemblages (occur all over, characterized by Levallois technology). sometimes local variants of Mousterian are called "Levalloisian", or "Acheulo-Levalloisian" (e.g. an industry with small handaxes and flake tools made from Levallois cores)

Aterian assemblages (not present in all areas, characterized by tanged pieces)


Originally, it was thought that Aterian derived from Mousterian. This was based on a number of sites, particularly in the West, where Mousterian assemblages stratified UNDER the Aterian.

e.g. site of TAFORALT = a large cave in eastern Morocco, with bottom layer of Mousterian tools made out of one type of raw material (silcrete), overlain by four layers of Aterian tools made from flint.

Djebel Irhoud = a barium mine in plateau southern Morocco... a cave site with hearths and Mousterian assemblage (Points, side scrapers) associated with grassland fauna two skulls (burnt!!)... Homo sapiens... dated with ESR to 90,000 bp

Tit Mellil (Morocco) = a spring with Mousterian tools (of Acheulian tradition... small bifaces), assoc with elephant, rhino, hippo... overlain by Aterian.

But now there is growing evidence that these were contemporary assemblages -- toolkits?? For example, a spring site in Mauritania El Guettar contained 3 levels of Mousterian-like assemblages, and at bottom a pile of spheroids, with lotsa retouched flakes, chipping waste, broken bones and 1 Aterian point. All piled up on a ledge next to eye of spring.

How old is the Aterian in Maghreb? At Aterian type site (Wadi el Hattah) where tanged points found in red earth overlying a 6-8 m beach from last Interglacial... (e.g. 128,000 bp)

Central Sahara: site of Adrar Bous = a workshop, but deflated surface deposit...


Haua Fteah : an important site in northern Libya with very long stratified sequence of shifting MSA deposits, including some nice blades, and a fragment of a flute/whistle way down in the sequence.... dated by means of extrapolation of sedimentation rate from C-14 dated top layers, and correlation with climatic change... bottom deposits during Interglacial times (ca 125,000-80,000bp) because close to shore.... middens indicate marine exploitation. Homo sapiens mandible associated with MSA, etc.

Eastern Desert:

Bir Tarfawi & Bir Sahara: a sequence stratified by a fluctuating lake, surveyed and excavated over many years by F. Wendorf, R. Schild and and A. Close


Central Africa & Eastern Lowlands

Sangoan and Lupemban industries...

Kalambo Falls (Zambia) Desmond Clark

Muguruk & Simbi (Kenya) Sally McBrearty

Eastern Africam highlands & Rift Valley

Savanna MSA (also sometimes referred to as the Stillbay industry)

in general, a flake industry with only a small % of Levallois technology, and few blades, but lots of unspecialized cores, lots of scrapters, and lots of unifacial and bifacial points

oldest dates for MSA on volcanos in eastern Highlands -- "workshop" factory sites for obsidian artifacts

e.g. pictures of obsidian artifacts at Nderit Drift in Kenya (temporary camps along a lake margin and channel fills, with 100-500 obsidian frags per square meter!!)

Malewa Gorge, Kenya (240,000bp)
Gademotta, Ethiopia (> 235,000bp)

Kone Ethiopia (140,000bp)... = obsidian workshop with "Nubian core" technique

Kapthurin Formation (Baringo Basin in Kenya) > 200,000 bp

Porc Epic (Dire Dawa) Ethiopia

Nasera Rock shelter (Serengeti)

Mumba Cave (Lake Eyasi)

Southern African MSA

Southern Africa has a number of excavated cave sites with deep sequences of MSA deposits, as well as some excavated open-air sites. You'll meet different types of assemblages:

a number of different possible hypotheses could explain that variation:

Klasies River Mouth Cave & Boomplaas Cave

Howieson's Poort industry

Deacon's stress hypothesis: symbolic communication? social patterns?

animal exploitation (R. Klein): compares MSA to LSA

less skilled?

more opportunistic?

Other sites in Southern Africa

Blombos Cave

Die Kelders Cave

Apollo 11 cave = MSA art @ >28,000 bp

semi-arid inland sites with stone structures :windbreaks / hunting blinds?

ravine entrance near stream on the Orange River

Kalahari near seasonal pans


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Last updated: 7 November, 2000
URL: http://www.indiana.edu/~origins/teach/p314/p3142000wk11_12.html
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