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The Study of the Fauresmith: A Review

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Abstract

The Fauresmith is an enigmatic South African stone tool industry, or culture, which many believe to be transitional between the Earlier and Middle Stone Ages. However, there is no consensus on its content or in fact, universal agreement on its existence. Over the past few years, absolute dating has been undertaken on sediments containing material labelled as Fauresmith. This has challenged its transitional status, but also exacerbated its use as a chrono-temporal marker. This is further complicating an already confused issue. Attempts at clarifying the Fauresmith are still ongoing, and offered here is an historical overview of its study since its first discovery. Presented is a review of the original classification proposed by Goodwin and Van Riet Lowe, its changing interpretation during the development of archaeology within South Africa, and the eventual abandonment of the termdue to its misuse. Attention shall then turn to the more recent resurrection of the term and the added levels of confusion that have arisen since this time. This review of the study of the Fauresmith can offer explanations as to how we have arrived at the present state of confusion, allowing us to move towards a firmer understanding of the Fauresmith and its place within the archaeology of South Africa.
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... The onset of the MSA, although "clouded" by the presence of transitional assemblages (Tryon et al. 2006;Underhill 2011;Wilkins & Chazan 2012), is largely defined based on a set of specific assemblages marked by prepared Levallois technology (Deacon & Deacon 1999;Thackeray 1992;. This produces blanks of a predetermined shape and size, frequently shaped into convergent or pointed stone tools with prepared platforms, which archaeologists generally refer to as points. ...
... Alternatively, it might also be attributed to an early MSA phase, similar to what is known as Initial MSA in other African countries Duller et al. 2015;Lombard et al. 2012;Wadley 2014Wadley , 2015. In both cases, however, the technology seems to be different from the Middle Pleistocene blade technology found in Kathu Phan (Wilkins & Chazan 2012) or other transitional industries, such as the Fauresmith (Herries 2011;Underhill 2011). ...
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Southeast Africa has become an important region for understanding the development of the Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Anatomically Modern Humans. Due to its location between east and southern Africa, Mozambique is a key region for evaluating the development of Homo sapiens and the MSA across Africa. Here, we present the first results of lithic analyses of MSA assemblages collected during survey and testing in the Niassa and Massingir regions of Mozambique in 2014-2016. We were able to locate close to 200 new Stone Age surface sites. Data show that raw material use is different in the two areas. The lithic assemblages from both areas show the use of centripetal technology, but in Massingir, Levallois points, the respective cores and blade technology are frequent, they are almost absent in the northern region.
... Their original description characterizes the Fauresmith as having handaxes of fine workmanship that are generally smaller than those in the Acheulean (then called the Stellenbosch) but closely allied to it, with 'longitudinal flakes' used for handaxe blanks and with slightly trimmed points and other flake tools. This influential diagnosis was based on a large number of sites, but unfortunately, these features were described from selected samples rather than on excavated assemblages (Underhill, 2011). Van Riet Lowe (1945) later refined the definition by describing the Fauresmith as the end of the Great Hand Axe Culture, not remarkable in its continued presence of handaxes, but rather in the use of the Levallois technique (then well-known in Europe), which produced flakes with facetted platforms and more right-angled detachments (i.e., in line with the prepared surface of the core). ...
... It was then common to rely on 'fossiles directeurs' (or diagnostic types) to define stages of cultural evolution in relation to a purported stratigraphic sequence of climatic changes (Clark, 1959; see also Supplementary Online Material [SOM] S1). In a comprehensive review of how the Fauresmith as a cultural entity had been used and misused over the years but never properly defined, Underhill (2011) concluded that these problems have challenged its usefulness as a transitional industry and a temporal marker. Some have suggested that precocious elements such as facetted platforms and convergent prepared cores should be used to indicate the first appearance of the MSA (Beaumont and Vogel, 2006;Herries, 2011), but this practice has not been popular, and the term continues to be used (Chazan and Horwitz, 2009;Porat et al., 2010;Chazan, 2015a,b;McNabb and Beaumont, 2011a,b;Lotter et al., 2016). ...
Article
The Fauresmith was a term first coined by archaeologists in the 1920s to describe a cultural development intermediate between the Earlier and Middle Stone Ages. From the late 1960s, many researchers abandoned the term in favor of sinking the Fauresmith within the Later Acheulean. More recently, however, some have supported the idea of the Fauresmith as the earliest Middle Stone Age, whereas other researchers continue to use the term to refer to a transitional technological development. In this article, we evaluate the status of the Fauresmith. We do this by describing a newly excavated assemblage from Canteen Kopje in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa and by comparing it with other assemblages published as Fauresmith. Although there is substantial variability across these assemblages, we present data to show that the relevant assemblages show the consistency of a regional technology that is indeed transitional between the Earlier and Middle Stone Ages. It includes prepared cores, blades, and very reduced numbers of large cutting tools compared with the Acheulean, and it often includes convergent flakes and retouched points. We argue that the Fauresmith, along with parallel developments both within and beyond Africa, is a term worth retaining to identify the slow process of decline of Acheulean technology in favor of a lighter toolkit, which includes varying degrees of more advanced core reduction strategies, larger numbers of formal tools, and hafting. Such developments are associated with populations linked to the development of Homo sapiens in Africa from ca. 600 to 160 ka.
... Le ré examen du site est donc né cessaire à la fois pour documenter les plus anciens vestiges daté s à ce jour en Namibie et discuter la cohé rence de l'assemblage. Il permettra é galement de questionner le lien entre technique et subsistance à travers l'exemple d'un site de la frange occidentale aride et semi-aride de l'Afrique australe occupé durant l'Acheulé en ré cent, pé riode charniè re dans les changements comportementaux et culturels en Afrique australe (Deacon, 1975 ;Cruz-Uribe et al., 2003 ;Kuman, 2007b ;Klein, 2009 ;Herries, 2011 ;Underhill, 2011 ;Wilkins et Chazan, 2012 ;Wilkins, 2013 ;Kuman, 2019 ;Wurz, 2019). ...
Article
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... For earlier sites, there is a real challenge in correlating the timing of the archaeological record with the stages of hominin evolution leading up to the emergence of modern humans. In southern Africa, the immediate challenge is to establish the chronology of the Fauresmith industry, which represents the local transition between the Earlier Stone Age and the Middle Stone Age (Chazan, 2015a, see Herries, 2011Underhill, 2011 for critical discussion of the Fauresmith). At Kathu Pan 1, the Fauresmith Stratum 4a is dated by OSL of quartz to 464 ± 47 ka and by U-series/ESR of tooth enamel to 542 + 140/-107 ka (Porat et al., 2010). ...
Article
The transition from the Earlier Stone Age (ESA) to the Middle Stone Age (MSA) in the interior of southern Africa is associated with the Fauresmith Industry. Major cultural developments found in the Fauresmith include regular use of ochre and other coloured minerals, prepared core technology including blade and point production, and the use of hafted spears. Chronological control for the Fauresmith is weak so that critical questions regarding the relationship of this industry to the evolution of modern humans remain unresolved. Here we present ages for the Bestwood 1 site, an open-air locality in the Northern Cape Province (South Africa) where an extensive Fauresmith occupation is found underlying sand deposits.Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) was first applied to samples from the sands overlying the Bestwood 1 occupation horizon, and from the occupation horizon itself, in order to establish the chronology of the site. However, sediment mixing resulting from bioturbation processes has been observed, causing post-depositional bleaching of the majority of the grains, thus limiting the use of OSL. In addition, given the identification of the lithic assemblage to the Fauresmith, it seems likely that the sands were beyond the dating range of conventional OSL. Due to its hard-to-bleach properties, the thermally transferred-optically stimulated luminescence (TT-OSL) signal was deemed suitable for detecting the least-bleached grains.Single grain TT-OSL analyses combined with the finite mixture model (FMM) were conducted in order to isolate the oldest grains that could be contemporaneous with the time of deposition of the sediment associated with the ESA assemblage. High scattering of the equivalent doses is consistent with bioturbation processes that mixed sediment; the distribution of the equivalent dose values suggests that younger grains were incorporated into the ESA layers, thus supporting the use of the oldest component determined using the FMM to calculate the TT-OSL ages. This approach allowed us to establish the time for the Fauresmith occupation at 366 ± 32 ka, and the age of the overlying sand deposits, spanning from 350 ± 22 ka to 226 ± 13 ka.
... To begin with, the Fauresmith represents a technocomplex in the interior of Southern Africa lying at the transition from the ESA to MSA (see Chazan, 2015;Goodwin & van Riet Lowe, 1929;Lombard et al., 2012;Underhill, 2011). The available chrono-metric dates strongly suggest a Middle Pleistocene age between approximately 500 and 300 ka BP (Chazan, 2015; but see Herries, 2011). ...
Article
Full-text available
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... Furthermore, the majority of the materials from Elandsdrift Farm are cores and flakes that cannot be easily assigned to either ESA or MSA solely based on their technological features. Nor can formal tools types (with the exception of Acheulian handaxes and cleavers) be attributed to a specific technocomplex since late and terminal Acheulian sites in South Africa often contain Large Cutting Tools (LCTs; e.g., handaxes and cleavers) in association with MSA-like elements such as blades, points, and scrapers (Kuman 2001;Underhill 2011;Wilkins and Chazan 2012). Therefore, the interpretive affordances provided by chronology and stratigraphy cannot be applied to the lithic materials from Elandsdrift Farm. ...
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... Stone tool technology regarded as transitional between the ESA and MSA, and characterised in this region as a Fauresmith industry (e.g. Porat et al. 2010;Underhill 2011), has been found in stratigraphic relationship to the underlying Acheulean at Canteen Kopje and at Kathu Pan 1. At the latter site it is dated to about 500 000 years ago, with the assemblage there including stone points on fine-grained rocks which have been interpreted as spearheads made for hafting -an innovation with implications for evolving hominin hunting behaviour ; although see Rots and Plisson 2014). ...
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