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Variation and modernity in Middle Stone Age landscape use in the Western and Northern Cape, South Africa



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Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa
ISSN: 0067-270X (Print) 1945-5534 (Online) Journal homepage:
Variation and modernity in Middle Stone Age
landscape use in the Western and Northern Cape
Emily Hallinan
To cite this article: Emily Hallinan (2019): Variation and modernity in Middle Stone Age landscape
use in the Western and Northern Cape, Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa
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Published online: 25 Mar 2019.
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Variation and modernity in Middle Stone Age landscape use in the Western and
Northern Cape, South Africa, University of Cambridge, 2018.
Southern Africa is a critical location for understanding the origins of modern human behav-
iour in the Middle Stone Age (MSA), about 300 to 40 kya. Current evidence from excavated,
often coastal, cave sites indicates the emergence of complex technological, social and symbolic
behaviours at least 100 kya. However, cave sites considered alone give a spatially and tem-
porally restricted picture of MSA lifeways, overlooking human behaviour beyond the cave
and neglecting inland, marginal environments. This research addresses this imbalance by
studying the open-air surface artefact record of the inland, arid Tankwa Karoo in the
Western and Northern Cape regions of South Africa.
This dissertation aims to establish the pattern of landscape use for past humans occupying
the Tankwa Karoo, identifying adaptations to this marginal environment in terms of lithic
technology, raw material use and provisioning behaviour. The 100-km-long study area encom-
passes west-to-east transitions in vegetation, geology and aridity, allowing a detailed examin-
ation of variation in behaviour between these contrasting but contiguous settings. Surface
surveys took an o-site approach, mapping the location of individual artefacts across the land-
scape. Stone artefacts provide information on lithic technology, provisioning and site use,
which can be dated on a relative techno-typological basis and used to track change through
time and across environmental zones. By book-endingthe MSA with evidence from the pre-
ceding Earlier and subsequent Later Stone Ages, this research asks whether the MSA can be
identied as a period of modernbehavioural change as posited for the excavated record.
The research conducted for this thesis found that settlement is tethered to the reliable water
sources of the mountain fringe in earlier time periods, but towards the later part of the MSA
more complex patterns of movement can be tracked, including occupation of the arid desert to
the east. Furthermore, new types of later MSA technological behaviour, previously unrecog-
nised by coastal cave-oriented studies, have been identied which it is proposed are specic
adaptations to this desert environment.
Emily Hallinan
School of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge,
CB2 3DZ, United Kingdom
© 2019 Emily Hallinan
Full-text available
With this contribution we revisit the lithic point assemblage from Hollow Rock Shelter, South Africa. Our objective is to test whether, in addition to its finely retouched Still Bay points, an earlier Levallois-type Mossel Bay point-making tradition may also be represented at the site and, if so, how the two traditions relate to each other. We conducted a fine-grained temporal attribute study that includes point-production strategies, material use and morphometric analyses. We show that, contrary to previous interpretation, Mossel Bay-type points are represented at Hollow Rock Shelter before about 80,000 years ago. Subsequently, the knappers started to make Still Bay points during the later phase, but Levallois-type Mossel Bay points continued to be used throughout the sequence. Variation between the phases lay in the frequencies of point types and material use through time, as well as in subtle changes in morphometric attributes. As a result, we suggest that Levallois point production was part of the inventory of the Still Bay at Hollow Rock Shelter, but has not previously been reported as such. This study adds to an increasing body of work that demonstrates that Still Bay point production in southern Africa was not the abrupt technological phenomenon previously claimed, but our outcomes nevertheless require further testing at sites with better stratigraphic context than that available at Hollow Rock Shelter.
Full-text available
The Middle Stone Age record in southern Africa is recognising increasing diversity in lithic technologies as research expands beyond the coastal-montane zone. New research in the arid Tankwa Karoo region of the South African interior has revealed a rich surface artefact record including a novel method of point production, recognised as Nubian Levallois technology in Late Pleistocene North Africa, Arabia and the Levant. We analyse 121 Nubian cores and associated points from the surface site Tweefontein against the strict criteria which are used to define Nubian technology elsewhere. The co-occurrence of typically post-Howiesons Poort unifacial points suggests an MIS 3 age. We propose that the occurrence of this distinctive technology at numerous localities in the Tankwa Karoo region reflects an environment-specific adaptation in line with technological regionalisation seen more widely in MIS 3. The arid setting of these assemblages in the Tankwa Karoo compares with the desert context of Nubian technology globally, consistent with convergent evolution in our case. The South African evidence contributes an alternative perspective on Nubian technology removed from the ‘dispersal’ or ‘diffusion’ scenarios of the debate surrounding its origin and spread within and out of Africa.
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