Transport Distance of Raw Materials in the MSA

click on image to open map

The distance that MSA people transported lithic raw material from its source to their living sites represents a way of measuring the breadth of their movement across the landscape. From the 47 MSA localities in southern Africa entered into the ROAD database, we selected 142 well-documented assemblages from 12 localities and grouped them into four main cultural phases: Pre-Still Bay (Pre-SB) dating before 80 ka; Still Bay (SB) from 77-70 ka; Howieson’s Poort (HP) from 65-59 ka; and post-Howieson’s Poort (Post-HP) from 59-30 ka. We classified raw materials into three groups that reflect local (0-5 km), regional (6-20 km) and supra-regional (21-100 km) circulation patterns. Local raw materials dominate in all time periods, with the HP showing the highest frequency. This result contrasts with previous studies suggesting that the HP was a time of increased range. Instead, we observe that the earlier periods, pre-SB and SB, show a greater range of movement, as reflected in the raw material transport distances.

Southern African MSA sites and openness of landscape

click on image to open map

The map shows Southern African sites with the various Middle Stone Age (MSA) technological complexes in relation to modern vegetation units (WWF ecoregions after Olsen et al. 2009). On the right, modern values of leaf area index (LAI) are given as a measure for vegetation openness; values from the single sites are put into relation to the whole LAI range of each ecoregion from which a site is recorded. Only based on these patterns, groups of Howiesons Poort (HP) and younger seem to have inhabited a wider range of environments than Stillbay (SB) people. The analysis of the fossil vegetation and climate patterns will provide more solid information if this trend reflects an expansion of ecospace of the different groups of Homo sapiens during later Pleistocene.

Evidence for art, pigments, personal ornaments and organic tools in the MSA of southern Africa

click on image to open map

While stone artifacts and faunal remains are found in all or most MSA sites in southern Africa, other find categories are restricted to a limited number of sites as is illustrated by ROCEEH’s present Map of the Month. Most of the organic tools such as points and notched pieces are made of bone, but fragments of worked ostrich egg shells, which had been used as flasks, are also included. Personal ornaments are represented primarily by intentionally perforated mollusks, but also by the first ostrich eggshell beads, which became much more common in the Later Stone Age. Expressions of art or decoration normally consist of engraved geometric patterns, while figurative art does not occur prior to the end of the MSA. In contrast, the use of pigments in the southern African MSA is much more common.