March 22, 2013

African MSA

As I mentioned recently, I am collaborating in a joint series of articles in Spanish language which try to explore the expansion of Homo sapiens from the double viewpoint of archaeology and population genetics. The series, hosted by Noticias de Prehistoria - Prehistoria al Día, began this past Thursday with David Sánchez' article on the African MSA, earliest fossils of H. sapiens and other early African cultures like the Lupemban and Aterian. In the next week I plan to explore the genetic aspects, in line with what has been published in this blog and its predecessor Leherensuge.

But so far let's try to synthesize the most important aspects of David's entry at his blog. First and foremost is this map, which I believe is of great interest because of its synthetic informative value:

Legend translation:
· Fossil remains of Homo sapiens (195-90 Ka BP)
· Aterian sites (170*-40 Ka BP)
· Nubian complex [MSA] sites (115-37 Ka BP)
· Lupemban sites (230-130 Ka BP)
· Undetermined MSA
· South African [MSA] sites (165-59 Ka BP)
· Some early MSA sites
[* personally I am a bit skeptic about the oldest Aterian dates but well...]

It's possible that it's not totally complete (feel free to add to our unavoidably limited knowledge) but it does gather in a quick view most of the African Middle Paleolithic (MSA, Aterian and Lupemban). The site of Katanda which has a special interest because of the harpoons, the earliest known ever, was absent in the version first uploaded but this has been corrected now.

This synthetic map, together with the extensive bibliography (in several languages) that David links at the bottom of his article are, I believe, an interesting reference for all those interested in the origins of Homo sapiens and its first prehistory in the African continent.

Paleolithic mattresses

Most readers are probably at least somewhat familiar with the many, often impressive and revealing, South African sites but, besides the already mentioned Katanda harpoons, what really impressed me a lot was the finding in Sibudu, Northern Mozambique, near Lake Malawi, of fragments of ancient fossilized mattresses made up of vegetation that has bug-repealing properties (→ news article at El Mundo[es]). Apparently the owners, some 73,000 years ago, burnt them now and then in order to destroy parasites. Since c. 58,000 BP the number of mattresses, fires and ashes grew, surely indicating greater population densities, at least locally. 

The ancient inhabitants of that area of Mozambique are also known to have milled and processed, some 100,000 years ago, a diverse array of plants, including sorghum, "African potato" (medicinal), wine palm, false banana, pigeon peas, etc.


  1. Any updates to this ? Appreciate the English translation ._I have to learn Spanish

    1. Every single article published in Spanish at David Sánchez' blog within that joint series (he worked the archaeology mostly, I did the genetics although also the archaeology in very specific instances) has some synthetic mention here. But they are not properly sorted and the only way to find them right now is by exploring the archives of year 2013. Maybe you'd be interested in this one, which addresses the early human expansion in Africa from the viewpoint of mtDNA and the out-of-Africa migration per archaeology (first in Arabia, then in Asia in general):


      It's three entries in one synthesis so it's mostly for the maps. Google translator Spanish-English is anyhow quite good these days I believe and I say this because there was indeed more detailed content in the Spanish versions.


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