August 22, 2015

Pondering the Middle Paleolithic of South Africa

Quantity over quality series.


Sylvain Soriano et al. The Still Bay and Howiesons Poort at Sibudu and Blombos: Understanding Middle Stone Age Technologies. PLoS ONE 2015. Open access → LINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131127]

Abstract

The classification of archaeological assemblages in the Middle Stone Age of South Africa in terms of diversity and temporal continuity has significant implications with respect to recent cultural evolutionary models which propose either gradual accumulation or discontinuous, episodic processes for the emergence and diffusion of cultural traits. We present the results of a systematic technological and typological analysis of the Still Bay assemblages from Sibudu and Blombos. A similar approach is used in the analysis of the Howiesons Poort (HP) assemblages from Sibudu seen in comparison with broadly contemporaneous assemblages from Rose Cottage and Klasies River Cave 1A. Using our own and published data from other sites we report on the diversity between stone artifact assemblages and discuss to what extent they can be grouped into homogeneous lithic sets. The gradual evolution of debitage techniques within the Howiesons Poort sequence with a progressive abandonment of the HP technological style argues against the saltational model for its disappearance while the technological differences between the Sibudu and Blombos Still Bay artifacts considerably weaken an interpretation of similarities between the assemblages and their grouping into the same cultural unit. Limited sampling of a fragmented record may explain why simple models of cultural evolution do not seem to apply to a complex reality.

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