KwaZulu-Natal findings refutes technological hiatus during African Middle Stone Age

Post-Howieson’s Poort Sibudan tradition was not ‘unstructured and unsophisticated’

Archaeologists have long believed that the later part of the African Middle Stone Age (MSA) was characterised by conservative technologies punctuated by the appearance of technologically-sophisticated but short-lived technocomplexes such as the Stillbay and Howieson’s Poort traditions of South Africa. These traditions are noted for finely-worked stone points, microliths, tools made from bone, and innovative technologies including pressure flaking and compound adhesives. Various theories involving population collapses have been put forward to account for their disappearance and the reversion to comparatively unsophisticated prepared-core industries.

However, it has been suggested that this phenomenon may be more apparent than real, as the Stillbay and Howieson’s Poort eras have been studied far more closely than the supposed hiatus periods that followed. Recent work at the archaeological site Sibudu, KwaZulu-Natal supports the view. Archaeologists have identified a new technocomplex, which they have named the Sibudan, from the six uppermost lithic assemblages at the site. The new technocomplex dates from around 58,000 years ago, placing its’ beginning just after the end of the Howieson’s Poort era.

While the Sibudan has technological parallels with other contemporary MSA industries, it is typologically and technologically distinct. The six stratified tool assemblages are linked by common features, which identify them as a distinct tradition. Many of these features are considered to be hallmarks of a sophisticated stone tool-making technology, including characteristic tool assemblages with standardised forms and reduction cycles, and the production of standardised blades with soft stone hammers. Overall, the Sibudan refutes the notion that post-Howieson’s Poort stone-knapping technologies were rudimentary or unsophisticated.

The report is published in the open access journal PLoS One.

Will, M. B. G. & Conard, N., Characterizing the Late Pleistocene MSA Lithic Technology of Sibudu, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. PLoS One 9 (5), e98359 (2014).



Author: prehistorian

Prehistorian & author