The Middle Stone Age (MSA) in South Africa during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5 marks a crucial phase in human cultural evolution. Using a broad methodological repertoire, the sites, Bushman Rock Shelter, Rose Cottage Cave and Sibhudu Cave, are studied to draw conclusions about technology, techno-economy and land use, as well as the occurrence of innovations and group networking.
The MSA of MIS 5, dated to about 130 to 75,000 years before present, is characterised by the emergence of new behaviours typical of modern hunter-gatherer societies and regionally distinct technological traditions, thus manifesting significant changes in human cultural evolution. Although for a long time there was a lack of scientific attention and only certain regions were researched in this regard, the last decade in particular has seen a strong increase in the research focus and more and more evidence is being brought forward that underlines the unique, inventive and creative character of this period.
A growing body of data from archaeology, palaeoanthropology, palaeogenetics and palaeoclimatology points to a complex mosaic scenario of small-scale structured and interconnected populations within Africa during the MSA, which successively produced cognitively modern humans with specific cultural characteristics. MIS 5 appears to be the period in which new ideas were tested and behavioural complexity germinated due to various internal as well as external circumstances before consolidating in the social system of the subsequent technocomplexes, Still Bay (SB) and Howiesons Poort.
The project aims to verify the wide range of new activities in the South African MSA of MIS 5 from a lithic technological as well as techno-economic point of view by examining three sites from different vegetation zones. In addition, the comparative data will be used to determine interconnectedness and knowledge transfer between the groups and to identify possible trigger mechanisms for these developments.
Bushman Rock Shelter
Bushman Rock Shelter (Limpopo) lies on the north-eastern edge of the Great Escarpment at about 950 m a.s.l. in the Savannah Biome. The cultural sequence includes strata belonging to the Pietersburg technocomplex, which could be divided into three technological phases. The uppermost part, "phase 21", is characterised by uni- and bifacial points. The project focuses on the analysis of the mining chains and especially on the bifacial shaping strategies in phase 21.
The Sibhudu rock overhang (KwaZulu-Natal) is located 40 km north of Durban in the Indian Ocean Coastal Belt biome. This MSA reference site includes SB and pre-SB occupation horizons, among others. The MSA layers C-A have recently been assigned to a new techno-cultural phase, the »iLembian«. Although distinct characteristics are emerging, the full extent and origins of this expression are still uncertain. The analysis of the underlying layers Danny, Darya, Eli and Eve should provide clarity on the chrono-cultural developments in Sibhudu's MIS 5 and contribute to the general research questions.
Rose Cottage Cave
Rose Cottage Cave (Free State) represents a site in the Grassland biome at an elevation of 1,676 m. The long stratigraphic sequence is completed by the pre-HP, which dates to 102,500 to 57,900 years before present. This occupation phase is characterised by uni- and bifacial points. A new excavation of the pre-HP strata is planned as part of the project, as the assemblage only has a small number of pieces, and so questions about site formation, dating and other aspects can also be addressed.
FWF-Projektnummer: T 1321 Firnberg-Programm