Preliminary abstract: Communicating information and identity with symbols is an essential attribute of our species. Humans have used ochre pigments for symbolic expression for hundreds of thousands of years. However, rock art and other practices involving iron-based pigments are understudied in the modern era. Research on this rapidly vanishing form of cultural heritage is thus critical to understanding the origins of symbolism. This project bridges archaeology, ethnography, and geochemistry to investigate ochre use in Stone Age and present day Kenya.
ANDREW M. ZIPKIN, then a graduate student at George Washington University, Washington, DC, received funding in October 2012 to aid research on 'Material Symbolism and Ochre Use in Middle Stone Age East-Central Africa,' supervised by Dr. Alison S. Brooks. The discovery of ochre pigments at African Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites has been widely interpreted as relating to the onset of modern human symbolic behavior. However, an alternate hypothesis holds that ochre's first function was technological rather than symbolic.
HELINA S. WOLDEKIROS, then a student at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, was awarded funding in May 2010, to aid research on 'Archaeology of the Afar Salt Caravan Route of Northeastern Ethiopia,' supervised by Dr. Fiona Marshall. In Africa, social, political, and economic structures have been shaped by salt production, distribution, and long-distance trade, in areas where salt is a critical resource.
DR. EDWIN N. WILMSEN, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, received funding in April 2006 to aid research on 'Precolonial Botswana Social Formations: Optical Petrography of Pottery and Clays Linking Peoples, Pots, and Places.' Clays from 66 locations in Botswana and adjacent parts of Namibia and South Africa were collected for comparison with Iron Age and Historic pottery. In addition, samples of major plant species growing in different parts of the Delta were collected in order to compare their phytoliths with biogenic silica observed in pot shards.
DR. EDWIN WILMSEN, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, was awarded a grant in April 2013 to aid research on 'Potters, Clays, and Lands: An Ethnoarchaeological Study of the Social Dimensions of Pottery in Botswana.' A potting clay mine and a nearby archaeological site at Manaledi village in the Tswapong Hills of Botswana were excavated. The work and family histories of current potters in this village, along with those of 41 potters in five other villages, were studied using ethnohistorical methods.
DR. EDWIN WILMSEN, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom, received funding in March 2015 to aid engaged activities on 'Reciprocal Relations: Expanding the Benefits of Research in the Study Area, Botswana.' Initial discussions/seminars with Botswana National Museum and University of Botswana personnel focused on concerns about the relevance of ethnography for interpreting archaeological data and on new legislation regarding access to clay resources.
DR. PAMELA R. WILLOUGHBY, University of Alberta, Alberta, Canada, received funding in 2008 to aid research on 'The Origins of Behavioral Modernity in Southern Tanzania.' Our species, Homo sapiens, evolved in Africa by the beginning of the Middle Stone Age (MSA), around 200,000 years ago and subsequently spread into Eurasia after 40,000 years ago. By this time they are supposed to have developed complex technology, referred to as the Later Stone Age (LSA) or Upper Palaeolithic.
ERIN MARIE SHEPARD WILLIAMS, then a student at George Washington University, Washington, DC, was awarded funding in April 2009, to aid research on 'Influences of Material Properties and Biomechanics on Stone Tool Production,' supervised by Dr. Alison S. Brooks. Later Homo possesses a derived thumb that is robust and long relative to the other digits, with enhanced musculature compared to extant apes and early hominins. Researchers have hypothesized that this anatomy was selected in part to withstand high forces acting on the thumb during stone tool production.
DR. VERONICA N. WAWERU, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, was awarded a grant in October 2009 to aid research on 'Chronology of Holocene Innovations and Inventions in West Turkana, Kenya.' Chronology data from this research provide better resolution for dates of innovations in West Turkana between 8.2ka and 0.87ka. The Holocene marks the introduction of domestic fauna in a region that until ~5ka relied on a hunting/gathering/fishing subsistence base.
DR. IAN D.S. WATTS, an independent scholar in Athens, Greece, was awarded funding in April 2012 to aid research on 'The Antiquity and Behavioral Implications of Pigment Use in the Northern Cape (South Africa).' Earth pigment use is widely considered to date back approximately 300,000 years (~300 ka), but several poorly documented claims have been made for earlier use, from Fauresmith and Acheulean contexts in South Africa's Northern Cape. This project evaluated these claims.