Kent, Dr. Susan, Old Dominion U., Norfolk, VA - To aid research on 'Spatial Patterning at a Middle Stone Age Site, South Africa'
DR. SUSAN KENT, of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, received funding in April 2002 to aid research on spatial patterning at a Middle Stone Age site in South Africa. New evidence of the origins of modern human behavior and thought was gained from excavations and analyses conducted at Bethal, an open-air site in eastern Free State. The geology demonstrated that the site was a habitation rather than a special-purpose occupation and that it was spatially intact. Phytolith data indicated that the Middle Stone Age hominids occupied a grassland in what the geology suggested was a warmer and more mesic climate than today's. Judging from the stratigraphy, such climatic conditions occurred during the interglacial around 100,000 years ago. The spatial patterning of objects at the site revealed the use of multipurpose activity areas. This use of discrete activity areas contradicts research from Middle Stone Age rock-shelter sites in the same region. The Bethal activity areas, along with a storage cache of scrapers, are hallmarks of behavioral and intellectual modernity. However, the presence of a large amount of lithic shatter resulting from the breakage of raw materials inappropriate for flaking suggested that the selection of raw materials was not as sophisticated as is common for modern hominids. Although more research is needed, the site so far reveals an interesting mixture of modern and premodern human behavior and intellect.
Minichillo, Thomas J., U. of Washington, Seattle, WA - To aid research on 'Middle Stone Age Lithic Study, South Africa,' supervised by Dr. Angela E. Close
THOMAS J. MINICHILLO, then a student at the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, received funding in May 2002 to aid research on 'Middle Stone Age Lithic Study, South Africa,' supervised by Dr. Angela E. Close. The Middle Stone Age began around 300,000 years ago and continued to around 35,000 years ago in Africa. During this period anatomically modern humans emerged in Africa. Also during this period increasingly sophisticated technological innovations and the earliest evidence for symbolic thought entered into the archaeological record. All of these events are critical for our understanding of modern human origins. The research funded focused on the lithic technology of the Middle Stone Age from the Cape coast of southern Africa and presents new data from the region, helping to place this important period of our evolution in context. It was found, through the use of innovative methods and previously unreported curated assemblages that, during the Still Bay sub-stage, stylistic boundaries are apparent in the stone tools at the same time as the earliest recorded instances of worked ochre and shell beads. As this socially constructed bounding co-occurs with the earliest evidence for symbolic thought and personal adornment in the global archaeological record, it suggests that at least by this time, 74,000 BP, Homo sapiens in southern Africa were behaving in thoroughly modern ways. This overturns one of the widely held explanations for modern human origins, the Neural Advance Model.
Minichillo, Tom. 2006. Raw Material Use and Behavioral Modernity: Howiesons Poort Lithic Foraging Strategies. Journal of Human Evolution 50(3):359-364.
Minichillo, Tom. 2007. Early Marine Resources and Pigment in South Africa during the Middle Pleistocene. Nature 449:905-909
Bird, Catherine, Tom Minichillo, and Curtis W. Marean. 2007. Edge Damage Distribution at the Assemblage Level on Middle Stone Age Lithics: An Image-based GIS Approach. Journal of Archaeological Science 34:771-780.
Thompson, Erin, Hope M. Williams, and Tom Minichillo. 2010. Middle and La Pleistoncene Middle Stone Age Lithic Technology from Pinnacle Point 13B (Mossel Bay, Western Cape Province, South Africa). Journal of Human Evolution 59(3-4):358-377.
Prassack, Kari Alyssa, Rutgers U., New Brunswick, NJ - To aid research on 'Paleoecological Significance of Fossil Birds at Olduvai: An Ecologically-Based Neotaphonomic Approach,' supervised by Dr. Robert John Blumenschine
KAN ALYSSA PRASSACK, then a student at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, was awarded funding in October 2006 to aid research on 'Paleo-Ecological Significance of Fossil Birds at Olduvai: An Ecologically Based Neotaphonomic Approach,' supervised by Dr. Robert J. Blumenschine. This dissertation research addressed bird bone survivorship across modern landscapes to determine the paleo-environmental utility of fossil avifaunal accumulations for understanding early hominin habitats. Field research occurred in a range of environments in northern Tanzania. Surveys were conducted to determine where bird bone is most likely to be deposited and become fossilized and bones were collected and analyzed for taphonomic marks produced by feeding carnivores, microbial bio-erosion, weathering, and other bone-modifying processes. Controlled studies involved submersion and burial of bones in water and sediments taken from many of the surveyed field sites and exposure to sub-aerial processes in the southern Serengeti region of Tanzania. Carnivore feeding observations were also conducted, using several carnivore taxa, including smaller carnivores never before studied in this manner. The culmination of these data is now being utilized in the taphonomic analysis of Olduvai fossil birds recovered during excavations by the Olduvai Landscape Paleoanthropology Project.
Prassack, Kari A. 2014. Landscape Distribution and Ecology of Plio-Pleistocene Avifaunal Communities from Lowermost Bed II, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution 70(1):1-15.
Bugarin, Dr. Flordeliz T., George Washington U., Washington, D.C. - To aid research and writing on 'The Archaeology of Trade: Economic and Cultural Changes on the South African Xhosa Frontier' - Richard Carley Hunt Fellowship
Spiers, Samuel R., Syracuse U., Syracuse, NY - To aid research on 'The Historical Archaeology of the Eguafo Polity: Landscapes of Production and Consumption AD 1000-1900,' supervised by Dr. Christopher R. DeCorse
SAMUEL R. SPIERS, while a student at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, received a grant in January 2001 to aid research on the historical archaeology of the Eguafo polity of coastal Ghana, under the supervision of Dr. Christopher R. DeCorse. The goal of Spiers's twenty months of fieldwork was to document changes in settlement patterns and artifact inventories at the site of Eguafo, capital of the kingdom of Eguafo, 1000-1900 C.E. The work including survey, excavation, cataloguing, and archival research and spanned the thousand years of the site's continuous occupation. Preliminary results suggested two main occupation phases: an early phase marked by small, defensive settlements, limited long-distance trade, and limited differentiation in the artifact inventory and a second phase, from roughly the seventeenth century onward, when settlement size increased, long-distance trade goods became more plentiful, and artifact types became increasingly varied. Such transformations in the settlement pattern seemed to have occurred at the height of Eguafo's involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It was intended that the completed research would add to the understanding of the archaeological record of coastal Ghana and of African sociopolitical complexity. Further, the findings were to be made available to the people of Eguafo to assist them in tourism development projects.
Villa, Dr. Paola, U. of Colorado Museum, Boulder, CO - To aid research on 'Experimental Replication and Functional Analysis of Still Bay Points from Blombos Cave (South Africa)'
DR. PAOLA VILLA, University of Colorado Museum, Boulder, Colorado, received a grant in October 2008, to aid research on 'Experimental Replication and Functional Analysis of Still Bay Points from Blombos Cave (South Africa).' The main goal of the project was to understand the level of skill in manufacture and use of bifacial points recovered from the Middle Stone Age (c. 75 ka) Still Bay levels at Blombos Cave in South Africa. Experimental knapping and detailed observation of the technical features of the Blombos and experimental points and flakes, using a Leica Multifocus microscope, showed that the Blombos craftsmen used the pressure flaking technique during the final shaping of points made on heat-treated silcrete. Pressure flaking is a technique used by prehistoric knappers to shape stone artifacts by exerting a pressure with a pointed tool near the edge of a worked piece. Application of this innovative technique allowed for a high degree of control during the detachment of individual flakes resulting in thinner, narrower and sharper tips on bifacial points. The earliest previously recorded evidence of pressure flaking comes from the c. 20 ka Solutrean industry of Western Europe. The evidence from Blombos is 55 ka earlier. This is a very significant find. Bifacial technology based on intensive thinning and pressure retouch was a major innovation which allowed Still Bay craftsmen to produce thin and regular foliate points to be used as more effective spear heads for hunting. This technology may have been first invented and used sporadically in Africa before its later widespread adoption in other continents. The result of this work has been published in Science.
Mourre, Vincent, Paola Villa, Christopher S. Henshilwood, 2010. Early Use of Pressure Flaking on Lithic Artifacts at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Science 339: 659-662.
Haws, Dr. Jonathan Adams, U. of Louisville, Louisville, KY - To aid research on 'Middle Stone Age Archaeology and Modern Human Origins Research in Southern Mozambique'
DR. JONATHAN A. HAWS, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, was awarded funding in April 2012 to aid research on 'Middle Stone Age Archaeology and Modern Human Origins Research in Southern Mozambique.' In 2012, the project conducted a reconnaissance survey of the Maputaland region of Mozambique to investigate the origins of modern human behavior. As part of this work, the team documented new Middle Stone Age sites and collected samples to establish age control for the study of Quaternary landscapes in the region. The survey was limited due to bureaucratic constraints but yielded positive results to warrant further research. The project team explored the coastal strip south of Maputo. At Ponta Maone researchers recorded a Middle Stone Age site eroding out of the bluffs. The artifacts at this locality showed little evidence for weathering thus suggesting a stratigraphically intact occupation. Sediment samples were collected for OSL dating. Several points along the coast of Maputaland have previously documented Quaternary deposits but visibility was limited in most areas due to covering vegetation. In the area of Moamba, two new Middle Stone Age sites were recorded: one surface scatter with discoidal cores and flakes, and another in stratigraphic position exposed in a streamback cut. Between Moamba and Goba the team recorded the presence of numerous potential rockshelters.
Klehm, Dr. Carla Elizabeth, Washington U., St. Louis, MO - To aid research on 'Does Monumentality Hinge on Inequality? Mortuary Bead Analysis at Megalithic Pillar Sites in Kenya 5000bp'
Preliminary abstract: Megalithic architecture appeared suddenly in NW Kenya around 5000 BP in tandem with early herding. As Lake Turkana shrank, people built 'pillar sites' - massive feats of labor and coordination that represent an early instance of monumentality in Africa. Burials within pillar sites have thousands of beads made from stone, bone, ostrich eggshell, and shell. As the first comprehensive analysis of pillar site bead assemblages, this project can illuminate specific economic and social changes as herding began. Beads may have played a role in expressions of individual identity, social bonds within/between groups, and relationships between ancestors and living. Interpretation of beads, particularly as evidence for aggrandizement or leveling, depends on knowledge of raw materials (including stone from distant sources and teeth from dangerous animals), production methods, distribution, and display. Detailed analysis of beads from precise positions within specific burials at pillar sites will assess variation among individuals for evidence of inequality, and variation through pillar site sequences for diachronic changes in mortuary ornamentation. Data collection will focus on GeJi9 due to exceptional contextual control, but also include assemblages from GeJi10, GcJh5, GbJj1, and GaJi23. Analysis will integrate bead data with information on minerology and sourcing, and prior bioarchaeological studies of burials.