Chazan, Dr. Michael, U. of Toronto, Toronto, Canada - To aid '2012 Meeting of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists,' Victoria College, U. of Toronto, in collaboration with Dr. Susan Pfeiffer.
'The 2012 Meeting of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAfA)'
June 20-23, 2012, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
Organizers: Dr. Michael Chazan and Dr. Susan Pfeiffer (U. Toronto)
The theme of the SAfA meeting was 'Exploring Diversity, Discovering Connections,' which was carried through in a program featuring over 250 papers and thirty posters highlighting the diversity of African archaeology. One could walk from a discussion of glass trade beads in West Africa to presentations on the dating of Acheulean sites in southern Africa and still find time to hear about the challenges of archaeological training in resource strapped institutions in Central Africa. What was most striking was the vitality of the research described and the openness to discussion both within sessions and most importantly in informal settings. The archaeology of Africa is a vast discipline in which much remains to be learned. The political context of research is often complex and the threats to heritage very real. The 2012 meeting of SAfA helped further dialogue and forging connections among the international community of archaeologists working in Africa.
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.
Mercader, Dr. Julio, U. of Calgary, Calgary, Canada - To aid research on 'Environmental Primer for the Mozambican Middle Stone Age'
DR. JULIO MERCADER, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada, received funding in April 2011 to aid research on 'Environmental Primer for the Mozambican Middle Stone Age.' This project examines the impact of particular environments on prehistoric cultures as a way to disentangle the early dispersal of our species through central Mozambique. Preliminary work has established the stratigraphic sequence and a framework from which to pursue further investigation in 2012-2014. Excavation will continue at two cave sites to achieve a better understanding of the chronological, stratigraphic, and environmental context of the occupation. These caves are in a region whose palaeoanthropology is currently unknown and they will provide valuable first information on late Pleistocene adaptations in the southern end of the East African Rift System. The planned research focuses on two sites out of very few where there is direct evidence of a tropical wooded palaeoenvironment, as shown by an abundance of opal silica from arboreal plants and faunal remains from wooded-adapted mammals. Opening these field sites to summer courses for North American and Mozambican undergraduates and graduates will facilitate their experiential learning.
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.
Behrens, Joanna P., Syracuse U., Syracuse, NY - To aid 'Digging the Great Trek: An Historical Archaeology of a Voortrekker Community, South Africa,' supervised by Dr. Christopher R. DeCorse
JOANNA BEHRENS, while a student at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, was awarded a grant in May 2004 to aid archaeological research at Schoemansdal, a mid- 19th century Voortrekker village in the Limpopo Province, northern South Africa, supervised by Dr Christopher R. DeCorse. The project investigated socio-economic diversity within a frontier community that lay along the northern margins of the wider colonial expansion, known historically as 'The Great Trek.' Between October 2004 and December 2005, Behrens undertook survey, excavation, and preliminary cataloguing as well as archival research in Pretoria, South Africa and London, England. Previous excavations at Schoemansdal, which had focused on the main community structures, were expanded, and houselots, located away from the village center, were targeted in order to access a broader understanding of the community. Shovel test pit sampling strategies were successfully employed in yard areas and six middens within the village were excavated, yielding assemblages that can be linked to individual households or properties. This material, analysed in tandem with that recovered from the community areas, is yielding insight into differential consumption practices and expanding historical understandings of trekker economies, specifically by shedding light on local and regional trade and exchange networks. The Schoemansdal material provides a crucial baseline assemblage for mid-19th century southern Africa and represents an important step in the re-interrogation of South Africa's Great Trek mythology .
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.
Chazan, Dr. Michael, U. of Toronto, Toronto, Canada - To aid research on 'Archaeology of Wonderwerk Cave, Northern Cape Province, South Africa'
DR. MICHAEL CHAZAN, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada, was awarded a grant in May 2007 to aid research on 'Archaeology of Wonderwerk Cave, Northern Cape Province, South Africa.' Research funded at Wonderwerk Cave (South Africa) has helped to establish it as one of the most important sites in Southern Africa. Research at the back of the cave (Excavation 6) indicates that over 0.180 Ma (the Fauresmith), hominins introduced into this dark locality (approximately 140m from the cave entrance) objects with special sensory properties. Intercalation of a 3D-laser scan of the cave interior and a survey of the overlying hillside confirms the absence of another entrance, implying purposeful occupation of Excavation 6, perhaps due to its special natural visual and acoustic qualities. This suggests that sensitivity to the sensory properties of a landscape and to materials, formed an integral element in the emergence of modern symbolic behavior. The age of the lowest in situ layers in the cave front (Excavation 1) has been confirmed as ca. 2.0 Ma, and represents the earliest evidence for intentional hominin cave use in the world. This finding was covered widely in the international media and has contributed to the candidacy of this site for World Heritage status.
Chazan, Michael. 2009. Laser Scanning for Conservation and Research of African Cultural Heritage Sites: The Case Study of Wonderwerk Cave, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science 36:1847-1856
Walshaw, Dr. Sarah Catherine, Simon Fraser U., Burnaby, Canada - To aid research on 'Food Production Viewed from the Fields: Contributions from Swahili Ethnoarchaeology on Pemba Island, Tanzania'
DR. SARAH C. WALSHAW, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada, received a grant in May 2007 to aid research on 'Food Production Viewed from the Fields: Contributions from Swahili Ethnoarchaeology on Pemba Island, Tanzania.' Archaeological plant assemblages from several communities on Pemba Island, Tanzania, contain significant amounts of grain and chaff, suggesting that rice and pearl millet were stored in a largely unprocessed form. Ethnoarchaeological research was undertaken among farming communities on Pemba Island, where rice, sorghum, and pearl millet are farmed using non-mechanized techniques (such as hand-harvesting) to model the small-scale tropical farming systems of the Swahili. Observation of, and participation in, farming on Pemba Island helped explain several patterns seen archaeologically. First, hand harvesting eliminated weeds in the field and may be implicated in the infrequency of weed seeds in ancient houses and middens. Second, grains for food and seed were stored in the house to permit monitoring of amount and condition. Third, grains were reportedly stored in their husks to reduce loss from microbial and insect infestation, pest predation, and human over-use and theft. Labor constraints also posed significant pressures in this household-based agricultural economy, leading harvesters to spread the arduous tasks of processing throughout the year -- small amounts of grain were processed for each day's meal as required. This study demonstrates some of the agricultural and social motives for household-based agricultural practices, and provides a model for interpreting archaeobotanical patterns evident in ancient small-scale rice and millet farming systems.
Walshaw, Sarah, 2010. Converting to rice: urbanization, Islamization and crops on Pemba Island, Tanzania, AD 700-1500. World Archaeology 42:(1) 137-154.