Thompson, Dr. Jessica Corrine, U. of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia - To aid research on 'Testing Models of Middle Stone Age Site Formation, Technological Change, and Response to Climatic Variability'
DR. JESSICA C. THOMPSON, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, was awarded a grant in April 2012 to aid research on 'Testing Models of Middle Stone Age Site Formation, Technological Change, and Response to Climatic Variability.' An important issue within human origins research is how quickly modern behavioral complexity emerged within the African Middle Stone Age (MSA - ca. 465-30ka). Another question is how extreme 'megadroughts' near Lake Malawi, central Africa, affected resident MSA populations. Resolving these issues in tandem requires the development of a long archaeological sequence of MSA behavior on the landscape adjacent to the lake. This project recovered over 15,000 stone artefacts and samples from the Chaminade West (CHA-W) locality in northern Malawi. CHA-W contains both Middle and Later Stone Age deposits within a continuous sequence of alluvial sand. The site shows variability in artefact types, raw materials, and intensity of occupation over time. It also shows occupation near a stream channel that may have attracted MSA people to the spot, compared to a site one kilometer to the east where most MSA artefacts are concentrated at a single horizon and no stream activity is evident. Dating of the landscape indicates that the sediments (and archaeological materials within them) began to accumulate more than 100ka and continued into the Holocene, leaving an excellent record of human occupation, adaptation, and abandonment in this part of central Africa.
Haynes, Dr. Gary Anthony, U. of Nevada, Reno, NV - To aid research on 'Later Stone Age Foraging in Northwestern Zimbabwe just before the Transformation to Agropastoralism'
DR. GARY HAYNES, University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada, received funding in April 2008 to aid research on 'Later Stone Age Foraging in Northwestern Zimbabwe Just Before the Transition to Agropastoralism.' One of the mysteries of human cultural history in much of southern Africa is why (and how) human groups made the dramatic switch from hunting and gathering to farming. This project's study area in northwestern Zimbabwe contains very understudied archeological evidence about the stone-age foragers of distant prehistory, and also just the merest hint of evidence about the farming peoples of a few hundred years ago -- but nearly nothing is known about the critical time period in between. This project aims to provide the missing detail. This project seeks to reconstruct the lifeways of hunter-gatherers in northwestern Zimbabwe 4000-2000 years ago, just before the profound cultural transformation of nomadic foraging systems into a radically different economy of agropastoralism. The study area is situated in a possible corridor of human ideas and population movements into southern Africa from the north, across the Zambezi River. Multi-disciplinary evidence about human adaptation to changing environmental conditions is being sought in the study of sediments and ancient underground water, and in archeological excavations of rockshelters that are yielding enormous amounts of stone tools, bone remains of animals hunted and eaten, ostrich eggshell beads, and charcoal that can be identified to tree species and radiometrically dated.
Zipkin, Dr. Andrew Michael, U. of Illinois, Urbana, IL - To aid research on 'The Ethno-Archaeometry of Ochre Source Exploitation Practices in Kenya'
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. In 2012 and 2015, Maasai and Samburu individuals guided us to many of the geological sources of ochre pigments they traditionally use, and to some rock art sites where they identified images painted with ochre from specified sources. We obtained information about their criteria for pigment selection, techniques of pigment preparation, and symbolism associated with ochre sources, rock art, and pigmented artifacts. The project will expand upon an ongoing study of isotopic fingerprinting (iron, strontium, and lead) of these sources and samples from Middle Stone Age to Neolithic sites. This research will complement isotopic characterization with a proven method, trace element fingerprinting, for provenance analysis. Our approach will facilitate verification of the sources of rock art pigments identified from ethnographic information. Enhanced understanding of modern ochre use will shed new light on the evolution of human symbolism from the Stone Age to present day. This project will also refine minimally destructive analytical methods for mineral pigments and build a more widely usable source composition database. Improving methods to identify sources of ochre pigments has significant implications for identifying looted heritage items and forgeries, and for stemming the illicit antiquities trade that endangers tangible cultural heritage, and fuels conflict around the world.
Kyriacou, Dr. Katharine, U. of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa - To aid research on 'Gathered Foods as a Source of Brain-selective Nutrients for MSA Hunter-Gatherers in the South Africa'
Preliminary abstract: The aim of this research is to analyze the fatty acid, micronutrient and energy content of some easily collected foods available to Middle Stone Age people in coastal and inland regions of South Africa, and assess their role in the diets of early modern humans. Particular emphasis will be placed on marine and terrestrial invertebrates and local wild plants. Previous research suggests that intertidal shellfish are one of the best and most accessible sources of omega-6 arachidonic and omega-3 eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid (AA, EPA and DHA), as well as iodine and iron. Edible insects appear to be another excellent source of polyunsaturated fatty acids and micronutrients. Indigenous plants contain essential fatty acids and trace elements, and are the only significant source of energy in the form of carbohydrates available to prehistoric people . The nutrient content of large samples of marine mollusks, edible insects and indigenous wild plants will be determined by means of gas chromatography (GC) and inductively coupled plasma mass spectronomy (ICP MS). New quantitative information on the nutritional value of these foods will be integrated into the existing archaeological, anthropological and ecological framework. This will allow competing and/or complementary scenarios for MSA diets to be evaluated, patterns in the archaeological record to be interpreted, and hypotheses concerning the emergence of modern Homo sapiens in South Africa to be tested.
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.
Patterson, David Burch, George Washington U., Washington, DC - To aid research on 'Ecological Niche Evolution in Homo and Paranthropus at East Turkana, Northern Kenya,' supervised by Dr. Rene Bobe
Preliminary abstract: The fossil record suggests that our genus, Homo, originated in eastern Africa around 2.4 million years ago (Ma), at which time our ancestors would have shared the environment with a closely related species, Paranthropus boisei. However, the record indicates that by 1.3 Ma the Paranthropus lineage went extinct and Homo had expanded outside of Africa. Although we understand they coexisted, we lack a relevant framework for testing hypotheses related to their ecologies during this period. The objective of this project is to use the quantitative methods of community ecology and stable isotope geochemistry to contrast the ecological niches of Homo and Paranthropus within a localized paleoecosystem. This study will use data collected directly from hominin localities and archaeological sites between 2 -- 1.4 Ma at East Turkana in northern Kenya to test a series of hypotheses related to the following research question: What role did ecological conditions play in the different fates of Homo and Paranthropus between 2 Ma and 1.4 Ma? This study will create the first high-resolution reconstruction of the niches of these two taxa and provide key insights into the mechanisms behind the survival of our genus on landscapes that witnessed the extinction of our close fossil relatives.
Cancellieri, Dr. Emanuele, Sapienza U. of Rome, Rome, Italy - To aid research on 'Middle Stone Age Archaeology and Chronology in Tunisian Sahara'
Preliminary abstract: Successfully adapted humans equipped with sophisticated early Middle Stone Age technology dispersed from East Africa to Northern Africa ca. 200.000 years ago as a consequence of environmental fragmentation. By a cultural point of view, the MSA of north Africa is deeply rooted in sub-saharan Lupemban culture, whose spread through North Africa gave rise to regional developments like the Nubian Complex in the Nile valley and the Aterian in the Sahara and the Maghreb. Considering this framework, the multiple dispersal routes covered by 'MSA humans' starting from their area of endemism in East Africa, must have included the Sahara. This huge geographic range offered windows of opportunity at different rates, as signaled by palaeoenvironmental reconstructions, but reliable archaeological and chronometric data are very weak. The research objective wants to address this bias and contribute to the understanding of the chronological, cultural and behavioral traits of North African late Quaternary MSA humans, and is in particular focused on constraining the chronology of occupation in North West Sahara. The research will be conducted in the southern Chott el Jerid, in southern Tunisia, where recent preliminary reconnaissance surveys have identified Pleistocene open air sites with stratified sequences and archaeological material worth to be investigated. The research of other preserved stratified archives in the same general area and the excavation of test trenches at each site will provide soil samples to be dated by luminescence techniques, and archaeological material needed to define the cultural contexts.
Semaw, Dr. Sileshi, Stone Age Institute, Gosport, IN - To aid the 'Gona Palaeoanthropological Research Project'
DR. SILESHI SEMAW, Stone Age Institute, Gosport, Indiana, was awarded a grant in June 2008 to aid the 'Gona Palaeoanthropoligcal Research Project.' The Gona Palaeoanthropological Research Project 2008 field investigations were focused primarily on expanding the excavations opened at two Early Acheulian sites located in the Ounda Gona South (OGS-12) and Busidima North (BSN-17) areas. The OGS12 and BSN17 archaeological sites are estimated between 1.6-1.5 million years (Ma), and both are among the oldest Acheulian sites in Africa (though slightly younger than Konso, from Southern Ethiopia, dated to 1.7 Ma). The archaeology team excavated both sites and retrieved a large number of crudely made handaxes and flaking debris in situ. Further, survey of DAN-5 -- a contemporary Early Acheulian site from Ounda Gona -- yielded two additional hominid molars belonging to an early Homo erectus. A cranium belonging to the same individual, and estimated to 1.6-1.5 Ma, had already been discovered earlier at the site. The geology team sampled dating materials from OGS-12 and BSN-17 and several other Early-Late Pleistocene archaeological sites. Soil carbonates were sampled for paleoenvironmental reconstructions and for V-Th geochronology, and tuffs were collected for refining the age of these archaeological sites with zircon (V-Pb) dating, a new technique promising to yield reliable age estimates for the hominids and artifacts. In addition, more paleomagnetic samples were collected to tighten up the age of several important hominid (Ar. ramidus, 4.5-4.3 Ma) and archaeological sites known at Gona.
Stout, Dietrich, Sileshi Semaw, Michael J. Rogers, Dominique Cauche. 2010. Technological Variation in the Earliest Oldowan from Gona, Afar, Ethiopia. Journal of Human Evolution 58(6):474-491.
Collins, Dr. Benjamin Robert, U. of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa - To aid research on 'Late MIS 3 Behavioral Diversity: The View from Grassridge Rockshelter, Eastern Cape, South Africa'
Preliminary abstract: Late Marine Isotope Stage 3 (MIS 3, from 45,000 to 25,000 years ago), is one of the most enigmatic and behaviorally diverse periods in southern African prehistory. During late MIS 3 we see the appearance of 'precocious' Later Stone Age technologies that coexist geographically and chronologically with Middle Stone Age (MSA) technologies for the subsequent 20,000 years. This behavioral diversity is suggested to result from a fragmented social landscape, dominated by highly localized and disconnected social groups. However, this social fragmentation hypothesis suffers from a dearth of well-described sites dating to late MIS 3, handicapping our ability to test this hypothesis, and examine the potential relationship between climatic variability and behavioral diversity observed during this period. The Grassridge Archeological and Paleoenvironmental Project (GAPP) addresses this issue with detailed archeological and paleoenvironmental research of the late MIS 3 sequence at Grassridge rockshelter, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Preliminary research of this rich MIS 3 archive has produced MSA stone tools that are typologically similar to those from other MSA sites in the region, and marine shell beads that come from at least 200km away. These two findings suggest that late MIS 3 may not have been as socially fragmented as predicted. Continued excavation and laboratory analysis of Grassridge's MSA deposits will provide significant insight into the technology, foraging patterns, mobility dynamics, and social networks being used by Grassridge's late MIS 3 occupants. Moreover, this research will produce data that can test of whether late MIS 3 was a socially fragmented landscape, and provide substantial novel insight into the behavioral diversity from this period.