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2018-09-11 18:32:04   •   ID: 2024

Bifacial Foliates in the African Paleolithic Record

Figure 1
Fig. 1 shows two bifacially retouched MSA foliates from the central Sahara made from Quartzite, the larger one is 12,5 cm long. Foliates are part of four important African technocomplexes: the early Nubian complex, the Aterian, the Lupemban and the Stillbay complex in South Africa.

The question, if the African bifacial foliate point production emerged independently in these technocomplexes, or if different regions and traditions were culturally interconnected, is not resolved and remains an open gateway both for functonal, processual, post–processual – but also Culture – historical assumptions.

However, paleoclimatic considerations show that ideas and people might have crossed the continent during humid-phases creating a common savoir-faire.

Stillbay Ensembles in South Africa assemblages are rare and, with the exception of Sibudu Cave (KwaZulu-Natal), and Apollo 11 (Namibia), all concentrated in the Cape Province of South Africa.

Foliate shaped bifacially worked stone points are the hallmarks of the Stillbay techno-tradition. At the sites, Bifacial roughouts are more common than the finished products and correspond to various stages of the reduction process during which flakes are produced by thinning and shaping the biface preforms.

Bifacial points were most probably used as spear points, as indicated by use wear analysis, but also served as multifunctional tools and were used as knives. At Blombos Cave, the majority of the bifacial points recovered were made on silcrete that was heat-treated before flaking. After applying hard- and soft-hammer techniques to shape the blank, the points were finely finished using an sophisticated pressure-flaking technique, which is also known from the Lupemban complex.

At present the known Still Bay assemblages show temporal and spatial discontinuity and much variability. At this point it seems not to be possible to reconstruct technological trends or directional change, but this may be a consequence of a sampling bias, with only a handful sites with undisturbed stratigraphy.

Data already available suggest for the Stillbay techno-complexes in several South African sites an age from end of MIS 5 to the beginning of MIS 4. Thermoluminescence dating undertaken at Diepkloof Rock Shelter, Sibudu and Apollo 11 indicate a duration for the Still Bay period of around 7,700 years, from 75,5 to 67,8 k.a. ago.

Anyhow, newly detected bifacial points from the "pre-Stillbay" strata at Sibudu and Thermoluminescence data from Diepkloof with a mean age of 109 k.a. could indicate that the Stillbay phase started considerably earlier.

Figure 2: Foliate from the local MSA of Thebes
Figure 2
. Another regional trend in the development of the Middle Paleolithic can be traced in North Africa. Here, two complexes, the Aterian and the Nubian Complex, were recognized. Foliates from these complexes resemble the famous foliate from the Aterian of the Kharga Oasis, published by Gertrude Caton-Thompson in her seminal work about the Aterian.

As already described in another posts- see here: 1052 , here 1273 , and here: 1272 , the Aterian industry is characterized by the use of the Levallois primary reduction technology. The industry was intended for manufacturing points, flakes, and blades. Its diagnostic elements are stemmed pieces, primarily points with a retouched tip and stem.

Stems are observed on side-scrapers, end-scrapers, borers, and burins, which indicate that the people widely utilized multifunctional composite tools and reliable hafting-techniques. Lithic assemblages associated with the Aterian sites are dominated by side-scrapers of various modifications, and also include notched pieces.

Is likely that the Aterian industry evolved during late OIS6/OIS 5e and existed for a long time (latest dates around 32 k.a. BP). Sites containing Aterian assemblages located in north-western Africa seem not to be systematically older than similar MSA techno-complexes in Egypt.

Figure 3
In Egypt, at Kharga Oasis, according to M. Kleindienst, the Aterian Unit here is dated between 100-50 k.a. BP.

Tanged elements occur in a number of Nubian Complex assemblages from the Nile Valley, such as E-78-11 and Arkin 5. Tanged pieces are also present as well in MIS 5 assemblages at Bir Sahara and in the Bir Tarfawi area.

One of the first researchers of the Aterian, G. Caton-Thompson (1946), considered this industry a flexible technological system tracing its roots to Sub-Saharan Africa. Some scholars link the origin of the Aterian to the Lupemban industry.

Ph. Van Peer concluded that the Aterian culture belonged to lithic industries from the Nile Valley, and should be integrated it into the Nubian complex. Figure 3 shows a broad Aterian foliate, made from Quartzite, from a surface scatter in Libya.

Figure 4
Many Early Nubian Complex surface scatters in upper Egypt/Sudan were detected by the Combined Prehistoric Expedition in the Sahara Desert led by F. Wendorf from 1962-1999 . As early as 1964/ 1965 the Guichards reported about non-stratified assemblages with Nubian cores, Nubian Points, thick scrapers and mostly asymmetric and rather crude bifacial foliates in the area that would later be flooded by the Aswan dam. These Foliates resemble the item shown in Figure 4.

The early Nubian Complex since then was suggested to be characterized exactly by this artifact spectrum (Figure 2 and 4). More about the early Nubian complex can be found here: 1135 , here 1576 , here: 1363

The term "Lupemban" for unstratified assemblages in southwestern Zaire and north-eastern Angola was first proposed by Belgian scientists in the Congo Basin (Breuil, 1944).

The Lupemban is a West and Central-African post-Acheulean early MSA complex, characterized by heavy and light tools.

The Lupemban overlies the Sangoan industry at the sites of Muguruk, Kenya , Kalambo Falls, Zambia, and in north-eastern Angola. The Sangoan itself overlies Acheulian industries at Nsongezi, Uganda and Kalambo Falls, Zambia.

The heavy-duty tool category consists of core axes, possibly used as hafted tools for woodworking or sub-surface exploitation, already discussed in this blog- see here: 1749 and the occasionally presence of handaxes and planoconvex sectioned picks. The highlight of the Lupemban stone technology are long, finely made lanceolate points with biconvex to lenticular cross sections.

During the Lupemban, there is evidence of a systematic blade production.

Backed pieces are present at Twin Rivers and Kalambo Falls, pointing to a hafting technology. The smaller debitage component evidences a developed Levallois technology and is characterized by the presence of unifacial and bifacial points.

The systematic use of pigments and devices for their grinding and processing is another aspect of the Lupemban-complex.

While most occurrences of the Lupemban in Central and West Africa remain undated, we have some data from the “periphery”

Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) and Uranium-Series date the Lupemban to roughly 400-200 k.a.

OSL dates from Sai Island have yielded a maximum age of 182±20 k.a. and minimum age of 152±10 k.a.

The age of the Lupemban-bearing breccia at Twin Rivers by Uranium-series has resulted in a date range of 170– >400 k.a. A speleothem sample directly associated with the tool assemblage gave a date of 270 k.a.

Renewed excavations at Kalambo Falls, Zambia were undertaken in 2006 and brought a new Luminescence chronology (Acheulian-MSA transition between 500-300 k.a.).

Some researchers argue that the hominins of the Lupemban complex were the first that permanently occupied different habitats in Central / West Africa, enabled by an innovative technology – we will hear certainly more about these thrilling ideas during the next years.

Suggested Reading:

Sacha C. Jones, Brian A. Stewart (Ed.): Africa from MIS 6-2: Population Dynamics and Paleoenvironments (Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology). The most interesting book about the African Record published during the last years

AJ Arkell: The Old Stone Age in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan / by A.J. Arkell. (Sudan Antiquities Service occasional papers ; no. 1)