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2020-04-06 17:30:54   •   ID: 2169

Howiesons Poort (HP) in South Africa

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Figure 1-5: This is a rather small, 4 cm long, Howiesons Poort (HP) crescent made of non heated Silkrete. Figure 6 and 7 show an example made of Quartz, 3,2 cm Long.

Many questions about the HP remain unresolved. Why began people in S-Africa to produce these sophisticated tools? Why did the HP disappear? What was the cognitive background for "symbolic" activities during the HP?

Geography: South Africa, especially the Indian South coast and Atlantic west coast, has an incredible number of MSA-sites preserved in different kinds of environments.

Especially the Western and Eastern Cape region, offer a fairly high number of deeply stratified Rock shelters and Caves with a good to very good preservation of organic remains. These conditions inevitably lead to a certain bias towards the detection of these highly visible localities.

With the Exception of Apollo 11 in Namibia, the HP is found primarily south of the Limpopo River.

Important Sites: HP strata occur at, for example, the type site, Boomplaas, Border Cave, Diepkloof, Klasies River, Klein Kliphuis, Rose Cottage Cave, Sibudu, and Umhlatuzana in South Africa; at Melikane and Ntloana Tsoana in Lesotho; and at Apollo 11 in Namibia and a number of surface sites (Wurz 2013).

Techno-Typology: The HP is characterized the increased use of local and non-local fine- grained raw materials. These include quartzite, quartz, silcrete, hornfels and chalcedony.

At most sites, blade and bladelet reduction strategies are found together with the production of flakes.

The Howiesons Poort is most often associated with large numbers of backed elements (trapezes, segments-also called crescents or lunates and triangles). Another characteristic tool of the Howieson’s Poort are notched blades.

There is much inter and intrasite variability between the HP-sites, regarding knapping strategies, raw material procurement and hunting strategies of meat and fish / moluskes.

Absolute Chronology: SB and HP are widespread, although relatively short phases during MIS 4 in South Africa. They remain the most important last glacial chronological anchor points.

The SB occupation lasted from 70-77 k.a. while most HP ensembles are dated by single-grain OSL between ca. 64,8 and 59,5 k.a. BP (MIS4) but there are exceptions:

The Diepkloof TL dates go back to 109 k.a. The HP from Border Cave dates to around 75 k.a. and similar dates are known from Pinnacle Point. It remains unclear if the HP here started really earlier or if methodological problems cause this unconformities.

Relative Chronology: Important multilayered sites have been excavated during the last 20 years, some of them will described here:

The South African MSA offers two important characterisic complexes: the Stillbay (SB) and Howiesons Poort (HP).

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Complexes which preceede and follow them are often globaly called: Pre-SB and Post HP. These complexes exhibit a considerable variability in techniques and tools.

Important up-to-date excavations at Klasies River were first undertaken In 1967 and 1968 by Ronald Singer and John Wymer.

The Klasies River Caves are a series of caves located to the east of the Klasies River mouth on the Tsitsikamma coast in the Humansdorp district of Eastern Cape Province, South Africa.

The three main caves and two shelters at the base of a high cliff have revealed evidence of middle stone age-associated human habitation from approximately 125,000 years ago.

The 20 metres (66 ft) thick deposits were accumulated from 125,000 years ago. Around 75,000 years ago, during cave remodelling, the stratigraphic sediments were moved out into external middens.

John Wymer described the artefact sequence in a typological scheme describing the culture stratigraphic order from oldest to youngest as the MSA l, MSA ll, Howiesons Poort, MSA lll and MSA lV.

MSA I: was characterized by Levallois und pyramidal cores. Large "elongated flakes" (Blades), up to 10 cm long, mostly made of quarzite were present. Unifacial points were common.

MSA II: (also called Mossel Bay) was characterized Levallois cores. Compared with the MSA I, Flakes became shorter, smaller and thicker.

The following strata were characterized by a nice Howiesons Poort ensemble. MSA III / MSA IV were described as Post- Howieson’s Poort ensembles.

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Sarah Wurz recognizes the following culture stratigraphic sequence: Upper member (top units): not formally named post-Howiesons Poort sub-stage (circa 60 k.a.) Upper member (bottom units): Howiesons Poort sub-stage (circa 70 k.a.) SAS member (topmost units) and possibly RF member: Still Bay sub-stage (circa 80 k.a.) SAS member (mid and lower units): Mossel Bay sub-stage (circa 100 k.a.) LBS member: Klasies River sub-stage (circ 110 k.a.)

These sub-stages are defined by techno-typological criteria. In the Klasies River sub-stage long (upwards of 100 mm) blades made almost exclusively in quartzite and elongated points are characteristic.

The blades were struck from appropriately prepared cores, platforms are plain and relatively small and the bulbs of percussion are diffuse. This suggests a soft (wooden) hammer technique.

The Mossel Bay sub-stage the end-products are very different. They are shorter, wide, facetted platformed, convergent-sided pieces or blanks.

The bulbs of percussion are prominent and the point of percussion is set well below the upper surface of the core with the result that the butt of the blank is thick. Such pieces are conventionally called Levallois flakes.

The Still Bay is represented by a relatively small sample from main site that include bifacially worked pieces. This sub-stage is better represented in the sample from Paardeberg inland of main site.

The Howiesons Poort sample, resembling Figure 6 and 7, from main site is large and informative. It represents a return to blade production as in the Klasies River sub-stage but blade dimensions are much reduced (circa 40 mm).

Figure 7
These blade blanks, a percentage in non-local raw materials, were used to make backed artefacts in geometrical forms like segments and trapezes which are typologically very distinctive.

The sample of the post-Howiesons Poort layers is too small to be useful for technological study but seems to be yet another different and distinctive artefact production schema ( modified from: HJ Deacon Guide to Klasies River 2001).

During the following years it became clear that Klasies River can not taken as a blueprint for the Late Pleistocene S-African MSA. Especially the early and late phases show a lot of variability.

At Diepkloof (Western Cape), excavations begun in 1998 and provided a sequence in which the Stillbay facies clearly underlies the Howiesons Poort assemblages.

In addition, the Diepkloof Howiesons Poort assemblages have now been dated, by thermo-luminescence, to between 55 and 65 k.a.

KwaZulu-Natal in the eastern part of South Africa, today covered by dense subtropical vegetation, has also an enormous Archeological potential, evidenced by the Sibudu site together with the Holley Shelter and the Umhlatuzana site.

Sibudu, a large rock- shelter shows a long sequence of MSA layers: the final MSA roughly dating to around 35 k.a. a late MSA (about 47 k.a.) a “post- HP” (about 58 k.a.), HP (ca 65-59 k.a.), Still Bay (c a77-72 k.a.) and pre-Still Bay (>80 k.a.) (Wadley 2012).

Umhlatuzana Rock Shelter was excavated in 1985. A long and detailed sequence of Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Later Stone Age (LSA) stone artefacts were recovered. These provide important information on the MSA, MSA/LSA transition, the Robberg LSA, as well as the relationship between hunter-gatherers and farmers between AD 400-800. At this site the MSA/LSA transition occurred between 35-20 k.a. BPBP. This transition is gradual with MSA technology being replaced by increasing bladelet production.

Diepkloof: The cave is about 17 km from the shoreline of the Atlantic in a semi-arid area, near Elands Bay about 150 km north of Cape Town. It occurs in quartzitic sandstone in a butte that overlooks in a east direction 100 m above the Verlorenvlei River. It contains one of "most complete and continuous later Middle Stone Age sequences in southern Africa" stretching from before 130,000 BP to about 45,000 BP and encompassing pre-Stillbay, Stillbay, Howiesons Poort, and post-Howiesons Poort periods (Texier et al. 2010).

The use of Ostrich eggshells in South Africa is very old. The most prominent example for a non-utilitarian use comes from Diepkloof rock shelter (Western Cape) which yield in an MSA-context more than 400 Fragments of geometrical engraved ostrich eggshells, possible used as containers, which are dated to the Howiesons Poort (74-60 k.a. by TL at the site).

Apollo 11 rock-shelter in Namibia, contains the longest late Pleistocene and Holocene archaeological sequence in this region. (MSA) indus tries represented at the site include an early MSA, Still Bay, Howieson’s Poort and late MSA. The TL age of the HP-industy is estimated to 63.2 ± 2.3 k.a.

Rose Cottage Cave is another multilayered site with an impressive number of lithic artifacts. It is one of the rare sites that contains the Howiesons Poort Industry located between two MSA industries ((Pre- Howiesons Poort, Howiesons Poort, post-Howiesons Poort, a final MSA, and an MSA/LSA transition.

The disappearance of the HP remains enigmatic. Maybe ruptures of social networks and climatic changes during the MIS4/3 boundary triggered changes toward other modes of lithic production. Excavations of the upper poat -HP MSA layers have shown, that lithic production changed, mostly towards the production of unifacial points, but was not less sophisticated than HP ensembles.

At Sibudu for example asymmetric convergent tools were observed as an independent tool class. They are characterized by a asymmetric and convergent distal end. It is formed by a convex retouched edge and one opposing straight edge which is frequently not retouched.

Other unifacial convergent tools during the late MSA at Sibudu are ‘‘Tongatis’’ and ‘‘Ndwedwes’’ Togatis are a special form of triangular symmetric or asymmetric points, while ‘‘Ndwedwes’’ are asymmetric elongated unifacial convergent instruments, not unknown from other near by sites (Conard 2012).

Specific Behavior patterns?. The HP is characterized by patterns, unknown from earlier or later MSA complexes in South Africa (exception: SB, especially at Blombos). They include:

  • The existence of a bone tool industry
  • Like the earlier Stillbay industry, the Howiesons Poort culture created "symbolic" artifacts such as engraved ochre. Compared to earlier MSA complexes we observe an increase in both color variability and quantity
  • The production of eggshells with incised ornaments and and shell beads.

The "why" of these patterns has not been satisfactorily explained so far.

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