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2020-04-19 20:41:13   •   ID: 2174

Variability of the pre-MIS4 MSA of South Africa

Figure 1
Figure 1: This is a 10 cm long broad blade, made by Levallois technique from fine-grained Quartzite- a surface finding from the Mossel Bay area in South Africa. Figure 2 is a triangular flake and Figure 3 a flat core, both of Quartzite from the same locality.

Such items are common during the pre-SB / HP-Phase in South Africa (MIS5).-Compared to East Africa, our knowledge about the early (prae MIS5) MSA in South Africa are rather rare.

Transitional Industries: I rewewed the South African Acheulian already here: 1715 and here: 2071

According to S. Wurz "transitional" industries appeared after 500 k.a. alongside the Acheulian (Wurz 2014).

  • Sangoan-like industries are known from open-air sites in the Mapungubwe National Park at the border with Zimbabwe and Botswana in northernmost South Africa. They are characterized by core axes, denticulates and denticulated scrapers and small Handaxes. Levallois products are present. At Kudu Koppie the Sangoan was found in situ below a "common" MSA (Kuman et al. 2005). Unfortunately we are lacking absolute dates till now. A number of undated Sangoan occurrences have also been described from South Africa, along the costal dune systems of KwaZulu-Natal
  • The Lupemban is the least known transitional industry in southern Africa with some dubious stray finds but has been recorded in Namibia, as part of its greater Congo basin distribution (Kuman 2005)
  • New data from stratified Fauresmith sites suggest that this industry, which combines small refined handaxes with technological components characteristic of the MSA (prepared cores, blades, Levallois points, convex scrapers), maybe as old as 542–435 k.a. (Wonderwerk Cave MU4 , Kathu Pan 1). Fauresmith assemblages are known from Rooidam, Kathu Pan, and Bundu Farm in the Northern Cape but also known from Elandsfontein, on the Vaal and Orange Rivers, in the Seacow Valley, and at Taung


Figure 2
Regarding these data it becomes clear that some of these "transitional" industries, (Lupemban, Sangoan) indepently their name and taxonomic reality occurred not only in Central Africa, where they first were described, but were a dynamic widespread phenomenon over wide areas in Africa from Nubia in the North to South Africa in the South and from East to West Africa.

If we take the data from the earliest stratified Fauresmith sites (542–435 k.a) for sure, despite taphonomic problems, this entity is the most prominent example for a very early MSA-like ensemble on the African continent.

The limited “early Middle Stone Age” (ca 300- 120 k.a. BP) sites without pics and Handaxes do not really give a coherent picture what happened during this time interval and are relatively poor and in addition we are lacking detailled publications.

Wurz repots such ensembles from Sterkfontein, the Lincoln Caves, Border Cave, and Wonderwerk Cave. They are characterized by mainly unretouched blades, flakes, sometimes in association with different prepared core techniques.

The earliest dated ensembles from this group are Florisbad (c 279 k.a.) and Pinnacle Point, (c 162 k.a.). The deposits at Pinaccle Point are in association with shellfish remains- an eary indication to costal adaptions in S-Africa.

Figure 3
The number of sites increase during MIS5. Many of these sites are known from the Cape coast and KwaZulu-Natal. Good examples are the deeply stratified sites such as Klasies River, Pinnacle Point, Blombos Cave, and Sibudu.

Important inland sites include Rose Cottage Cave, Border Cave, Cave of Hearths, Bushman Rockshelter, Wonderwerk Cave, Apollo 11, and Melikane.

MIS5 (130-79 k.a.) was predominantly a cold climatic event in South Africa but with several warm climatic oscillations (MIS5c and a).

It is said that the MIS 5 deposits from Klasies River possibly contain the largest collection of MIS 5d-a artifacts in S Africa. Taken as the reference site for S-Africa for many years it now has become clear, that-not surprisingly- there are many other MIS5-3 traditions over the subcontinent, comparable to Eurasia or East/North Africa..

At Klasies River, the lowermost layers (Klasies River sub-stage) at ca 110 k.a. was characterized by elongated debitage, transformed into thin and symmetrical "points" on quartzite.

Median length is about 8 cm. Long blades up to 11 cm occurred. Retouches are rare.

Debitage was-struck from prepared cores, and by soft-hammer technique. Levallois reduction method coexisted with the laminar method, for production of blades.

The next Early MSA substage at Klasies River is called: Mossel Bay sub-stage (c 100-80 k.a.; MIS 5c-a)

During this sub-stage the end-products are very different. Main raw material is quartzite. Some cores are mostly split cobbles with fully cortical surfaces on their ventral side. (Wurz 2005). Other cores confirm a unipolar, highly standardized, reduction method on flat and pyramidal cores.

Figure 4
Compared with the Clasies River substage, the debitage is shorter, wider with facetted platforms and convergent-sided pieces or blanks. Most end-products resemble non-retouched Levallois-Points and blades.

Material of this substage was found since the 19th century at Cape St Blaize (Figure 4; Wikimedia Commons), the center of a landscape with more than 20 Rock-shelters and caves with Archeological material (for example Pinnacle Point). There are several localities with Mossle Bay material. The old collections are currently under re-evaluation and new excavations are going on.

MIS 5c material from Pinnacle Point, despite some differences has strong affinities to the Mossel Bay sub-stage at Klasies river as Thompson et al. demonstrated in a techno-typological study.

Laminar MSA-complexes in S-Africa: Laminar technologies during the MSA of S-Africa are most prominent during MIS5, with early for-runners like the Fauresmith complex. An excellent review is given by Schmidt (2019)- the last external link.

She describes the lower "prä-SB" strata of Sibudu (around 80 k.a.) and compared them with other S-African laminar systems.

The lowest Levels of Sibudu, around 80 k.a. yields a unique ensemble with crested Laminar production. The elongated blanks were transformed into serrated elongated points.

Another characteristic of these layers are bifacial points before the Still Bay phase at the site. Unifacial points and scrapers are also present.

The Pietersburg MSA- techno-complex is abundant in the interior of South Africa. It is characterized by large blades and elongated products from prepared cores (Levallois, Pyramidal).

The richest Pietersburg sites are Border Cave with ages between 238-80 k.a., the Cave of Hearths and the upper MSA occupations of Bushman Rock Shelter (Limpopo Province, Luminescence chronology: 73-91 k.a.).

The cave of Hearths was subdivided by the excavators into three phases with different weighting of main tool classes (especially laminar products, triangular flakes and endscrapers).

Mwulu’s Cave also shows an internal technological variation during the sequence. Of interest are uni- and bifacial points and endscrapers.

The assemblage of Bushman Rock is characterized by a Levallois and semi-prismatic strategies, laminar reduction strategies and is typified by the presence of end-Scrapers.

The convergent blade and the two other artifacts in this post, found in 1932 stray find from the Cape St Blaize area fit perfectly into the laminar MIS5-complexes of S-Africa.

Suggested Reading: Barham, L. & P. Mitchell. 2008. The first Africans: African archaeology from the earliest tool makers to most recent foragers. Cambridge: Cambridge University