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2020-07-10 16:58:51   •   ID: 2197

Acheulian or Fauresmith in the N/W-Province of South Africa ?

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 1 and 2: This is a thin, symmetric and well executed Biface (12x7x1cm), made from brown patinated ironstone, which can be seen at some small black chipped areas.

Such sophisticated Bifaces in South Africa are mainly described as components of the so called Fauresmith Complex..

The artifact was detected with other similar implements during mining activities in the North West Province of South Africa near Glaudina, some meters below the current surface.

Figure 3 (dorsal) and 4 (ventral) show a smaller subcordiform Handaxe (10x6x3 cm) from the same location, made from Chert, exhibiting a mottled whitish patina.

The ventral side is flat, while the steep dorsal sides produce a triangular appearance. It is not by chance that Burkitt 1928 compared such items from the Fauresmith Complex with the MTA of Combe Capelle in France.

At this time he could not know, that the time gap between our examples and the Abri Peyrony at Combe Capelle is at least 150 k.a.

In my sample Flake tools are missing, but this could be an sampling bias.

There are nearly 300 active mines in South Africa’s North West and the sector contributes 31.3% of regional gross domestic product.

Figure 3
Figure 4
Mines in the North-West province produce 50% of the platinum produced in the world. Chromite is the other major mineral mined throughout the province. Gold and Uranium are found along the border of the province with Gauteng and the Free State.

Gravels are still mined for diamonds in deeply buried deposits and Stone Age artifact collections from the excavated gravels were formed during the last century.

Interestingly, such lithic artifacts are mainly in the hands of local collectors and have not been recognized in the Literature.

The prevailing impression that the N/W-Region has been sparsely populated by humans in the past, may be biased, by the absence of systematic prospections and deeply buried deposits, but is certainly also the result of a general scarcity of sustainable water sources as well as the absence of hills or outcrops for shelter.

The Fauresmith was first described by Goodwin in 1925 as an “archaeological industry or culture intermediate between the Earlier Stone Age and Middle Stone Age”. This statement has passed the test for almost the past 100 years.

On the available evidence, the Fauresmith seem to be centered in the interior and northern regions. Anyhow, rich sites like Wonderwerk Cave, Bestwood 1, Kathu Pan and Kathu Townlands are found in some distance (300 km or more) south from Glaudina.

Figure 5
Figure 6
If we consider Sites like Rooidam, Pniel and Nooitgedacht 2 - the Fauresmith would even extend to the Northern Cape region.

Anyhow no agreement whether this poor defined and high variable complex is part of the Acheulian, the beginning of the MSA, an independent entity or just does not exist at all, has reached (Shadrach 2018).

If we define the beginnings of the MSA with the advent of prepared core technology- I would agree to Beaumont and Vogel (see external links) that the Fauresmith is both: an Early MSA (EMSA) and a valid entity.

Regarding the paucity of stratified / unmixed sites there is a persistent discussion about the specific lithics that define the Fauresmith Complex. "Smaller handaxes, large and/or average sized cleavers, points, large blades and prepared cores are the major, but not the only, diagnostic features of assemblages claimed to represent the Fauresmith stone tool culture (Shadrach 2018).

Anyhow it was early recognized, that Handaxes in such ensembles, beside finely made examples, can also be crude and large- maybe caused by the raw material or representing unfinished preforms - an example from Glaudina is shown in Figures 5 and 6.

On the other hand, Handaxes from the quality of the first two examples in this post, are virtually absent from the ESA.

There are some Fauresmith key-sites, excavated with modern Methods during the last 20 years. They seem to prove that the Fauresmith is indeed is a clear entity and not a secondary construct.

Here I focus to newer excavations at only two localities -Kathu Pan and Rooidam 2- in the Northern Province of South Africa. The attribution of other sites to to the Fauresmith and their often unclear chronological position can be found by the external links.

  • The Archaeological Complex near Kathu, a mining town in the Northern Cape Province offers a series of archaeological localities – Kathu Pan, Kathu Townlands and Bestwood – that together represent evidence of extraordinarily intensive occupation through the Earlier Stone Age (Acheulean) and Fauresmith (Transitional) to the Early Middle Stone Age.

    What makes the dating of some important (but not all) Stone Age complexes near Kathu difficult is their localization in a number of sinkholes, which make a stratigraphic assignment of the finds difficult.

    Anyhow we should remember, that the taphonomy of such Dolines is well known, for example from the groundbreaking excavations of sinkhole sequences in the El Kowm area (Syria) by the University of Basel and Syrian excavators, before they stopped by the so called Arabian Spring“.

    The stratigraphy of Kathu Pan 1 (KP1), located about 4,5 km northwest of Kathu begins with ESA deposits (Stratum 4b) mainly characterized by Handaxes, made from banded ironstone and finely executed. The Stratum 4a above 4b has been dated by OSL, ESR, and U-series to ca 500 k.a. BP, but at least > 417 k.a (Herries 2011 for a critical review).

    Of an age similar to KP1- 4a may be a high-density ESA in-situ locality at Kathu Townlands, still under excavation (Walker et al. 2014).

    In contrast, Stratum 4a revealed a hughe amount of lithics. They are characterized by Blades and Flakes, the latter were made from prepared cores (Levallois sensu lato).

    The blades were produced by direct hard hammer percussion from specialized blade cores. Elongated convergent finely retouched artifacts, often with facetted platforms, ("Points") are common. The whole ensemble fits the definition of the Fauresmith complex.

    It remains hotly debated if some of these convergent tools were were used as spear tips, as claimed by Wilkins et al. 2012 - based on micro ware analysis and experimental replication (Rots and Plisson 2014, Wilkins 2015)

    Indeed it was not to be expected that claims, that the use of stone projectile points began more than 200 k.a. earlier than elsewhere, would be simply accepted without any contradiction.

    LCTs of Stratum 4a were made on a wide range of raw materials and are even cruder and more irregular compared with those from the local Acheulian

  • The post-Fauresmith succession at Kathu Pan 1 at 336–254 k.a. is characterized by a classic early MSA, with a low number of retouched tools from prepared cores. Similar and rare sites without pics and Handaxes in S-Africa are suggested to characterize the “early Middle Stone Age” to ca 300- 120 k.a. BP

  • Rooidam 2 a site near Kimberley, in the Northern Cape Province revealed 7 strata, covering a depth of 5m. Stratum 4B with a dense occupation was divided into 10 subunits, that allowed to evaluate technological trends within a clearly Fauresmith succession.

    The research team found cummulative changes and variability within these subunits, discussing the influence of social learning, raw materials and landscape use (Eltzholtz et al. 2005)

In Summary the Fauresmith seems to be indeed an valid entity and we are looking for the many surprising data, that surely will come...

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