Thinking through the Middle Stone Age of sub-Saharan Africa

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85 Citations (Scopus)


Together with the disciplines of palaeoanthropology and genetics, archaeological finds and studies on material dating to the Middle Stone Age of sub-Saharan Africa have changed the way scholars think about ancient Africans and the later stages of human evolution. In general, it shows that anatomically modern humans have evolved by ∼200 ka in the region, and that relatively high levels of symbolic behaviour, and behavioural and cognitive complexity were achieved long before the previous 40-50 ka benchmark. The main focus of the paper is on aspects of post-100 ka archaeological material and how it can assist in the reconstruction of hypotheses and models regarding human cognitive and behavioural evolution. Some of the explored topics include fire as engineering tool, the manufacture and use of technologies such as compound adhesives, composite tools, bow-and-arrow sets and snares, and Middle Stone Age housekeeping. Although not central to the paper, an updated list of most Middle Stone Age stone tool assemblages is presented in . Appendix A as context for sites, regions and topics mentioned throughout the text. On a theoretical level, the ratchet analogy as blanket explanation for behavioural and cognitive evolution is critiqued. Instead, the rugged fitness landscape model is brought to mind and combined with a mountaineering analogy to better explain human cognitive and behavioural flexibility as reflected in the Middle Stone Age record of sub-Saharan Africa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-155
Number of pages16
JournalQuaternary International
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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