Identifying regional variability in Middle Stone Age bone technology: the case of Sibudu Cave


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Publication Date

July 2012


A few pieces of worked bone were previously reported from Sibudu, a site from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa featuring a stratigraphic sequence with pre-Still Bay, Still Bay, Howiesons Poort, post-Howiesons Poort, late and final MSA cultural horizons. Here we describe an expanded collection of worked bones, including twenty-three pieces. Technological and use-wear analysis of these objects, and their comparison with experimental and ethnographic data, reveals that a number of specialised bone tool types (wedges, pièces esquillées, pressure flakers, smoothers, sequentially notched pieces), previously known only from the Upper Palaeolithic and more recent periods, were manufactured and used at least 30,000 years earlier at Sibudu Cave. These tools appear to be part of a local tradition because they are absent at contemporaneous or more recent southern African sites. Variability in Middle Stone Age material culture supports a scenario in which, beyond broad similarities in lithic technology, significant differences between regions, and trends of continuity at a local scale emerge in other aspects of the technical system, and in the symbolic domain. The archaeological record is revealing a complexity that prevents evaluation of the modern character of Middle Stone Age cultures in antinomic terms. We argue here that it is the detailed analysis of cultural variation that will inform us of the non-linear processes at work during this period, and contribute in the long run to explaining how and when crucial cultural innovations became established in human history.


Bone implements, Prehistoric, Caves, Mesolithic period, Africa, South Africa, KwaZulu/Natal, Sibudu Cave




Volume 39, Issue 7 17 p.