Prehistoric stone tool residue analysis from Rose Cottage Cave and other South African sites


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Publication Date

January 2000


Microscopic and molecular analysis of prehistoric stone tool residues has yielded new information on tool use and prehistoric diet. Low and high power microscopy of use residues from Rose Cottage Cave, and from other sites analysed for comparative purposes, were used to test assumptions about stone tool use in general. The detailed microscopic analysis of the selection of artifacts from Rose Cottage Cave and other sites in southern Africa has answered specific questions relating to tool use and many of the findings have been counter-intuitive to assumed stone tool function based on traditional, typological classification systems. Of significance is the predominance of plant residues and evidence of multiple tool use observed on the artifact surfaces. Unexpectedly, the formal, retouched component of the sampled assemblage had the lowest occurrence of use residues. An essential aspect of the microscopy study was replication experiments involving stone tool use and burial in a simulated archaeological deposit. The importance of reference collections of plant materials (starch, plant cellular tissue, fibres, seeds, pollen etc.) and animal materials (blood samples, hairs, feathers, and shells) cannot be over-emphasised.

Molecular biological and cloning techniques were applied to extracts of blood films from the stone tools, rock art pigments samples and to modern tissue and blood extracts. DNA was extracted and amplified with the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and primers for the DNA coding for the 28s ribosomal RNA (rRNA) region. The DNA was sufficiently intact to yield genetically informative sequences. DNA from archaeological bone could not be amplified. Cloning techniques facilitated the separation of amplified DNA fragments from different species represented in one tool residue. Phylogenetic analyses applied to the resulting sequences indicate that at least one bird species and an antelope species are represented in the residues. The rock art pigment appears to contain DNA from an antelope species. A sa

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