Blade technology and tool forms in the Middle Stone Age of South Africa: the Howiesons Poort and post-Howiesons Poort at Rose Cottage Cave


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Publication Date

May 2007


It has been suggested that between 80 and 35 ka the Middle Stone Age record of South Africa reveals episodes of inventiveness and innovation, punctuated by apparent returns to more conventional technologies. One such episode is the Howiesons Poort (HP). The appearance of a range of small geometric forms, apparently used as insets in multi-component tools, has been considered as evidence of improved hunting weapons, with possible social and symbolic connotations. On the basis of evidence such as backed tool production, small blade technology, the occurrence of typical end-scrapers and burins similar to those encountered in the European Upper Paleolithic, long-distance transport of fine-grained raw materials, and non-lithic novelties, the HP is associated with increased levels of technological efficiency and with behavioral innovations that could have allowed the expansion of African populations to other regions. Yet our knowledge of HP technology and tool production is limited to the analysis of Klasies River Main site by Singer and Wymer and Sarah Wurz, and a few preliminary reports from other sites. This is why we present here a detailed technological and typological analysis of several HP and post-HP assemblages from the well-excavated, well-dated and well-stratified site of Rose Cottage. Our analysis shows: (a) that the HP blade production was a real technical innovation, but was not based on indirect percussion, as often suggested; (b) that blade production was based on the use of marginal percussion which does not occur in the blade production of the Eurasian Middle Paleolithic; (c) that the tool kit was dominated by backed pieces, but not all can be considered as hunting weapons; (d) that neither end-scrapers nor burins are typical of this industry and are no more an antecedent to the European Upper Paleolithic than the end-scrapers and burins of the Middle Paleolithic; (e) that patterns of raw material procurement do not conform to models based on evidence from Klasies; (f) that diachronic changes within t


Lithic Technology, Blades, Backed Pieces, Chaînes Opératoires, Howiesons Poort, Middle Stone Age