Technological variability at Sibudu Cave: The end of Howiesons Poort and reduced mobility strategies after 62,000 years ago

Paloma de la Peña
Lyn Wadley

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We evaluate the cultural variation between the youngest Howiesons Poort layer (GR) and the oldest post-Howiesons Poort layers (RB-YA) of Sibudu Cave (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa). We first conducted a technological analysis, secondly we performed a cladistic study with all the technological traits and, finally, we compare the technological variability with other data from Sibudu (ochre, micromorphology, fauna and plant remains). The synapomorphies of the cladistical analysis show numerous lithic technological changes between the youngest Howiesons Poort and the oldest post-Howiesons Poort layers as previously concluded. However, some technological strategies that are present, yet uncommon, in the Howiesons Poort become abundant in the overlying layers, whereas others that were fundamental to the Howiesons Poort continue, but are poorly represented in the overlying layers. We further show that lithic technological strategies appear and disappear as pulses in the post-Howiesons Poort layers studied. Among the most notable changes in the post-Howiesons Poort layers is the importance of flake production from discoidal knapping methods, the unstandardized retouched pieces and their infrequent representation, and the higher than usual frequency of grindstones. We evaluate various hypotheses to explain the transformation of a Howiesons Poort formal industry to a more ‘expedient’ assemblage. Since no marked environmental changes are contemporary with the technological transformation, a change in residential mobility patterns seems a plausible explanation. This hypothesis is supported by the changes observed in stratigraphy, lithic technology, site management, ochre and firewood collection.