Border Cave and the beginning of the Later Stone Age in South Africa

Paola Villa
Sylvain Soriano
Tsenka Tsanova
Ilaria Degano
Thomas F. G. Higham
Francesco d'Errico
Lucinda Blackwell
Jeannette J. Lucejko
Maria Perla Colombini
Peter B. Beaumont


The transition from the Middle Stone Age (MSA) to the Later Stone Age (LSA) in South Africa was not associated with the appearance of anatomically modern humans and the extinction of Neandertals, as in the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in Western Europe. It has therefore attracted less attention, yet it provides insights into patterns of technological evolution not associated with a new hominin. Data from Border Cave (KwaZulu-Natal) show a strong pattern of technological change at approximately 44–42 ka cal BP, marked by adoption of techniques and materials that were present but scarcely used in the previous MSA, and some novelties. The agent of change was neither a revolution nor the advent of a new species of human. Although most evident in personal ornaments and symbolic markings, the change from one way of living to another was not restricted to aesthetics. Our analysis shows that: (i) at Border Cave two assemblages, dated to 45–49 and >49 ka, show a gradual abandonment of the technology and tool types of the post-Howiesons Poort period and can be considered transitional industries; (ii) the 44–42 ka cal BP assemblages are based on an expedient technology dominated by bipolar knapping, with microliths hafted with pitch from Podocarpus bark, worked suid tusks, ostrich eggshell beads, bone arrowheads, engraved bones, bored stones, and digging sticks; (iii) these assemblages mark the beginning of the LSA in South Africa; (iv) the LSA emerged by internal evolution; and (v) the process of change began sometime after 56 ka.