Continuity or Punctuation in the African Archaeological Record After 500,000 Years Ago

Session Date: 
Feb 21, 2020

When investigating how, when and where our ancestors in Africa gained the ability to expand globally and to replace, for the most part, existing occupants, we often examine the archaeological record for evidence of increasing human behavioral complexity. “Sophisticated” stone tool technology, the manufacturing of bone tools, the use and engraving of pigments, the employment of mollusk and ostrich eggshell beads, and the control of fire for cooking, heating stone materials, and processing compounds are frequently seen as indicators of evolving human cognition by demonstrating the use of language, innovativeness, and/or cumulative culture. However, these behaviors do not appear simultaneously in the African archaeological record, which also encompasses a vast continent. They possibly appear gradually through the Middle and Late Pleistocene (781 000–126 000 and 126 000–11 700 years ago) or more abruptly with the transition from the Acheulean to the Middle Stone Age (~300 000 years ago) in the mid-Middle Pleistocene, within the Middle Stone Age, or at the end of the Middle Stone Age (~40 000 years ago). I will review what we know and productive areas of future research into the tempo and spatial patterning of later phases of human behavioral evolution and highlight how this information should be used to more formally test distinct models of modern human origins in Africa.

File 2020_02_21_07_Steele.mp4107.82 MB