East African Archaeological Evidence

Session Date: 
May 10, 2013

 Apart from references to the oldest fossil hominins attributed to Homo sapiens, the East African record is often ignored in current scenarios of modern human origins in favor of the much more detailed, well-preserved and better-explored region at the southern end of the continent. Over 20 years of research in the eastern and south-central African zones of woodlands and savannas surrounding the central African rainforest have produced new evidence concerning the transition from pre-sapiens behavior to behaviors more characteristic of the Late Pleistocene humans who expanded from Africa and replaced the pre-existing populations of Eurasia. In long sequences from Kenya, Ethiopia and to a lesser extent, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and the Sudan, radical shifts to new more complex technologies, economic strategies and social formations began around 500 kya. Well before the first appearance of H. sapiens, earlier Acheulian technologies had been largely abandoned in favor of smaller, more standardized flakes and elongated blades, shaped into scrapers, points, knives and other tools, some of which were thinned at the base for hafting. Two of the most striking features of the Middle Pleistocene record are the evidence for the collection and use of large quantities of ochre, and for very long distance transport of raw materials for tools. The importation of exotic materials implies new relationships between groups, and expanded social networks, as well as new ways of thinking about and scheduling resource procurement. The use of ochre also carries possible symbolic implications. The Late Pleistocene record parallels but differs from the contemporaneous South African coastal record. While possibly sharing an early appearance of personal ornaments and small geometrically-shaped lithics, East Africa differs in its emphasis on extensive raw material networks, and in the widespread presence of small points which likely functioned as elements in a complex projectile weapons system. The transition to the Later Stone Age began by 60m to 50 kya, and continues without the reversion to earlier technological and economic systems seen in South Africa.

File 2013_05_10_05_Brooks.mp4101.95 MB