The Middle and Later Stone Age in the Iringa region of southern Tanzania.

  • Author: Pamela R. Willoughby
  • Topic: Older than 250,000 BP,40,000 to 250,000 BP
  • Country: Tanzania
  • Related Congress: 13th Congress, Dakar

Fossil, genetic and archaeological data all confirm an African origin for our own species, Homo sapiens, around 200,000 years ago. Somewhere around 40,000 to 50,000 years ago, descendants of these first modern people dispersed out of Africa and ultimately colonized the entire world. The first anatomically modern people are associated with Middle Stone Age (MSA) artifacts. But by the time modern people appeared in Europe, they brought with them a complex Upper Palaeolithic technology involving blade tools as well as some of the earliest organic artifacts, portable art and personal adornment. The sudden appearance of this “human revolution” is made more mysterious by the lack of any antecedents outside of Europe. Where did it come from? Did it develop in the African MSA or only in the subsequent Later Stone Age (LSA)? Did this new technology represent a revolution in behaviour, or at least a change in social organization and adaptation?

New research in the Iringa region in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania may offer an answer to some of these questions. Two seasons of survey and excavation (in 2006 and 2008) have demonstrated that Iringa might contain a more or less continuous archaeological record from the late Acheulean around 500,000 years ago to the present. It thus offers us a new opportunity to trace the evolution of the technology and behaviour of modern humans both prior to, and after, the great dispersal. This record is not just one of stone artifacts. Excavations have uncovered MSA occupation layers in three areas at one rockshelter, Magubike. LSA occupations also exist in two of
these areas. At a second rockshelter, Mlambalasi, there is a LSA cemetery, dating to the late Pleistocene. This site may also contain a record of the MSA to LSA transition. This presentation reviews this new evidence and what it might tell us about questions of modern human origins and dispersals.

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