Africa's Homo sapiens were the first techies

Dec 05, 2012
This is a Bone point from the Middle Stone Age levels at Peers Cave. The exact context is unknown (see d’Errico and Henshilwood 2007); b–g Bone tools from the Still Bay levels at Blombos Cave; b–e bone awls; f–g bone points; h–i engraved lines on tools c and g (see Henshilwood et al. 2001a; d’Errico and Henshilwood 2007); j engraved bone fragment (see d’Errico et al. 2001) 220 J World Prehist (2012) 25:205–237 123 Credit: Christopher Henshilwood

The search for the origin of modern human behaviour and technological advancement among our ancestors in southern Africa some 70 000 years ago, has taken a step closer to firmly establishing Africa, and especially South Africa, as the primary centre for the early development of human behaviour.

A new research paper by renowned Wits University archaeologist, Prof. Christopher Henshilwood, is the first detailed summary of the time periods he and a group of international researchers have been studying in South Africa: namely the Still Bay techno-traditions (c. 75 000 – 70 000 years) and the Howiesons Poort techno-tradition (c. 65 000 – 60 000 years).

The paper, entitled Late Pleistocene Techno-traditions in Southern Africa: A Review of the Still Bay and Howiesons Poort, c. 75 ka, has been published online in the Journal of World Prehistory on 6 November 2012.

Henshilwood says these periods were significant in the development of sapiens behaviour in southern Africa. They were periods of many innovations including, for example, the first abstract art (engraved ochre and engraved ostrich eggshell); the first jewellery (); the first bone tools; the earliest use of the pressure flaking technique, that was used in combination with heating to make stone spear points and the first probable use of stone tipped arrows launched by bow.

These are engraved ochres from the Still Bay M1 phase at Blombos Cave (modified after Henshilwood et al. 2009). This shows; a) Two groups of incisions, one on the center and one close to the edge. In the center two joining lines form a ‘Y’ that is crossed by a few perpendicular parallel lines. Three incisions cross these lines; b) Two lines that cross perpendicularly on the top right margin. Converging lines produced with a single lithic point; c) this piece retains only a small area of the original engraved pattern. Three straight oblique lines incised on the top left with two sinuous lines that cross them; d) three distinct sets of lines engraved on a natural surface. Piece was then knapped and a part of the engraving removed; e) a group of sinuous lines engraved on one face. The opposite face is highly scraped and engraved with a cross-hatched pattern; and f) Cross-hatched pattern incised on one long edge. Credit: Christopher Henshilwood

"All of these innovations, plus many others we are just discovering, clearly show that Homo sapiens in southern Africa at that time were cognitively modern and behaving in many ways like ourselves. It is a good reason to be proud of our earliest, common ancestors who lived and evolved in South Africa and who later spread out into the rest of the world after about 60 000 years," says Henshilwood.

The research also addresses some of the nagging questions as to what drove our to develop these . According to Henshilwood answers to these questions are, in part, found in demography and climate change, particularly changing sea levels, which were major drivers of innovation and variability in material culture.

This paper is just the latest to come from Henshilwood and his teams' research on African archaeology that revolutionised the idea that modern originated in Europe after about 40 000 years ago. There is increasing evidence for an African origin for behavioural and technological modernity more than 70 000 ago and that the earliest origin of all Homo sapiens lies in Africa with a special focus in .

Henshilwood writes: "In just the past decade our knowledge of Homo sapiens behaviour in the Middle Stone Age, and in particular of the Still Bay and Howiesons Poort, has expanded considerably. With the benefit of hindsight we may ironically conclude that the origins of 'Neanthropic Man', the epitome of behavioural modernity in Europe, lay after all in Africa."

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User comments : 7

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aaron1960
1 / 5 (6) Dec 05, 2012
Thank god for climate change! We would still be swinging in trees without it.
Donutz
4.8 / 5 (5) Dec 05, 2012
large climate change swings will benefit some species at the expense of others -- unless of course the swing is big enough to kill everything!

Last time it benefited us. This time, probably not so much. We use so much of the environment, and as efficiently as possible, that ANY change is going to be negative. The only question is HOW negative.
aaron1960
2 / 5 (3) Dec 05, 2012
... or man may just adapt as we did through the last several ice ages and hot spells.
flashgordon
not rated yet Dec 05, 2012
A more probably reason for spreading out is they had superior culture/technology; hence, there was little resistance from others.

What's neat here is we can see a dominant technological society and where it started; southern Africa! You'd think central east Africa or even somewhere in southern Europe or southwest Asia.

What's also exciting is how it's not just weapons but art that was dominant in this culture seventy thousand years ago.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
not rated yet Dec 06, 2012
Last time we adapted. This time, probably not so much. The number of killed and suffering from weather extremes of any kind, mostly the poor, is so large that ANY increased hot weather extreme rate and amplitude is going to mean a lot more deaths and suffering, and a heavily increased cost. The only question is HOW much morals and money we are willing to throw away on something preventable.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
not rated yet Dec 06, 2012
@ flashgordon: It was probably complicated - note the large lag time before spreading. But they didn't meet a heavy population density, if the Neanderthal and Denisovan population models are correct (and they seem to be).
Cave_Man
not rated yet Dec 09, 2012
... or man may just adapt as we did through the last several ice ages and hot spells.


Yeah because last time 7 billion people went hungry nobody ate each other, so we will be fine this time too...oh wait...

Humans will survive, the question is what will we be then? Morlocks? Back at hairy club wielders?

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