Varsche Rivier 003, a new Middle Stone Age site in southern Namaqualand, South Africa
The Middle Stone Age (MSA) archaeological record of South Africa figures prominently in investigations into modern human origins, because of its long history of research and because the local geology encourages the preservation of sites of the desired antiquity. Discoveries of worked bone (Henshilwood et al. 2001; Backwell et al. 2008), engraved ochre (Henshilwood et al. 2002, 2009; Mackay & Welz 2008), perforated shells potentially used as beads (Henshilwood et al. 2004; d’Errico et al. 2005, 2008) and engraved ostrich eggshell (Parkington et al. 2006; Texier et al. 2010) have been used to argue for an earlier appearance or more gradual accumulation of behavioural innovations. In addition, these items often occur in association with two distinct variants of the MSA: the Still Bay characterised by finely-worked bifacial points and the Howieson’s Poort noted for its small backed artefacts. However, innovative items are not ubiquitous throughout the MSA and are absent in some modern excavations (Avery et al. 2008), and the Still Bay (~75–67 kya) and Howieson’s Poort (~65–60 kya) appear to be temporally constrained and subsequently replaced by more typical MSA artefacts (Wadley 2005; Jacobs et al. 2008). Therefore, further research is needed into the adaptive significance of these artefacts, why they are so spatio-temporally patchy, and how they relate to the origins of modern human behaviour and subsequent expansions out of Africa.
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