Catchment survey in the Karonga District: a landscape-scale analysis of provisioning and core reduction strategies during the middle stone age of northern Malawi
The landscape of northern Malawi is defined by several river catchments that drain from the highlands in the west into Lake Malawi in the east. Many thousands of Middle Stone Age (MSA) artefacts are present on the surface, in particular, in areas where sedimentary units assigned to the Chitimwe Beds are exposed. The unique configuration of the region and its exposures makes it possible to address landscape-scale questions about MSA behaviour that augment information derived from excavated assemblages. In this study, data are derived from initial results of surveys conducted in 2012 which focussed on how lithic raw materials (in the form of cobbles) and core technology (in the form of mapped and analysed cores) are distributed across the landscape relative to different landforms, geologies and one another. These data are used to examine if differences in core reduction technology occur in different catchment areas with different raw material quantities and qualities, and to test hypotheses about lithic provisioning scenarios. This allows for examination of core reduction technologies in relation to raw material sources via surface finds, on a larger regional scale than is usually possible from excavations. Different catchments show differences in the type and quality of the raw material, with higher-quality quartzites occurring in the North Rukuru catchment and declining to the south. This is reflected in the types of materials that MSA people chose to use for the production of stone tools. However, differences in raw material selection and distance from cobbles did not influence preferred core reduction strategies, and most cores cluster together near cobble sources. This suggests that throughout the MSA in the study area, core reduction strategies were highly conserved even while raw material use remained flexible, and cores were not regularly transported as part of a provisioning strategy.