Late Acheulean occupations at Montagu Cave and the pattern of Middle Pleistocene behavioral change in Western Cape, southern Africa

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Journal of Human Evolution


Patterns of so-called modern human behavior are increasingly well documented in an abundance of Middle Stone Age archaeological sites across southern Africa. Contextualized archives directly preceding the southern African Middle Stone Age, however, remain scarce. Current understanding of the terminal Acheulean in southern Africa derives from a small number of localities that are predominantly in the central and northern interior. Many of these localities are surface and deflated contexts, others were excavated prior to the availability of modern field documentation techniques, and yet other relevant assemblages contain low numbers of characteristic artifacts relative to volume of excavated deposit. The site of Montagu Cave, situated in the diverse ecosystem of the Cape Floral Region, South Africa, contains the rare combination of archaeologically rich, laminated and deeply stratified Acheulean layers followed by a younger Middle Stone Age occupation. Yet little is known about the site owing largely to a lack of contextual information associated with the early excavations. Here we present renewed excavation of Levels 21–22 at Montagu Cave, located in the basal Acheulean sequence, including new data on site formation and ecological context, geochronology, and technological variability. We document intensive occupation of the cave by Acheulean tool-producing hominins, likely at the onset of interglacial conditions in MIS 7. New excavations at Montagu Cave suggest that, while Middle Stone Age technologies were practiced by 300 ka in several other regions of Africa, the classic Acheulean persisted later in the Fynbos Biome of the southwestern Cape. We discuss the implications of this regionalized persistence for the biogeography of African later Middle Pleistocene hominin populations, for the ecological drivers of their technological systems, and for the pattern and pace of behavioral change just prior to the proliferation of the southern African later Middle Stone Age.

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