Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Earth and Environmental Sciences


Microlithic technology is temporally and geographically pervasive, occurring in one form or another on almost every continent by the mid-Holocene. The term ‘microlithic’, however, is used to describe a broad range of technological systems associated variably with small flake and/or blade/bladelet technology, small retouched tools (e.g. backed artefacts) and/or evidence for significant contributions of bipolar technology. Each microlithic system is unique in its arrangement of these ‘microlithic’ elements and the term can mean different things in different contexts. Before we can comprehend the significance of the prevalent trend in emphasising the production of smaller-sized stone artefacts, we must gain a better understanding of its manifestation at smaller localised scales. In particular, an appreciation of the influence of underlying local-scale controls on variation in the character and organisation of specific microlithic systems is needed. This thesis contributes new data and knowledge to this discussion by investigating early microlithic technology dating to the last glacial peak (~29–12 ka) in the eastern Cederberg of South Africa.

The widespread shift to microlithic technologies during the late Pleistocene in southern Africa is often used to mark the beginning of the Later Stone Age (LSA; c. 40–20 ka to the recent past) and the term ‘early microlithic’ is used to refer to LSA assemblages that pre-date c. 12 ka. Two successive technocomplexes are generally recognised, the earlier being the poorly-defined Early Later Stone Age (ELSA or Early LSA; c. 40– 18 ka) whose assemblages generally comprise small flakes often produced on quartz using bipolar techniques. The presence of small blade technology is quite variable. Temporally superseding the ELSA is the better-studied Robberg (c. 18–12 ka) defined by its strong emphasis on the production of small unretouched blades/bladelets from small cores. Based on current understandings, and compared to the ELSA, the Robberg appears technologically more coherent across the subcontinent leading to an impression of the Robberg as representing a superficially uniform technological tradition and an under-exploration of ‘within-system’ developments. Temporal and spatial variation, therefore, is not well understood and much variability remains to be described.