HOMO SAPIENS EVOLUTION: TRACKING THE DYNAMICS OF MIDDLE STONE AGE CULTURAL AND BEHAVIORAL CHANGES IN SOUTH AFRICA

with Marina Igreja (Laboratório de Arqueociências, LARC/CIBIO-InBIO) | November 13, 2015 - 15h00 | CIBIO-InBIO, Vairão, Portugal

 

The period running 300-30 ka was a critical one in the development of our species, witnessing the rise and spread of the first Homo Sapiens - Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH). Yet, our knowledge about the nature and extent of variability in human behavior during this period remains limited despite a growing recognition that a deeper understanding of this variability may be critical to answering larger questions about the evolution of human culture and the ultimate success of modern humans.
The Middle Stone Age (MSA) of South Africa in particular, has gained increasing attention during the last two decades due to important archaeological discoveries in debates about the antiquity of modern human behavior supporting the hypothesis of an ancient and systemic behavioral change in this region. The southern African coastline took centre-stage in global discussions concerning the location, timing and nature of the origins of behavioural modernity due to a spectacular series of 100.000 year-old finds revealing a cultural sophistication. Some of the most striking artifacts include engraved pieces of red ochre; pierced Nassarius shell beads and fragments of engraved ostrich eggshell. These are remarkable signs of this change and first evidence of modern behavior by humans, predating similar developments in Europe that only occur 40,000 years later with the Upper Palaeolithic.
This seminar focus to present results on stone tools manufacture techniques and use from ongoing multidisciplinary projects of MSA archaeological sites in South Africa, geared to understand how the earliest fully behaviourally modern humans coped with different natural conditions and structured their societies, including the question of the processes responsible for the early emergence of cognitive “modernity" in the form of the symbolic marking of artifacts.
The impact of these results has provoked lively debate that now revolve not only around the timing and tempo of the cognitive change, but also the reason(s), and way(s) in which it came about.

 

Specialized in the analysis of prehistoric stone tools functionality, Marina Igreja’s present research lines target the shift and variability of human adaptive behavior in the scope of the dispersion of the Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) from the African continent to throughout Eurasia during the Late Pleistocene. By using stone tools to infer on past human activities from distinct natural backdrops and archaeological material cultures in Western Europe and South Africa, Marina’s work aims to assess the mechanisms at play between cultural adaptation and environment, how ecological factors (e.g. bio-geological resources availability) influenced and shaped human subsistence behavioral strategies.

 

[Group Leader: Simon Davis, Environmental Archaeology]