Report

Environmental dynamics during the onset of the Middle Stone Age in eastern Africa

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  06 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6384, pp. 86-90
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao2200

You are currently viewing the abstract.

View Full Text

Log in to view the full text

Log in through your institution

Log in through your institution

The Middle Stone Age in Africa

The Olorgesailie basin in the southern Kenya rift valley contains sediments dating back to 1.2 million years ago, preserving a long archaeological record of human activity and environmental conditions. Three papers present the oldest East African evidence of the Middle Stone Age (MSA) and elucidate the system of technology and behavior associated with the origin of Homo sapiens. Potts et al. present evidence for the demise of Acheulean technology that preceded the MSA and describe variations in late Acheulean hominin behavior that anticipate MSA characteristics. The transition to the MSA was accompanied by turnover of large mammals and large-scale landscape change. Brooks et al. establish that ∼320,000 to 305,000 years ago, the populations in eastern Africa underwent a technological shift upon procurement of distantly sourced obsidian for toolmaking, indicating the early development of social exchange. Deino et al. provide the chronological underpinning for these discoveries.

Science, this issue p. 86, p. 90, p. 95

Abstract

Development of the African Middle Stone Age (MSA) before 300,000 years ago raises the question of how environmental change influenced the evolution of behaviors characteristic of early Homo sapiens. We used temporally well-constrained sedimentological and paleoenvironmental data to investigate environmental dynamics before and after the appearance of the early MSA in the Olorgesailie basin, Kenya. In contrast to the Acheulean archeological record in the same basin, MSA sites are associated with a markedly different faunal community, more pronounced erosion-deposition cycles, tectonic activity, and enhanced wet-dry variability. Aspects of Acheulean technology in this region imply that, as early as 615,000 years ago, greater stone material selectivity and wider resource procurement coincided with an increased pace of land-lake fluctuation, potentially anticipating the adaptability of MSA hominins.

View Full Text