CE27 - Culture, création, patrimoine

The MileStone Age: Late Pleistocene chronology and technologies in Southern Africa. – The_MileStone_Age

Submission summary

The archaeology of the Late Pleistocene in southern Africa is entangled between two current scientific perspectives, which address the origin of behavioural modernity on the one side and the origin of San material culture on the other. These two perspectives overlap two successive chronocultural phases that are, respectively, the Middle Stone Age (MSA) and the Later Stone Age (LSA). This succession is viewed as a milestone in the evolution of human populations because it inaugurates the final stage of the hunter-gatherer way of life before the adoption of farming and live-stock. However, the separation between the MSA and the LSA in Africa is an academic and Europeo-centric consensus and frame, inherited from the early 20th century, which contributes to bias our scientific narrative. In our project The MileStone Age, we question the distinctiveness of the MSA and LSA lithic technologies in southern Africa, we challenge the putative scenarios of transitions and we interrogate how the distinction between the MSA and the LSA impacts the rethinking of our evolutionary models. We propose a complete analytical shift and promote a long-term narrative merging both Late Pleistocene MSA and LSA archaeological records. Our project is based as well on a revision of the chronology of the technological expressions that manifest in the region during the Late Pleistocene.
Four clusters of sites in three different biomes across southern Africa, dated from marine isotopic stages 5 to 1, will be studied. The first cluster includes the sites of Diepkloof Rock Shelter and Elands Bay Cave in the Western Cape (South Africa); the second cluster includes the sites of Sibhudu and Umbeli Belli in KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa); the third cluster includes the sites of Heuningneskrans and Bushman Rock Shelter in Limpopo (South Africa); and the fourth cluster includes the sites of Pomongwe and Bambata Caves in the Matobo (Zimbabwe). All the sites offer long and rich occupational sequences within finely stratified deposits covering the Late Pleistocene. While some of the excavations are ongoing, most material for dating and lithic studies is already available.
Lithic technological comparisons will favour three distinct perspectives: (a) the “chronocultural intervals” will focus on defining the technocomplexes, (b) the “chronocultural contacts” will focus on the scenario(s) of transitions; (c) the “techno-functional attributes” will focus on the innovative lithic tools that develop across southern Africa at different moments in time during the Late Pleistocene. Regarding the dating, two methods will be applied: Optically Stimulated Luminescence dating of sediments and uranium-series dating of biominerals. Both will benefit from recent technological and methodological breakthroughs that intend to go beyond the current state of the art. With regard to the dissemination of our results and in addition to papers and conferences, we intend to organize two main workshops in South Africa with the purpose to present and discuss lithic collections with African students and researchers.
The project is scheduled for four years, for a total cost of 436 k€. The IRAMAT-CRP2A will manage the luminescence dating of sediments while the IPREM will be in charge of the U-series dating of biocarbonates. The LAMPEA will organize the lithic technological studies in collaboration with three international partners from the University of Tübingen (Germany), the University of Liège (Belgium), and the University of Cape Town (South Africa). This project relies on three funded excavation projects, thus ensuring access to the samples and sites. It is also embedded within a wide, dynamic and efficient network, including both experienced and young European and African scholars.

Project coordination


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CNRS DR12_LAMPEA Centre national de la Recherche Scientififique_LAMPEA
Université de Liège / Traceolab
UCT Université de Cape Town
Université de Tübingen / Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology

Help of the ANR 417,154 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2021 - 48 Months

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