The South African Middle Stone Age (MSA), spanning the Middle to Late Pleistocene (Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 8-3) witnessed major climatic and environmental change and dramatic change in forager technological organization including lithic raw material selection. Homo sapiens emerged during the MSA and had to make decisions about how to organize technology to cope with environmental stressors, including lithic raw material selection, which can effect tool production and application, and mobility.
This project studied the role and importance of lithic raw materials in the technological organization of foragers by focusing on why lithic raw material selection sometimes changed when the behavioral and environmental context changed. The study used the Pinnacle Point (PP) MSA record (MIS6-3) in the Mossel Bay region, South Africa as the test case. In this region, quartzite and silcrete with dramatically different properties were the two most frequently exploited raw materials, and their relative abundances change significantly through time. Several explanations intertwined with major research questions over the origins of modern humans have been proposed for this change.
Two alternative lithic raw material procurement models were considered. The first, a computational model termed the Opportunistic Acquisition Model, posits that archaeological lithic raw material frequencies are due to opportunistic encounters during random walk. The second, an analytical model termed the Active-Choice Model drawn from the principles of Optimal Foraging Theory, posits that given a choice, individuals will choose the most cost effective means of producing durable cutting tools in their environment and will strategically select those raw materials.
An evaluation of the competing models found that lithic raw material selection was a strategic behavior in the PP record. In MIS6 and MIS5, the selection of quartzite was driven by travel and search cost, while during the MIS4, the joint selection of quartzite and silcrete was facilitated by a mobility strategy that focused on longer or more frequent stays at PP coupled with place provisioning. Further, the result suggests that specific raw materials and technology were relied on to obtain food resources and perform processing tasks suggesting knowledge about raw material properties and suitability for tasks.