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African Archaeological Review

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 3–20 | Cite as

The Middle Stone Age in East Africa and modern human origins

  • Pamela R. Willoughby
Article

Abstract

East Africa, the region where Merrick Posnansky started his professional career, has long been accepted as the major centre for the study of the origins of hominids and their technological systems. Recently, human geneticists and some palaeoanthropologists have also proposed an African origin for anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens), although much of the proof cited is from non-African sources — mainly Europe and the Middle East. Fortunately these models have stimulated reassessment of the sub-Saharan Middle Stone Age (MSA), the archaeological phase between 200,000 and 30,000 years ago which represents the beginnings of regional variation in technology and cultural adaptation as well as the period in which modern humans appeared. Long ignored by East African archaeologists in favour of the earliest cultural record, or, at the other extreme, Neolithic and Iron Age research, the MSA is critical to the evaluation of models of the emergence of our own species. This paper reviews the current arguments concerning the origin and dispersal of modern humans, and the importance of the MSA for the resolution of the problem. It also describes the results from a 1990 survey for MSA sites conducted in southwestern Tanzania within the framework of these current models.

Keywords

Regional Variation Technological System Cultural Study Human Origin Current Argument 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Résumé

L'Afrique orientale, où Merrick Posnansky commença sa carrière professionnelle, est depuis longtemps reconnue comme un centre important pour l'étude des origines des hominides et de leurs systèmes technologiques. Récemment, des généticiens et des paléoanthropologues ont aussi suggéré que les humains anatomiquement modernes (Homo sapiens sapiens) auraient des origines africaines, bien qu'un grand nombre des preuves citées proviennent de sources non-africaines, principalement d'Europe et du Moyen-Orient. Heureusement, ces modèles ont encouragé la réévaluation de l'âge de pierre moyen (MSA) sous-saharien, phase archéologique d'il y a 200.000 à 30.000 ans, qui représente les débuts des variations régionales sur le plan de la technologie et de l'adaptation culturelle. C'est aussi la période durant laquelle les étres humains modernes sont apparus. Longtemps ignoré par les archéologues d'Afrique orientale en faveur de témoignages cultures plus anciens ou, à l'autre extrême, des recherches de l'âge néolithique et de l'âge de fer, le MSA est crucial pour l'évaluation de modèles d'émergence de notre propre espèce. Cet article examine les arguments actuels concernant l'origine et la dispersion des humains modernes, et l'importance du MSA pour la résolution de ce problème. Il décrit également les résultats d'une recherche de sites MSA menée en 1990 dans le sud-ouest tanzanien, dans le cadre de ces modèles actuels.

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  • Pamela R. Willoughby

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