African Archaeological Review

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 177–197 | Cite as

Human Technical Behavior in the African Middle Stone Age: The Lithic Assemblage of Porc-Epic Cave (Dire Dawa, Ethiopia)

  • David PleurdeauEmail author

The African origin of modern humans is the center of a large debate. Discoveries of anatomically modern human fossils in Sub-Saharan Africa correlated to lithic and faunal artifacts show that a “modern Behavior” is associated with the emergence of Homo sapiens. Even though the traits to define this modernity are sometimes difficult to apprehend, the study of the Middle Stone Age cultural phase is important for understanding the origin and evolution of the cognitive capacity of modern humans. Porc-Epic Cave in Ethiopia has a long sequence of Upper Pleistocene occupation. Several thousand bone and lithic artifacts were excavated during three major field excavations (1933, 1974, 1975–76). The lithic assemblage reveals that the relationship between humans and their environment is well organized and that the African terminology is sometimes difficult to apply. This paper proposes a synthesis of all the data, studies and conclusions I have made from the analysis of lithic materials from the 1933 and 1975–76 excavations in order to integrate Porc-Epic into the current debate of MSA and modern human Behavior.

L'origine de l'Homme moderne en Afrique fait l'objet actuellement d'un large débat. Les décourvertes de fossiles d'Homo sapiens en Afrique sub-saharienne associés à des industries lithiques montrent que, en parallèle à l'émergence de cette nouvelle espèce humaine, un comportement dit moderne s'est développé. Le Middle Stone Age est donc une période culturelle charnière dans l'évolution comportementale de l'homme. La grotte du Porc-Épic, en Éthiopie, est un témoignage de cette ère avec un remplissage pléistocène supérieur contenant des dizaines de milliers de restes fauniques et lithiques. L'étude de son important assemblage lithique révèle que le rapport de l'homme à la matière et à son environnement est très organisé et que le terminologie culturelle africaine est parfois difficile à utiliser.


Prehistory horn of Africa Proc-Epic cave anatomically modern human middle stone age technical behavior 



Scientific and amicable help from several people has contributed to the realization of this study. So, I would like to thank Prof. H. de Lumley for allowing me to study the Porc-Epic lithic material stored in Paris; Sally McBrearty, M.-H. Moncel and P.-J. Texier for their advice; Dr. Yonas Beyene for helping and supporting me; Mrs. Mamitu Yilma, director of the National Museum of Ethiopia (NME) for her cooperation and for her acceptance for the study of the Porc-Epic material stored at the NME; and the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritages (ARCCH). I would especially like to thank the Fyssen Foundation (Paris), which provided funding for my study at the NME (Addis Ababa). Many thanks also to the anonymous reviewers who gave me much advice and helped me to improve this paper.


  1. Ambrose, S. H. (1998). Chronology of the later stone age and food production in East Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science 25: 377–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Assefa, Z. (2002). Investigations of Faunal Remains from Porc-Epic: A Middle Stone Age Site in Southeastern Ethiopia. Ph.D. Thesis. State University of New York, Stony Brook.Google Scholar
  3. Brandt, S. A. (1986). The upper pleistocene and early holocene prehistory of the horn of Africa. The African Archaeological Review 4: 41–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brandt, S. A., and Gresham, T. H. (1989). L'Âge de la Pierre en Somalie. L'Anthropologie 94: 459–482.Google Scholar
  5. Breuil, H., Teilhard de Chardin, P., and Wernert, P. (1951). Le Paléolithique du Harrar. L'Anthropologie 55: 219–228.Google Scholar
  6. Clark, J. D. (1988). The middle stone age of east africa and the beginnings of regional identity. Journal of World Prehistory 2: 235–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clark, J. D. (1989). The origins and spread of modern humans: a broad perspective on the African evidence. In Mellars, P. A., and Stringer, C. B. (eds.), The Human Revolution. Behavioural and Biological Perspectives on the Origins of Modern Humans, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, pp. 65–588.Google Scholar
  8. Clark, J. D. (1993). African and Asian perspectives on the origins of modern humans. In Stringer, C. B., Mellars, P. A. and Aitken, M. J. (eds.), The Origin of Modern Humans and the Impact of Chronometric Dating, Princeton University Press, Princeton, pp. 148–178.Google Scholar
  9. Clark, J. D., and Williamson, K. D. (1984). A middle stone age occupation site at Porc-Epic Cave, Dire Dawa (east-central Ethiopia), Part I. The African Archaeological Review 2: 37–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clark, J. D., Beyene, Y., Woldegabriel, G., Hart, W. K., Renne, P. R., GILBERT, H., Defleur, A., Suwa, G., Katoh, K., Ludwig, K. R., Boisserie, J.-R., Asfaw, B., and White, T. D. (2003). Stratigraphic, chronological and behavioural contexts of Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia. Nature 423: 747–752.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Deacon, H. J., and Geleijnse, V. (1985). La Préhistoire d'Afrique du Sud: un aperçu. L'Anthropologie 89: 285–305.Google Scholar
  12. Deacon, H. J., and Wurz, S. (1996). Klasies River main site, cave 2: a Howiesons Poort occurrence. In Pwiti, G., and Soper, R. (eds.), Aspects of African Archaeology. Papers from the 10th Congress of the Pan-African Association for Prehistory and Related Studies, University of Zimbabwe Publications, Harare, pp. 213–218.Google Scholar
  13. Foley, R., and Lahr, M. M. (2003). On stony ground: Lithic technology, human evolution, and the emergence of culture. Evolutionary Anthropology 12: 109–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Guichard, J., and Guichard, G. (1965). The Early and Middle Palaeolithic of Nubia: A preliminary Report. In Wendorf, F. (eds.), Contributions to the Prehistory of Nubia, Forth Burgin Research Center and Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, pp. 57–166.Google Scholar
  15. Henshilwood, C. S., Sealy, J. C., Yates, R., Cruz-Uribe, K., Goldberg, P., Grine, F. E., Klein, R. G., Poggenpoel, C., van Niekerk, K., and Watts, I. (2001). Blombos Cave, Southern Cape, South Africa: Preliminary Report on the 1992–1999. Excavations of the Middle Stone Age Levels. Journal of Archaeological Science 28: 421–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Henshilwood, C. S., and Marean, C. W. (2003). The origin of modern human behavior. Current Anthropology 44: 627–651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Klein, R. G. (1995). Anatomy, behavior, and modern human origins. Journal of World Prehistory 9: 167–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kleindienst, M. R. (2000). On the Nile corridor and the Out-of-Africa model. Current Anthropology 41: 107–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kurashina, H. (1978). An examination of prehistoric lithic technology in east-central Ethiopia. Ph.D. Thesis. University of California, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  20. Hayden, B. (1993). The cultural capacity of Neandertals: A review and reevaluation. Journal of Human Evolution 24: 113–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Marks, A. (1968). The Halfan Industry. In Wendorf, F. (ed.) The prehistory of Nubia, Fort Burgwin Research Center, Texas, pp. 392–460.Google Scholar
  22. McBrearty, S. (1993). Reconstructing the environmental conditions surrounding the appearance of Modern Humans in East Africa. Culture and Environment: A Fragile Coexistence. Proceedings of the Twenty-Fourth Annual Conference of the Archaeological Association of the University of Calgary, pp.145–154.Google Scholar
  23. McBrearty, S. (2000). Identifying the Acheulian to Middle Stone Age transition in the Kapthurin Formation, Baringo, Kenya. Abstracts for the Paleoanthropology Society Meetings, pp. A12.Google Scholar
  24. McBrearty, S., and Brooks, A. S. (2000). The revolution that wasn't: A new interpretation of the origin of modern human behavior. Journal of Human Evolution 39: 453–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mehlman, M. J. (1989). Late Quaternary Archaeological Sequences in Northern Tanzania. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Illinois, Urbana.Google Scholar
  26. Mehlman, M. J. (1991). Context for the emergence of modern man in Eastern Africa: Some new Tanzanian evidence. In Clark, J. D. (eds.), Cultural Beginnings. Approaches to Understanding Early Hominid Life-ways in the African Savanna. Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz Forschungsinstitut für vor- und Frühgeschichte Monographie n. 19., R. Habelt, Bonn, pp. 159–176.Google Scholar
  27. Mellars, P. A. (1991). Cognitive changes and the emergence of modern humans in Europe. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 1: 763–776.Google Scholar
  28. Michels, J. W., and Marean, C. A. (1984). A middle stone age occupation site at Porc-Epic Cave, Dire Dawa (east-central Ethiopia), Part II. The African Archaeological Review 2: 64–71.Google Scholar
  29. Negash, A., and Shackley, M. S. (2006). Geochemical provenance of obsidian artefacts from the MSA site of Porc Epic, Ethiopia. Archaeometry 48(1): 1–12.Google Scholar
  30. Perlès, C. (1974). Réexamen typologique de l'industrie du Porc-Épic (Éthiopie): Les pointes et pièces pointues. L'Anthropologie 78: 529–552.Google Scholar
  31. Pleurdeau, D. (2003). Le Middle Stone Age de la grotte du Porc-Épic (Dire Dawa, Éthiopie): gestion des matières premières et comportements techniques. L'Anthropologie 107: 15–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pleurdeau, D. (2004). Gestion des matières premières et comportements techniques dans le Middle Stone Age africain: les assemblages lithiques de la grotte du Porc-Épic (Dire Dawa, Éthiopie). British Archaeological Reports International Series 1317.Google Scholar
  33. Singer, R., and Wymer, J. (1982). The Middle Stone Age of Klasies River Mouth in South Africa, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  34. Teilhard de Chardin, P. (1930). Le Paléolithique en Somalie française et en Abyssinie. L'Anthropologie 40: 331–334.Google Scholar
  35. Tryon, C. A., and McBrearty, S. (2002). Tephrostratigraphy and the Acheulian to Middle Stone Age transition in the Kapthurin Formation, Kenya. Journal of Human Evolution 42: 211–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Vallois, H. V. (1951). La Mandibule humaine fossile de la grotte du Porc-Épic près de Diré-Daoua (Abyssinie). L'Anthropologie 55: 231–238.Google Scholar
  37. Van Peer, P. (1988). La variabilité de la technologie Levallois dans la vallée du Nil égyptien. Revue archéologique de Picardie. Actes du colloque d'Amiens, 1986 “Culture et industries du Paléolithique en milieu loessique”. 12: 187–193.Google Scholar
  38. Van Peer, P. (1998). The Nile corridor and the out-of-Africa model. An examination of the archaeological Record. Current Anthropology 39: s115–s140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Van Peer, P., and Vermeersch, P. M. (1990). Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition: the evidence for the Nile Valley. In Mellars, P. A. (ed.), The Emergence of Modern Humans. An archaeological Perspestive. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, pp. 139–159.Google Scholar
  40. Vermeersch, P. M. (1992). The Upper and Late Palaeolithic of Northern and Eastern Africa. In Klees, F., and Kuper, R. (eds.), New Lights on the Northeast African Past. Henrich-Barth Institut, Köln, pp. 99–154.Google Scholar
  41. Vermeersch, P. M. (2001). “Out of Africa” from an Egyptian point of view. Quaternary International 75: 103–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Vermeersch, P. M., Paulissen, E., and Van Peer, P. (1990). Le Paléolithique de la Vallée du Nil égyptien. L'Anthropologie 94: 435–458.Google Scholar
  43. Wendorf, F., and Schild, R. (1992). The Middle Paleolithic of North Africa: A status report. In Klees, F., and Kuper, R. (eds.), New Lights on the Northeast African Past. Henrich-Barth Institut, Köln, pp. 40–78.Google Scholar
  44. Wurz, S. (1999). The Howieson's Poort backed artefacts from Klasies River: An argument for symbolic behaviour. South African Archaeological Bulletin 54: 38–50.Google Scholar
  45. White, T. D., Asfaw, B., Degusta, D., Gilbert, H., Richards, G. D., Suwa, G., and Clark Howell, F. (2003). Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia. Nature 423: 742–747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Département de Préhistoire du Muséum National D'Histoire NaturelleInstitut de Paléontologie Humaine-1ParisFrance

Personalised recommendations