African Archaeological Review

, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 99–105 | Cite as

The ‘Sand-Bath’ and Lithic Heat Treatment in the South African Middle Stone Age: Myth or Reality?

  • Patrick SchmidtEmail author
Review Article


When heat treatment of silcrete for stone knapping was first discovered in the South African Middle Stone Age (MSA), the procedure used for it was suggested to be similar to the one used for heat treatment of finer rocks in other parts of the world: slow sand-bath heating. This comparison may have been based on published data from the fields of ethnography, experimentation and archaeology, describing sand-bath like structures and processes. In this review, I discuss whether the available data from these three fields indeed justify the suggestions that sand-bath heating was used in the context of MSA silcrete heat treatment. A careful revaluation of the available data shows that, although sand-bath heating is a widely accepted procedure that is documented in other parts of the world, understanding the earliest known cases of heat treatment in the MSA calls for another technical procedure.


Heat treatment Ethnoarchaeology Transformative technology Pyrotechnology Silcrete 


Lors de la découverte du traitement thermique réalisé sur les silcrètes du Middle Stone Age (MSA) d’Afrique du Sud, l’hypothèse d’un traitement en bain de sable, processus largement utilisé pour la chauffe des silex dans d’autres régions du monde, a été proposée. Cette assimilation repose sur des données issues des recherches en ethnographie, archéologie ou sur des travaux expérimentaux utilisant des structures similaires à des bains de sable. Cet article considère les données publiées dans ces trois domaines et tente d’évaluer si la chauffe en bain de sable a réellement pu être utilisée dans le contexte du MSA d’Afrique du Sud. Les résultats de cette réévaluation montrent que, même si la chauffe en bain de sable est bien documentée et largement acceptée comme une technique répandue dans le monde scientifique, la compréhension des premiers traitements thermiques dans le MSA d’Afrique du Sud doit faire appel à une autre technique de chauffe.



I thank the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) for funding my research project Heat Treatment in the South African MSA that made the present paper possible.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


This study was funded by the Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) (Grant Nr: CO 226/25-1, MI 1748/2-1, NI 299/25-1).

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Prehistory and Quaternary EcologyEberhard Karls University of TübingenTübingenGermany

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