Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 389–414 | Cite as

Assemblage variability and bifacial points in the lowermost Sibudan layers at Sibudu, South Africa

  • Manuel WillEmail author
  • Nicholas J. Conard
Original Paper


Building on the important work of Lyn Wadley at Sibudu, archeologists from the University of Tübingen have excavated the upper stratigraphic units of the Middle Stone Age (MSA) sequence down to the Howiesons Poort (HP). Here, we present the main results from lithic analyses of the lowest part of the Sibudan sequence to assess its overall variability and taxonomic status. Based on the new findings, we also discuss the implications for archeological systematics and the cultural evolution of modern humans in MIS 3 from a more general perspective. The Sibudan deposits encompass over 20 archeological horizons that span a 1.2-m-thick, well-stratified sequence whose base and top have been dated to ∼58 ka (MIS 3). In contrast to the upper stratigraphic units, the lower Sibudan assemblages that we analyzed here show much higher use of local sandstone, quartz, and quartzite. These older units are characterized by frequent use of expedient core reduction methods, bipolar reduction of locally available quartz and quartzite, less retouch of blanks, and lower find densities. Tongati and Ndwedwe tools, which feature abundantly in the upper part of the Sibudan sequence, are entirely absent, as are unifacial points. Instead, notched and denticulated tools are common. Surprisingly, knappers manufactured small bifacial points, mainly made from quartz, by means of alternating shaping in the course of the oldest occupations. The results highlight the great diversity of human technological behavior over even short periods during the MSA, raising important questions about the mechanisms of behavioral change, cultural taxonomy, appropriate scales of lithic analyses, and the relationship between the HP and the Sibudan. Our findings further erode the old idea that bifacial technology in southern Africa is limited to the Still Bay. Research is increasingly showing that bifacial points come and go in different forms and contexts of African Late Pleistocene technology, impeding their use as chrono-cultural markers.


Lithic technology Middle Stone Age Bifacial technology Behavioral change Cultural evolution South Africa 



We thank Lyn Wadley and Guillaume Porraz for the many constructive discussions on the lithic technology of Sibudu. We are also indebted to the many members of the Sibudu research team of the past 5 years, with particularly thanks to Chris Miller, Guillaume Porraz, Susan Mentzer, Veerle Rots, Jamie Clark, Mohsen Zeidi, Gregor Bader, and Viola Schmid for their many contributions to this work. We thank Paloma de la Peña for sharing her metric data on HP bifacials from Sibudu. This study was funded by a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (CO226-28-1) and through funds from the Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften in the context of the long-term research project “The Role of Culture and the Early Expansions of Humans.” Manuel Will has been supported by a Doctoral Dissertation Grant from the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes.

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Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary EcologyUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany
  2. 2.Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and PalaeoenvironmentUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany

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