Late Pleistocene Subsistence Strategies and Resource Intensification in Africa

  • Teresa E. Steele
  • Richard G. Klein
Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology book series (VERT)

Studies in southern Africa, western Europe, and the Mediterranean Basin have documented changes in subsistence strategies and technologies during the Late Pleistocene, and have often related them to differences between the Middle and Upper Paleolithic of Europe and the Middle and Later Stone Age of Africa. However, few explicit comparisons have been made between these geographic regions to create a global view of the evolution of human diet. In this paper, we begin by documenting the state of our knowledge in coastal South Africa, where Middle Stone Age paleoecology is best documented. The lines of evidence that we consider here follow those identified by previous researchers: large game exploitation as indicated by prey mortality profiles and processing intensity; changes in the relative abundance and increasing diversity of species included in the diet, especially the addition of small, fast game such as hares, birds, and fish relative to small, slow game such as shellfish and tortoises; and changes in shellfish size reflecting intensity of collection. We then expand the discussion to include all of Africa, highlighting similarities and differences in the record and the areas that require further research. Two of the major limitations to this research are the lack of zooarchaeological assemblages that span the “transition” from the Middle to Later Stone Age (60,000 to 20,000 years ago) and the lack of zooarchaeological data from most regions of Africa. Finally, we consider how the documented subsistence changes relate to demographic changes, the modern human expansion out of Africa, and models of modern human origins.


Middle Stone Age Later Stone Age modern humans Late Pleistocene subsistence hunting ecology intensification diet breadth prey choice 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Amani, F., 1991. La faune de la grotte à Hominidé du Jebel Irhoud (Maroc). University of Rabat, Rabat, p. 229.Google Scholar
  2. Aouraghe, H., 2004. Les populations de mammifères atériens d'El Harhoura 1 (Témara, Maroc). Bulletin d'Archéologie Marocaine 20, 83–104.Google Scholar
  3. Assefa, Z., 2006. Faunal remains from Porc-Epic: paleoecological and zooarchaeological investigations from a Middle Stone Age site in southeastern Ethiopia. Journal of Human Evolution 51(1), 50–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Avery, G., 1987. Coastal birds and prehistory in the western Cape. In: Parkington, J.E., Hall, M. (Eds.), Papers in the Prehistory of the Western Cape, South Africa. British Archaeological Reports, Oxford, pp. 164–191.Google Scholar
  5. Avery, G., 1990. Avian fauna, Palaeoenvironments and Palaeoecology in the Late Quaternary of the Western and Southern Cape, South Africa. Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, p. 206.Google Scholar
  6. Avery, G., Underhill, L.G., 1986. Seasonal exploitation of seabirds by Late Holocene coastal foragers: analysis of modern and archaeological data from the western Cape, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science 13, 339–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blumenschine, R.J., 1995. Percussion marks, tooth marks, and experimental determinations of the timing of hominid and carnivore access to long bones at FLK Zinjanthropus, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution 29(1), 21–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brooks, A.S., Helgren, D.M., Cramer, J.S., Franklin, A., Hornyak, W., Keating, J.M., Klein, R.G., Rink, W.J., Schwarcz, H.P., Leith Smith, J.N., Stewart, K., Todd, N.E., Verniers, J., Yellen, J.E., 1995. Dating and context of three Middle Stone Age sites with bone points in the Upper Semliki Valley, Zaire. Science 268, 548–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Buchanan, W.F., 1988. Shellfish in Prehistoric Diet: Elands Bay, S. W. Cape Coast, South Africa. British Archaeological Reports International Series, Oxford.Google Scholar
  10. Buchanan, W.F., Hall, S.L., Henderson, J., Olivier, A., Pettigrew, J.M., Parkington, J.E., Robertshaw, P.T., 1978. Coastal shell middens in the Paternoster area, South-Western Cape. South African Archaeological Bulletin 33, 89–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chase, P.G., 1986. The hunters of Combe-Grenal: approaches to Middle Paleolithic subsistence in Europe. BAR International Series, Oxford.Google Scholar
  12. Costamagno, S., Laroulandie, V., 2004. L'exploitation des petits vertébrés dans les Pyrénées françaises du Paléolithique au Mésolithique: un inventaire taphonomique et archéozoologique. In: Brugal, J.-P., Desse, J. (Eds.), Petits Animaux Sociétés Humaines: du Complément Alimentaire aux Ressources Utilitaires. Éditions APDCA, Antibes, pp. 403–416.Google Scholar
  13. Cruz-Uribe, K., Klein, R.G., 1998. Hyrax and hare bones from modern South African eagle roots and the detection of eagle involvement in fossil bone assemblages. Journal of Archaeological Science 25(2), 135–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Davis, S.J.M., 2005. Why domesticate food animals? Some zoo-archaeological evidence from the Levant. Journal of Archaeological Science 32, 1408–1416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. de Heinzelin, J., Clark, J.D., White, T., Hart, W., Renne, P., WoldeGabriel, G., Beyene, Y., Vrba, E., 1999. Environment and behavior of 2.5-million-year-old Bouri hominids. Science 284 (23 April 1999), 625–629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dewar, G., Halkett, D., Hart, T., Orton, J., Sealy, J., 2006. Implications of a mass kill site of springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) in South Africa: hunting practices, gender relations, and sharing in the Later Stone Age. Journal of Archaeological Science 33, 1266–1275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Grayson, D.K., Delpech, F., 2003. Ungulates and the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition at Grotte XVI (Dordogne, France). Journal of Archaeological Science 30(12), 1633–1648.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Halkett, D., Hart, T., Yates, R., Volman, T.P., Parkington, J.E., Orton, J., Klein, R.G., Cruz-Uribe, K., Avery, G., 2003. First excavation of intact Middle Stone Age layers at Ysterfontein, Western Cape Province, South Africa: implications for Middle Stone Age ecology. Journal of Archaeological Science 30, 955–971.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Henshilwood, C.S., 1997. Identifying the collector: evidence for human processing of the Cape Dune Mole-Rat, Bathyergus suillus, from Blombos Cave, southern Cape, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science 24(7), 659–662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Henshilwood, C.S., Marean, C.W., 2003. The origin of modern behavior: critique of the models and their test implications. Current Anthropology 44(5), 627–651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Henshilwood, C.S., Sealy, J.C., Yates, R., Cruz-Uribe, K., Goldberg, P., Grine, F.E., Klein, R.G., Poggenpoel, C., Van Niekerk, K., 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(4), 421–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jerardino, A., Navarro, R., Nilssen, P., 2001. Cape rock lobster (Jasus islandii) exploitation in the past: estimating carapace length from mandible sizes. South African Journal of Science 97, 59–62.Google Scholar
  23. Klein, R.G., 1972a. A preliminary report on the June through September 1970 excavations at Nelson Bay Cave (Cape Province, South Africa). Palaeoecology of Africa 6, 177–208.Google Scholar
  24. Klein, R.G., 1972b. The late Quaternary mammalian fauna of Nelson Bay Cave (Cape Province, South Africa): its implications for megafaunal extinctions and for cultural and environmental change. Quaternary Research 2, 135–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Klein, R.G., 1975. Middle Stone Age man-animal relationships in southern Africa: evidence from Die Kelders and Klasies River Mouth. Science 190, 265–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Klein, R.G., 1976a. The fossil history of Raphicerus H. Smith, 1827 (Bovidae, Mammalia) in the Cape Biotic Zone. Annals of the South African Museum 71, 169–191.Google Scholar
  27. Klein, R.G., 1976b. The mammalian fauna of the Klasies River Mouth sites, southern Cape Province, South Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin 31(123–124), 75–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Klein, R.G., 1978. Stone Age predation on large African bovids. Journal of Archaeological Science 5, 195–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Klein, R.G., 1981. Later Stone Age subsistence at Byeneskranskop Cave, South Africa. In: Harding, R.S.O., Teleki, G. (Eds.), Omnivorous Primates: Gathering and Hunting in Human Evolution. Columbia University Press, New York, pp. 166–190.Google Scholar
  30. Klein, R.G., 1994. Southern Africa before the Iron Age. In: Corruccini, R.S., Ciochon, R.L. (Eds.), Integrative paths to the past: paleoanthropological advances in honor of F Clark Howell. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, pp. 471–519.Google Scholar
  31. Klein, R.G., 1998. Why anatomically modern people did not disperse from Africa 100,000 years ago. In: Akazawa, T., Aoki, K., Bar-Yosef, O. (Eds.), Neandertals and Modern Humans in Western Asia. Plenum Press, New York, pp. 509–521.Google Scholar
  32. Klein, R.G., Cruz-Uribe, K., 1983. Stone Age population numbers and average tortoise size at Byneskranskop Cave 1 and Die Kelders Cave 1, Southern Cape Province, South Africa. South African Archaeo logical Bulletin 38, 26–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Klein, R.G., Cruz-Uribe, K., 1987. Large mammal and tortoise bones from Elands Bay Cave and nearby sites, Western Cape Province, South Africa. In: Parkington, J.E., Hall, M. (Eds.), Papers in the Prehistory of the Western Cape, South Africa. British Archaeological Reports International Series, Oxford, pp. 132–163.Google Scholar
  34. Klein, R.G., Cruz-Uribe, K., 1989. Faunal evidence for prehistoric herder-forager activities at Kasteelberg, Vredenburg Peninsula, western Cape Province, South Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin 44, 82–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Klein, R.G., Cruz-Uribe, K., 1996. Exploitation of large bovids and seals at Middle and Later Stone Age sites in South Africa. Journal of Human Evolution 31, 315–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Klein, R.G., Cruz-Uribe, K., 2000. Middle and Later Stone Age large mammal and tortoise remains from Die Kelders Cave 1, Western Cape Province, South Africa. Journal of Human Evolution 38, 169–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Klein, R.G., Scott, K., 1986. Re-analysis of faunal assemblages from the Haua Fteah and other Late Quaternary archaeological sites in Cyrenaican Libya. Journal of Archaeological Science 13, 515–542.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Klein, R.G., Cruz-Uribe, K., Skinner, J.D., 1999. Fur seal bones reveal variability in prehistoric human seasonal movements on the southwest African coast. ArchaeoZoologia 10, 181–188.Google Scholar
  39. Klein, R.G., Avery, G., Cruz-Uribe, K., Halkett, D., Parkington, J.E., Steele, T.E., Volman, T.P., Yates, R., 2004. The Ysterfontein 1 Middle Stone Age site, South Africa, and early human exploitation of coastal resources. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101(16), 5708–5715.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Klein, R.G., Avery, G., Cruz-Uribe, K., Steele, T.E., 2007. The mammalian fauna associated with an archaic hominin skullcap and later Acheulean artifacts at Elandsfontein, Western Cape Province, South Africa. Journal of Human Evolution 52, 164–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Laroulandie, V., 2004. Exploitations des ressources aviaires durant le Paléolithique en France: bilan critique et perspectives. In: Brugal, J.-P., Desse, J. (Eds.), Petits Animaux Sociétés Humaines: du Complément Alimentaire aux Ressources Utilitaires. Éditions APDCA, Antibes, pp. 163–172.Google Scholar
  42. MacDonald, K.C., 1997. The avifauna of the Haua Fteah (Libya). ArchaeoZoologia 9, 83–102.Google Scholar
  43. Mannino, M.A., Thomas, K.D., 2002. Depletion of a resource? The impact of prehistoric human foraging on intertidal mollusc communities and its significance for human settlement, mobility and dispersal. World Archaeology 33(3), 452–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Marean, C.W., 2005. From the tropics to the colder climates: contrasting faunal exploitation adaptations of modern humans and Neanderthals. In: d'Errico, F., Backwell, L. (Eds.), From Tools to Symbols: From Early Hominids to Modern Humans. Wits University Press, Johannesburg, pp. 333–371.Google Scholar
  45. Marean, C.W., Assefa, Z., 1999. Zooarcheological evidence for the faunal exploitation behavior of Neanderthals and early modern humans. Evolutionary Anthropology 8(1), 22–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Marean, C.W., Abe, Y., Frey, C.J., Randall, R.C., 2000. Zooarchaeological and taphonomic analysis of the Die Kelders Cave 1 layers 10 and 11 Middle Stone Age larger mammal fauna. Journal of Human Evolution 38(1), 197–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Munro, N.D., 2004. Zooarchaeological measures of hunting pressure and occupation intensity in the Natufian: implications for agricultural origins. Current Anthropology 45, S5–S33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Munro, N.D., Bar-Oz, G., 2005. Gazelle bone fat processing in the Levantine Epipalaeolithic. Journal of Archaeological Science 32, 223–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Orton, J., Hart, T., Halkett, D., 2005. Shell middens in Namaqualand: two Later Stone Age sites at Rooiwalbaai, Northern Cape Province, South Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin 60, 24–32.Google Scholar
  50. Outram, A.K., 2001. A new approach to identifying bone marrow and grease exploitation: why the “indeterminate” fragments should not be ignored. Journal of Archaeological Science 28, 401–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Parkington, J.E., 2003. Middens and moderns: shellfishing and the Middle Stone Age of the Western Cape, South Africa. South African Journal of Science 99, 243–247.Google Scholar
  52. Pérez Ripoll, M., 2004. La consommation humaine des lapins pendant le Paléolithique dans la région de Valencia (Espagne) et l'étude des niveaux gravétiens de La Cova de les Cendres (Alicante). In: Brugal, J.-P., Desse, J. (Eds.), Petits Animaux Sociétés Humaines: du Complément Alimentaire aux Ressources Utilitaires. Éditions APDCA, Antibes, pp. 191–206.Google Scholar
  53. Richards, M.P., Pettitt, P.B., Stiner, M.C., Trinkaus, E., 2001. Stable isotope evidence for increasing dietary breadth in the European mid-Upper Paleolithic. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98(11), 6528–6532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Schweitzer, F.R., 1979. Excavations at Die Kelders, Cape Province, South Africa: the holocene deposits. Annals of the South African Museum 78(10), 101–233.Google Scholar
  55. Schweitzer, F.R., Wilson, M.L., 1982. Byneskranskop 1, a late Quaternary living site in the southern Cape Province, South Africa. Annals of the South African Museum 88, 1–203.Google Scholar
  56. Singer, R., Wymer, J.J., 1982. The Middle Stone Age at Klasies River Mouth in South Africa. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  57. Skinner, J.D., Chimimba, C.T., 2005. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion, 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sokal, R.R., Rohlf, F.J., 1995. Biometry: the principles and practice of statistics in biological research, 3rd edition. W.H. Freeman, New York.Google Scholar
  59. Steele, T.E., 2003. Using mortality profiles to infer behavior in the fossil record. Journal of Mammalogy 84(2), 418–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Steele, T.E., 2005. Comparing methods for analyzing mortality profiles in zooarchaeological and paleontological samples. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 15, 404–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Steele, T.E., Klein, R.G., 2005/2006. Mollusk and tortoise size as proxies for stone age population density in South Africa: implications for the evolution of human cultural capacity. Munibe (Antropologia — Arkeologia) 57/1, 221–237.Google Scholar
  62. Steele, T.E., Klein, R.G., 2008. Intertidal shellfish use during the Middle and Later Stone Age of South Africa. Archaeofauna 17, 63–76.Google Scholar
  63. Steele, T.E., Weaver, T.D., 2002. The modified triangular graph: a refined method for comparing mortality profiles in archaeological samples. Journal of Archaeological Science 29(3), 317–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Stephens, D.W., Krebs, J.R., 1986. Foraging theory. Princeton University Press, Princeton.Google Scholar
  65. Stiner, M.C., 1990. The use of mortality patterns in archaeological studies of hominid predatory adaptations. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 9, 305–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Stiner, M.C., 2001. Thirty years on the “Broad Spectrum Revolution” and paleolithic demography. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98(13), 6993–6996.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Stiner, M.C., 2005a. Middle Paleolithic subsistence ecology in the Mediterranean region. Transitions Before the Transition: Evolution and Stability in the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age. Springer, New York, pp. 213–231.Google Scholar
  68. Stiner, M.C., 2005b. The Faunas of Hayonim Cave, Isreal: a 200,000-Year Record of Paleolithic Diet, Demography, and Society. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Harvard University, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  69. Stiner, M.C., Munro, N.D., 2002. Approaches to prehistoric diet breadth, demography, and prey ranking systems in time and space. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 9(2). 181–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Stiner, M.C., Munro, N.D., Surovell, T.A., Tchernov, E., Bar-Yosef, O., 1999. Paleolithic population growth pulses evidenced by small animal exploitation. Science 283, 190–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Stiner, M.C., Munro, N.D., Surovell, T.A., 2000. The tortoise and the hare: small-game use, the Broad-Spectrum Revolution, and Paleolithic demography. Current Anthropology 41(1), 39–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Straus, L.G., 1977. Of deerslayers and mountain men: Paleolithic faunal exploitation in Cantabrian Spain. In: Binford, L.R. (Ed.), For Theory Building in Archaeology. Academic Press, New York, pp. 41–76.Google Scholar
  73. Thomas, H., 1981. La faune de la Grotte à Néandertaliens du Jebel Irhoud (Maroc). Quaternia 23, 191–217.Google Scholar
  74. Voigt, E.A., 1982. The molluscan fauna. In: Singer, R., Wymer, J. (Eds.), The Middle Stone Age at Klasies River Mouth in South Africa. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 155–186.Google Scholar
  75. Wilson, D.E., Reeder, D.M. (Eds), 2005. Mammal Species of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.Google Scholar
  76. Yellen, J., Brooks, A.S., Helgren, D.M., Tappen, M., Ambrose, S.H., Bonnefille, R., Feathers, J., Goodfriend, G., Ludwig, K., Renne, P., Stewart, K.M., 2005. The archaeology of Aduma Middle Stone Age Sites in the Awash Valley, Ethiopia. PaleoAnthropology 10, 25–100.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Teresa E. Steele
    • 1
    • 2
  • Richard G. Klein
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Human EvolutionMax Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of California — Davis One Shields Avenue DavisCAUSA
  3. 3.Program in Human BiologyStanford University StanfordUSA

Personalised recommendations