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Continuous sophisticated Neolithic technology record gong back 50,000 years

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  • Continuous sophisticated Neolithic technology record gong back 50,000 years

    This probably is the most important discovery in the Neolithic humans because the record of sophisticated Neolithic technology is in a cave with continuous occupation in layers going back 50,000 years.


    Archaeologists uncover stunning find to help shed light on the dawn of mankind
    By Nick Whigham |

    Archaeologists from the Australian National University (ANU) have unearthed a treasure trove of items from a cave in Kenya, giving researchers fresh insight into a crucial time period when Homo sapiens first started showing signs of modern behavior.

    The Panga ya Saidi cave is the only known site in East Africa with an unbroken archaeological record of human inhabitation.

    In a statement released by the university, Dr Ceri Shipton from the ANU School of Culture, History and Language said the site “has a continuous record with people there right up until 500 years ago”.

    “It is the most beautiful site I have ever worked on. As soon as I saw it I knew it was special,” he said

    The archaeologists discovered more than 30,000 items at the site including crayons and shell beads that date back nearly 50,000 years.

    “The site has amazing levels of preservation with so many of the artifacts in mint condition,” Dr. Shipton said.

    The researchers involved with the project said it was allowing them to better understand the Later Stone Age — a period of time beginning about 67,000 years ago associated with the rise of modern human behavior and culture in Africa.

    “You start to see things like decorated bones, beads made from marine shell or ostrich eggs, miniaturzied stone tools, and bones carved into things like arrow points. This is the oldest date we have for when this behavior is first observed,” he said.

    “Previous sites relating to this early period of modern human behavior have all been in South Africa and the East African Rift Valley, this is the first site on the coast of East Africa and the first with such a continuous record.”

    The research was published Wednesday in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.

    It’s unusual to find early Homo sapiens living in a tropical forest rather than open grasslands where there are large animals to hunt. The early humans living in these caves would have forested for berries and hunted smaller animals like monkeys and small deer.

    Researchers hypothesized that such tribes would potentially have needed more sophisticated tools to hunt in such environments.

    “What is striking about this record is the innovations you see in technology and material culture, and the ability to exploit both forest and savanna environments. It is this kind ofbehaviorall flexibility that allowed our species to populate the rest of the world outside of Africa,” Dr Shipton said.

    Of more than 30,000 items found at the site, some of the most remarkable include 48,000 year old red ochre crayons and engraved bones and the archaeologists were struck by the high-level preservation of theartifactss.

    “The stone tools are still sharp. The beads and engraved bones have survived intact which is really rare,” Dr. Shipton said.

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  • #2
    A bit more on it:

    Source: People Lived in This Cave for 78,000 Years

    Excavations in Panga ya Saidi suggest technological and cultural change came slowly over time and show early humans weren’t reliant on coastal resources

    There’s evidence human beings have occupied the city of Damascus in Syria for 11,000 years. But that’s nothing compared to the Panga ya Saidi cave network in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Ruth Schuster at Haaretz reports that its 1,076-square-foot main chamber has been occupied by Homo sapiens for 78,000 years.

    A new study published in the journal Nature Communications offers a testament to how human technology and culture have changed over that time.

    The cave sits in a unique spot, an ecotone where grassland and coastal tropical forest meet. Because of that, occupants of the cave could exploit the resources from both environments. The location also spared the cave from climatic fluctuations over the centuries. While drought may have impacted the savannah or the forest at certain times, the international and interdisciplinary team of researchers found the site of Panga ya Saidi seems to have received plenty of precipitation. That may explain why humans decided to stick around more or less continuously since finding the spot.

    The oldest artifacts found in the cave are Middle Stone Age toolkits dating back around 78,000 years. A distinct change occurs in newer layers that emerged 67,000 year ago in the Later Stone Age, where toolkits become much smaller, showing a switch in technologies. However, following layers dating back 60,000-50,000 years reveal a mix of tool types, which pushes back against the idea posited by archaeologists that change happens during technological “revolutions” where a new technology is quickly and widely adopted.

    The jewelry that the cave dwellers wore tells its own story of change. The earliest bead ever discovered in Kenya, dating between 67,000 and 63,000 years ago, comes from the cave. Beginning 33,000 years ago beads made from shells plucked from beaches along the Indian Ocean about 9 miles away became the accessory of choice. Around 25,000 years ago, ostrich shell beads became all the rage, before the seashells came back into vogue around 10,000 years ago. Other decorative or ritual objects such as carved bones and chunks of red ochre were found throughout the layers, which also indicate that there were no significant cultural or cognitive “revolutions” at the Panga ya Saidi site. Taken together, the tools and decorative artifacts paint a picture of a culture that changed slowly over time.

    Another important find at the cave is what wasn’t there—lots of seafood. “Despite being relatively close to the coast, we do not have evidence that the hunter-gatherer populations occupying the cave were in any way dependent on coastal resources,” co-author Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History tells Schuster. “Instead, they were reliant on inland, terrestrial resources in their tropical forest and grassland ecosystem.”

    That adds to growing evidence that early humans did not simply follow coastal resources. Instead, it shows humans were adaptable and able to survive in inland habitats as well. “The finds at Panga ya Saidi undermine hypotheses about the use of coasts as a kind of ‘superhighway’ that channeled migrating humans out of Africa, and around the Indian Ocean rim,” Petraglia says in the press release.

    Project principal investigator Nicole Boivin of Max Planck predicts this knowledge will cause a shift in the way human evolution is understood. “The East African coastal hinterland and its forests and have been long considered to be marginal to human evolution so the discovery of Panga ya Saidi cave will certainly change archaeologists’ views and perceptions,” Boivin says.

    People only stopped living in Panga ya Saidi in the relatively recent past reports Schuster, though it is still used by locals for religious ceremonies and burials.


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    The full paper describing the discovery can be found HERE although I'll post the Abstract from it:

    Source: 78,000-year-old record of Middle and Later stone age innovation in an East African tropical forest


    The Middle to Later Stone Age transition in Africa has been debated as a significant shift in human technological, cultural, and cognitive evolution. However, the majority of research on this transition is currently focused on southern Africa due to a lack of long-term, stratified sites across much of the African continent. Here, we report a 78,000-year-long archeological record from Panga ya Saidi, a cave in the humid coastal forest of Kenya. Following a shift in toolkits ~67,000 years ago, novel symbolic and technological behaviors assemble in a non-unilinear manner. Against a backdrop of a persistent tropical forest-grassland ecotone, localized innovations better characterize the Late Pleistocene of this part of East Africa than alternative emphases on dramatic revolutions or migrations.

    © Copyright Original Source

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