Stone Age Research Group

Peopleprojectspublications University of Cape Town
Department of Archaeology

Koobi Fora, Northern Kenya

Our research in Koobi Fora, Northern Kenya is based on the behavioral ecology of Plio-Pleistocene hominins. This involves the excavation of archaeological sites that include stone artifacts and modified bones from 2.0 to 1.2 million years ago. This also includes sites that have recovered fossil hominin bones and footprints of various Pleistocene mammals. This research is a collaborative project with J. Harris, Jack McCoy (Rutgers University); Mzalendo Kibunjia (National Museums of Kenya); Brian Richmond (George Washington University); Naomi Levin (University of Utah); Andy I. Herries (University of New South Wales); Mathew Bennett (Bournemouth University); Rene Bobe (University of Georgia); Laura Bishop (Liverpool John Moores University).

Homa Peninsula Paleoanthropology Project, Western Kenya

Our research in the Plio-Pleistocene sediments along the southern shores of the Winam Gulf focuses on the behavior and biology of Plio-Pleistocene hominins. The sediments surrounding the Homa Mountain preserve archaeological and paleontological sites ranging from the Late Miocene through to the Late Pleistocene. The Kanjera Formation preserves a spectacular amount of information regarding the manufacture, transport and use of some of the earliest stone tools. The principal investigators of this project are Thomas Plummer (Queens College) and Laura Bishop (Liverpool University John Moores), and involves collaboration with Richard Potts (Smithsonian Institution); Peter Ditchfield (Oxford Univeristy); and Fritz Hertel (University of California Los Angeles).

Elandsfontein, Western Cape, South Africa

A major hindrance to the study of Acheulian hominin landscape use is the paucity of large assemblages in good depositional contexts. Acheulian localities with the contextual information necessary to investigate interactions between hominins and the local environment are even more infrequent. Sites that do preserve this information show that dynamics between Acheulian peoples and their environment are both complex and variable (Potts et al. 1999). It has been suggested that Acheulian technology represents a major shift in transport decisions (Feblot-Augustins 1990; Sampson 2006). Transport behaviours, and an understanding of landscape resources, may be one of the most important features of human material culture (Potts 1994).

The makers of Acheulian technology may have been restricted to a limited series of habitats (Deacon 1975, 1998; Klein 2000; Sampson 1998). If Acheulian hominin landscape use was constrained we would expect to see artefact transport to specific locales. Subsequently Acheulian artefact transport decisions should reflect this type of landscape use. Here we investigate transport patterns at the Middle Pleistocene site of Elandsfontein. This locality is in a large semi-active dunefield on the Elandsfontein Private Nature Reserve about 110 km. northwest of Cape Town in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. Recent analyses of associated fauna suggest that the deposits from this locality may be as old as 600 Ka to 1 Ma (Klein et al. 2007).

Benfontein, Northern Cape & Free State, South Africa

The Benfontein Pan is situated southeast of Kimberley, straddling the Northern Cape and Free State border. The pan, also known as Alexandersfontein, is roughly 9 kilometres in diameter at its greatest extent. Archaeological material from the pan was first described in print by Goodwin (1929) as the "Alexandersfontein Variant" of the Middle Stone Age. Two primary previous shorelines are evident around the pan, a 10 m shoreline and 20 m shoreline (Butzer 1976). Based on previous archaeological research, these landforms appear to represent distinct time horizons. The 20 m shore and alluvial lowlands are associated with the Middle Stone Age, and the 10 m shore is associated with the Later Stone Age (Smithfield). Recent fieldwork has confirmed these associations. This unusual set of circumstances allows the direct comparison of MSA and LSA utilization of the same landscape.