New research led by CU-Boulder on South Africa’s Border Cave shows the Later Stone Age emerged more than 20,000 years than previously thought. (Credit: Courtesy Paola Villa, University of Colorado)
The Later Stone Age emerged in South Africa more than 20,000 years earlier than previously believed — about the same time humans were migrating from Africa to the European continent, says a new international study led by the University of Colorado Boulder.
The study shows the onset of the Later Stone Age in South Africa likely began some 44,000 to 42,000 years ago, said Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History and lead study author. The new dates are based on the use of precisely calibrated radiocarbon dates linked to organic artifacts found at Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains on the border of South Africa and Swaziland containing evidence of hominid occupation going back 200,000 years.
The Later Stone Age is synonymous to many archaeologists with the Upper Paleolithic Period, when modern humans moved from Africa into Europe roughly 45,000 years ago and spread rapidly, displacing and eventually driving Neanderthals to extinction. The timing of the technological innovations and changes in the Later Stone Age in South Africa are comparable to that of the Upper Paleolithic, said Villa.
“Our research proves that the Later Stone Age emerged in South Africa far earlier than has been believed and occurred at about the same time as the arrival of modern humans in Europe,” said Villa. “But differences in technology and culture between the two areas are very strong, showing the people of the two regions chose very different paths to the evolution of technology and society.”
The Upper Paleolithic Period in Europe that corresponds to the Later Stone Age in South Africa also spurred complex new technologies that helped humans survive and thrive in much different environments. Artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic included spear-throwers, bone needles with eyelets for sewing furs, bone fishing hooks, bone flutes and even ivory figurines carved from mammoth tusks.
Villa said that a fundamental rearrangement of human behavior that had its beginnings 50,000-60,000 years ago in Africa and spread to Europe — an idea first proposed by Stanford University archaeologist Richard Klein — appears quite plausible.