Exploring pattern and pace in southern African human behavioural evolution – a view from the south Western Cape
William Archer
Tue, 14/06/2022 - 18:30 to 19:30
Western Cape
YouTube live link: https://youtu.be/kVs4v9EYsQU

Exploring pattern and pace in southern African human behavioural evolution – a view from the south Western Cape
By: Dr William Archer

Patterns of so-called modern human behaviour are well documented in an abundance of Middle Stone Age (MSA) archaeological sites across southern Africa. Contextualized archives directly preceding the southern African MSA, however, remain scarce. Much of our understanding of the terminal Acheulean in southern Africa derives from a small number of localities that are predominantly in the central and northern interior. Many of these localities are surface and deflated contexts, others were excavated prior to the availability of modern field documentation techniques, and yet other relevant assemblages contain low numbers of characteristic artefacts relative to volume of excavated deposit. The site of Montagu Cave, situated in the diverse ecosystem of the Cape Floral Kingdom, contains the rare combination of archaeologically rich, laminated and stratified Acheulean layers overlain by a younger MSA occupation. Yet little is known about the site owing largely to a lack of contextual information associated with the early excavations. 

In this talk I will present renewed excavation of Levels 21-22 at Montagu Cave, located in the basal Acheulean sequence, with data on site formation, ecological context, geochronology and technological variability, reflecting probable occupation of the cave at the onset of interglacial conditions in MIS 7. Study of the Acheulean occupations at Montagu Cave enables exploration of hominin behaviour in a time window just preceding the better-known period characterized by rapidly increasing complexity in the southern African archaeological record. While MSA technologies were practised by 300 ka in several regions of Africa, the classic Acheulean may have persisted later in the south Western Cape. This regionalized persistence raises questions about the biogeography of African later Middle-Pleistocene hominin populations, about the geographic extents and ecological drivers of their technological systems, and about the pattern and pace of behavioural change just prior to the proliferation of the southern African later Middle Stone Age.

Dr. Will Archer’s research focuses on quantitative approaches to generating high-quality datasets through the study of stone artefacts, and through excavations of new promising archaeological sites with reliable recovery methods. Broadly, he has employed these approaches - in collaboration with colleagues - to explore the effects of ecological context on hominin behavioural evolution in periods spanning the last ~2.7 million years. He has conducted fieldwork in six sub-Saharan African and two European countries, working in archaeological contexts ranging from the Plio-Pleistocene through to the Holocene. He is currently Head of the Department of Archaeology at the National Museum, Bloemfontein, Associated Researcher at the University of the Free State Department of Geology, and Group Leader of a Max Planck Partner Group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.