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East African artifacts support evolution of symbolic thinking in Middle Stone Age

ostrich shell beads are also significantly more sophisticated than any techniques used to produce the tools generally found in the Middle Stone Age. The beads, which are still produced by African Khoi-San (Bushman) cultures today, are typically produced by breaking the shell into small pieces, which are then drilled and strung on a fiber or sinew. The strung shell fragments' edges are then smoothed and rounded as a group to produce uniform beads.

The site was discovered by project co-director Bower and first test excavated in 1979. Since then the site has been excavated by Bower and Mabulla in 2000 and 2003 as a joint effort in the project known as Serengeti Genesis (www.serengetigenesis.org), a project focused on the record for the origin of modern humans in the Serengeti ecosystem. The excavation site is in the broad floodplain of the Loiyangalani River and has yielded both Middle and Later Stone Age artifacts. Though the area shows signs of habitation through a wide range of human history, Bower and Mabulla do not think it is likely that the beads or any of the associated items could be Later Stone Age artifacts that were mixed with the Middle Stone Age tools by past soil disturbance at the site. This conclusion results from the fact that the stone tools are all Middle Stone Age and the sedimentological analysis of the site by Vondra indicates that is it unlikely that LSA beads could have contaminated the MSA deposits.

"I'm fairly sure that these items are very old, and if that is so this could be a very important site," Marean said. "The beads are a tantalizing find and once we get some definitive dating it could have a major impact on the issue of the evolution of symbolic thinking. We hope that further digging at the site will yield more information. Ultimately it is going to take wider excavation to resolve the questions."


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Contact: James Hathaway
Hathaway@asu.edu
480-965-6375
Arizona State University
31-Mar-2004


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