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Middle Stone Age archaeology and the origins of modern humans in southern Mozambique
Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia - PTDC/EPH-ARQ/4998/2012
One of the more interesting topics today in Archaeology is that of the time of the emergence of anatomically modern humans (AMH). It is now thought this was a slow and gradual evolution in Africa starting as early as 200 ka, and that modern cognition was marked by the production of bone tools and beads, use of pigments and decorated ochre, lithic heat treatment, the appearance of artistic and symbolic expression seen in art and body decoration (McBrearty and Brooks, 2000), a change in diet with the inclusion of marine and aquatic resources and the use of coastal settings (Marean, 2011), and the foundation for language, a very complex form of symbol and analogy that is thought to be hardwired into the human brain (Pinker, 1997).
The archaeological record indicates a date around 195-160 ka for the emergence of Homo sapiens (McDougal et al., 2005; Smith et al., 2007), confirmed by evolutionary genetics: modern humans show a limited genetic diversity that can be explained by a population bottleneck late in the evolution, estimated to be between c. 200 and 150 ka (Fagundes et al., 2007; Behar, et al., 2008), corresponding to the MIS6 and the Middle Stone Age. A three phase evolution likely took place (McBrearty and Brooks, 2000; Marean and Assefa, 2005), between 600 to 250 ka, from the set of hominins from the terminal Acheulean and the beginning of the Middle Stone age, with its very diverse and regional African industries (e.g., Aterian, Mumba, Sangoan, Pietersburg, Howieson’s Poort and Stillbay). The most important sites to understand the emergence of AMH are located in South Africa (e.g., Klasies River, Pinnacle Point caves, Blombos cave, Sibudu cave), Botswana (e.g., Rhino cave and White paintings shelter), Zambia (e.g., Broken Hill, Kalambo Falls, Twin Rivers), Democratic Republic of Congo (Katanda), Zimbabwe (Pomongwe and Nswatugi), Tanzania (e.g., Isimila, Mumba, Mumbwa, Nasera, and Olduvai). The hiatus of sites and knowledge comes from Malawi and Mozambique due to very little archaeological research in last decades.
This project focuses on a systematic archaeological survey of southern Mozambique to study the evolution of modern human behavior in southern Africa. The main objective is to find new Middle Stone Age sites that will shed light on the origins of behavioral traits that are thought to be hallmarks of modernity, e.g., use of pigments and beads for personal adornment and definition of individual and group identity, exploitation of coastal resources such as shellfish, fish and marine mammals, etc. The project includes a survey in Maputaland in southern Mozambique and excavation of a known rockshelter, Caimane, with Early (ESA), Middle (MSA) and Late (LSA) Stone Age deposits. Based on preliminary field survey and study of existing artifact collections at the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane (May, 2011), the survey will focus on the Naamacha and Goba areas, in the Umbeluzi, Changalane, Mazimunhane basins along the edge of the Libombo Mountains. These areas are rich in open-air Stone Age sites on the Quaternary terraces in the lower alluvial valleys.  In addition, we will investigate Quaternary coastal deposits with reported Plio-Pleistocene fossils and MSA artifacts.