GOING DOWN: one of the excavation squares that archaeologists have dug to research the past history of the Mertenhof rock shelter in the Cederberg. Picture Supplied

Tens of thousands of years ago, our ancestors were networking and trading ideas with communities that were hundreds of kilometres away. 

Recent discoveries of stone tools at Howiesons Poort, in the southern Cape have been found to have distinct similarities with tools excavated in sites in the Western Cape, more than 300km away.

“While regional specificities in the tools from the various sites exist, the similarities of Klipdrift Shelter with the site of Diepkloof Rock Shelter are astonishing,” says Dr Katja Douze, a researcher at the laboratory of Archaeology and Populations in Africa. 

The team examined thousands of stone tools from various layers at the Klipdrift Shelter in the Western Cape. The layers represented a time period of between 66000 and 59000 years ago.

They did this to establish how stone tool design changed over time.
The stone tools were then compared with those that were found at other sites in Howiesons Poort.

ANCIENT BONES: the ribs, spine, pelvis and lower limbs of the older juvenile burial in the Mertenhof rock shelter. after the cranium had been removed. Picture Supplied 

“The site of Klipdfrift Shelter is one of the few containing a long archaeological sequence that provides data on cultural changes over time during the Howiesons Poort,” says Douze. 

“This makes it perfect to study the change in culture over time.”
The researchers showed from the data, that there was close interaction between distant communities, and this was shown by how they designed their stone tools. 

“There was an almost perfect match between the tools from the Klipdrift and Diepkloof shelters.
“This shows us that there was regular interaction between these two communities.”

“This is the first time we can draw such a parallel between different sites based on robust sets of data, and show that there was mobility between the two sites. 

“This is unique for the Middle Stone Age,” says Douze.
Their research appeared in the latest issue of PlosOne journal. 

The researchers are hoping their study might help in solving a mystery as to why and how the Howiesons Poort ended.
“The decline of the Howiesons Poort at Klipdrift Shelter shows a gradual and complex pattern of changes, from which the first “symptoms” can be observed much earlier than the final abandonment of typical Howiesons Poort technology and toolkits,” says Douze.

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