Abstract

The Middle Stone Age (MSA) of Africa, like the Middle Paleolithic of Europe, is thought to represent a time period wherein toolmakers acquired significant increases in cognitive abilities and physical dexterity. Existing data fail to resolve whether the MSA emerged gradually, abruptly, or discontinuously, and whether this industry reflects the activity of Homo sapiens. Here we present new 40Ar/39Ar geochronological data revealing that advanced MSA archaeology at two sites in the main Ethiopian Rift is older than 276 ka, much older than technologically comparable MSA archaeology from elsewhere. An age of 183 ka for a unit farther upsection, along with the technological stasis observed throughout the section, indicates that similar technology was used here for ~93 ka. These results suggest that MSA technology evolved asynchronously in different places, and challenge the notion of a distinct time line for either the appearance of the MSA or the disappearance of the earlier Acheulean. These and other recent results indicate that the oldest known MSA consistently predates fossil evidence for the earliest Homo sapiens.

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