Intra-Site Variability in the Still Bay Fauna at Blombos Cave: Implications for Explanatory Models of the Middle Stone Age Cultural and Technological Evolution
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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To explain cultural and technological innovations in the Middle Stone Age (MSA) of southern Africa, scholars invoke several factors. A major question in this research theme is whether MSA technocomplexes are adapted to a particular set of environmental conditions and subsistence strategies or, on the contrary, to a wide range of different foraging behaviours. While faunal studies provide key information for addressing these factors, most analyses do not assess intra-technocomplex variability of faunal exploitation (i.e. variability within MSA phases). In this study, we assess the spatial variability of the Still Bay fauna in one phase (M1) of the Blombos Cave sequence. Analyses of taxonomic composition, taphonomic alterations and combustion patterns reveal important faunal variability both across space (lateral variation in the post-depositional history of the deposits, spatial organisation of combustion features) and over time (fine-scale diachronic changes throughout a single phase). Our results show how grouping material prior to zooarchaeological interpretations (e.g. by layer or phase) can induce a loss of information. Finally, we discuss how multiple independent subdivisions of archaeological sequences can improve our understanding of both the timing of different changes (for example in technology, culture, subsistence, environment) and how they may be inter-related.