South Africa

Over one million years ago, stone flaking experts at Canteen Kopje in South Africa

Entrance to the site of Canteen Kopje, slightly modified to accommodate visitors. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

Entrance to the site of Canteen Kopje, slightly modified to accommodate visitors. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

My name is Vincent Mourre and I am an archaeologist with Inrap. For this “Day of Archaeology”, I would like to present my speciality, the study of prehistoric stone flaking techniques. I will use the example of a study that I recently conducted in South Africa. Though most of my work consists of preventative excavations in France, in the framework of the Scientific Activity Projects of Inrap I participate in programs in other countries.
For the past twenty years or so, I have conducted stone flaking experiments. In the beginning, stone flaking is mostly like a game to avoid crushing or cutting your fingers… It then quickly becomes a powerful scientific tool for obtaining a better understanding of the technical behaviors of Prehistoric humans. We must of course work within the technical context of the time, using only materials that were available then: for example, we detach flakes with hammerstone (stone), or billet (bone, antler or wood). The first type of stone I flaked was flint, which is the one that most often comes to mind when we think of prehistoric tools, and which is one of the easiest to flake. But since I like challenges I have also worked with other materials that are a bit more, let us say…rebellious: first quartz and quartzite, and then other stones such as rhyolite, lydian and schist. We must remember that flint is not present everywhere and is even relatively rare at the scale of the planet. There are entire regions where prehistoric people used other materials that they easily found in their environment. This is the case in Africa, for example, where flint is almost totally absent, while a vast range of other useable materials are readily available.

Experimental flaking of silcrete points in the gardens of the Iziko Museum in Cape Town, under the watchful eyes of intrigued South African school children and my daughter © Céline Thiébaut

Experimental flaking of silcrete points in the gardens of the Iziko Museum in Cape Town, under the watchful eyes of intrigued South African school children and my daughter © Céline Thiébaut

In June 2015, I was invited by Kathleen Kuman, professor at the University of the Witwatersand in Johannesburg, and George M. Leader, assistant professor at the College of New Jersey, to study a very specific flaking method called the Victoria West method. It was first described in South Africa at the beginning of the 20th century and it is well represented in the archaeological site of Canteen Kopje, which has been explored by these two researchers for the past ten years.

George Leader at Canteen Kopje. Today the site consists of a group of craters created by ancient diamondiferous mining. The refuse pile is full of prehistoric tools. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

George Leader at Canteen Kopje. Today the site consists of a group of craters created by ancient diamondiferous mining. The refuse pile is full of prehistoric tools. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

In the town of Barkly West, not far from Kimberley (Northern Cape Province), Canteen Kopje was one of the first sites exploited by diamond hunters in South Africa at the end of the 19th century. The sediments deposited by the Vaal River yielded 10,000 to 15,000 carats of diamonds! To extract them, the miners dug many holes into the sediments containing the natural pebbles, as well as hundreds of thousands of prehistoric tools deposited by the ancient flowing river. These tools were recognized in the 1920’s and numerous prehistorians have since visited the site. Henri Breuil’s cassock was even spotted there during one of his voyages in southern Africa…

 

An Acheulean cleaver in andesite from Canteen Kopje, also heavily smoothed. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

An Acheulean cleaver in andesite from Canteen Kopje, also heavily smoothed. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

An Acheulean biface in andesite discovered during the excavations by George Leader and Kathleen Kuman at Canteen Kopje (It was heavily smoothed by its time spent in the Vaal River). © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

An Acheulean biface in andesite discovered during the excavations by George Leader and Kathleen Kuman at Canteen Kopje (It was heavily smoothed by its time spent in the Vaal River). © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

The layers in which the Victoria West method has been found correspond to a prehistoric culture called the Acheulean. This culture appeared in eastern or southern Africa around 1.7 million years ago and then spread across all of the African continent, southern Europe, the Near East and a large part of Asia. One of its most emblematic artefacts is the biface, a large symmetrical, almond-shaped tool, gradually sculpted by removing flakes from both faces of the stone. The Acheulean is also characterized by another tool called a cleaver. Its active part is not pointed like a biface, but formed by a long, sharp edge. It is also particular in that it is shaped from a large flake, which is a piece of stone detached from a block called a “core”, with one blow with a hammer. The Victoria West method is a very elaborate method for detaching the flakes to be transformed into cleavers.

Collecting andesite on the banks of the Vaal River: detaching large flakes with a very big hammerstone (nothing like it for warming up on a June morning…  the beginning of winter in South Africa) © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

Collecting andesite on the banks of the Vaal River: detaching large flakes with a very big hammerstone (nothing like it for warming up on a June morning… the beginning of winter in South Africa) © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

The beginning of an andesite flaking session (the waste products will be carefully collected and deposited in a refuse dump to avoid tricking future archaeologists…) © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

The beginning of an andesite flaking session (the waste products will be carefully collected and deposited in a refuse dump to avoid tricking future archaeologists…) © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

Preparing an andesite core with an ophite hammerstone, a very hard pyrenean stone © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

Preparing an andesite core with an ophite hammerstone, a very hard pyrenean stone © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

A little vervet monkey discovering a new passion for experimental archaeology. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

A little vervet monkey discovering a new passion for experimental archaeology. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

After visiting the archaeological site and closely observing the Victoria West cores found there, I collected blocks of andesite, the volcanic stone most often used in this region. This stone is very hard and much more difficult to flake than flint. It took me a few days to adapt to this material. I had to use a heavier hammer than I usually use, for example. After many failed attempts, I finally got close to achieving the result obtained by the prehistoric flakers at Canteen Kopje, though not completely… They carefully prepared their core by giving it a very specific form resembling a large dissymmetric biface. Then, with a single blow, they detached a large flake from one of the faces of the core, which itself had the form of a cleaver nearly ready for use. Usually, very little retouching was needed to finish making a cleaver. It is this last step, the detachment of a large flake from a prepared core, that I still have trouble with: the stone is so hard that it is very difficult to strike a blow that is both powerful and precise. Several possibilities remain to be explored: using an even heavier, or perhaps hafted, hammerstone; perfecting the core preparation; or preparing myself with steroids, as K. Kuman jokingly suggested…

A Victoria West core in andesite from Canteen Kopje and a sketch showing the direction of flake detachments © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

A Victoria West core in andesite from Canteen Kopje and a sketch showing the direction of flake detachments © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

This first experimentation session had at least one positive result: it showed that more than one million years ago, stone flaking experts lived on the banks of the Vaal River. They were capable of conceiving and realizing a sophisticated flaking method that enabled them to make large flakes whose shape and dimensions were predetermined by the meticulous preparation of the core. This made me think of those relevant words by Donald Crabtree, one of the pioneers of experimental stone flaking: « It is apparent that past stoneworkers had a greater understanding of what constituted lithic materials and the longer I attempt to increase my knowledge of the lithic materials, the more respect I have for ancient man.. »
Today, the archaeological site of Canteen Kopje is threatened by the exact thing that enabled its discovery: diamond fever… A new diamond mining project covers the entire site and could lead to its pure and simple destruction, despite the fragile protection afforded by its designation as Provincial heritage site. And this despite the many secrets it still has to reveal…

Vincent Mourre, Inrap archaeologist, UMR 5608

Maritime Archaeology Interns at the Iziko Museum

The day of an archaeologist is comprised of staring at artifacts, carrying artifacts (Note that back injuries are common in this field) doing research on the artifacts, recording the artifacts and occasionally venturing out into the field to retrieve artifacts or work on a site. Therefore, a day in the life of an archaeologist is not really about the archaeologist himself but rather the artifacts with which he works, and so we humbly present, for your satisfaction…

JOURNEY OF THE CANNON BALL

Please note: No Cannon Balls were harmed in the making of this short story.

Cannonball in sea water

Cannonball in sea water

In the womb:

The Cannon Ball is removed from the sea bed by archaeologists and then placed in a container of water, here it will sit in caustic soda until all the bad salts have been removed and it is ready to be taken out and continue on its journey through the conservation process.

Birth: (water is broken)

Cannon Ball is removed from its container of water, cleaned and left to dry. (Some hammering and chiseling is done to remove excess concretion and flakey bits, this can be a messy and lengthy process for both the archaeologist as well as the Cannon ball).

Archaeology interns monitor the cannonball

Archaeology interns monitor the cannonball

Monitoring: (The Incubator)

Cannon Ball is taken to the working station, where it is left and monitored for a few days. In this time the cannon ball will dry and the archaeologists and conservators will assess its stability, as well as remove the Caustic soda (which may continue to appear like a rash) with a fibre-glass brush. Note: Archaeologists and Conservators will encounter various invisible and somewhat painful splinters during this stage.

Applying tannic acid to the cannonball

Applying tannic acid to the cannonball

Christening: (First layer of Tannic acid)

Phase 1: The Cannon Ball receives its first layer of Tannic Acid, and is left to dry. The corrosion will be monitored, and the Cannon ball may crack and seep during this time. The outer surface may continue to crumble.

Phase 2: After further monitoring, it receives its second layer of Tannic acid, and is left to dry again.

Weighing, measuring, and photographing the cannonball

Weighing, measuring, and photographing the cannonball

Applying for an I.D:

The Cannon Ball is given a number (Accession number), it is then weighed, photographed and measured. It is now part of a register and will one day be part of the greater collection in the store room.

All the cannonballs together, waiting for a future exhibition

All the cannonballs together, waiting for a future exhibition

Graduating:

The Cannon ball is awarded with a coat of Microcrystaline wax, it is then moved to the store room where it is free to find its place among the many other artifacts which have already graduated and moved there. The Cannon Ball may then be selected in the future (if it proves stable enough), to become a display in one of many exhibits.

The end.

Neanderthal Funerary Practices: Too savage to mourn?

My name is Sarah, and I’m a PhD student at the University of Southampton. I would love to be able to tell you I’m scrambling around in the dirt playing with some real archaeology, but right now I’m sat at my desk reading about how other people played around in the dirt and feeling a little envious. I’m actually reading excavation reports and articles about Neanderthal remains from across the world, from the famous La Chapelle-aux-Saints in France to Kebara in Israel.

Cast of a Neanderthal skull on display Sterkfontein Caves, South Africa. Taken by Sarah Schwarz (@archaeosarah)

Cast of a Neanderthal skull on display Sterkfontein Caves, South Africa. Taken by Sarah Schwarz (@archaeosarah)

My PhD project focuses on Neanderthal funerary practices – which, in short, is anything and everything that Neanderthals could have done with their dead. (This is normally the point where the entire dinner table goes quiet and I’m left trying to decipher whether the faces staring back at me are confused, intrigued, or terrified). I’m looking for evidence of any and all types of funerary practices, such as burial/inhumation; funerary caching, curation, defleshing and disarticulation. This involves me going through every record I can possibly find of every scrap of Neanderthal remains across the world and examining each individual for characteristic signs of each type of funerary practice – for example, a pit feature for a burial or cut marks for defleshing.

But why is that important? The treatment and honour of the dead through funerary practices and rituals is a key part of our society, and although a culturally sensitive issue it’s something every society does in some way. It is a key emotional display of our humanity, and the cognitive ability to understand the concept of death and being aware of one’s own mortality is quite a realisation. The ability to be able to understand that death will come to us all one day, and to understand that intervention in the lives of others can at least stave off the inevitable for a little longer is an obvious conclusion for us – but it is clear in the Neanderthal world too. For example, the ‘Old Man’ of Shanidar (Shanidar 1, Iraq) was an elderly individual with several traumatic injuries and deformities, which could have required the assistance of others to survive, shows that Neanderthals had this understanding. And understanding how this evolved in Neanderthals helps us understand how the same characteristics, emotions, and rituals evolved in modern humans.

What struck me was how easily the concept of a Neanderthal burying a relative or friend could be so easily dismissed, and how the idea that Neanderthals were a bit brutish and slow still seems to be the popular stereotype for this species. The idea that Neanderthals were a bit daft and weren’t capable of the same things as modern humans also frustrates me – just because we haven’t dug up a Neanderthal who died in middle of updating his Facebook status on his iPad, it doesn’t mean they were stupid. On the contrary, Neanderthals appear to have been routinely honouring their deceased loved ones well before Homo sapiens ever decided to join them in Europe.

Neand Facebook

A hint that things might not be looking up for Ned…

 

Although I’m still in the early stages of my PhD, so far the pattern emerging appears to be that the early Neanderthals began by defleshing and disarticulating individuals (I am deliberately avoiding the use of the term ‘cannibalism’ because I cannot conclusively prove they were routinely consuming the remains), and from around 115,000 years BP the later Neanderthals begin burying them. And it doesn’t matter if they’re male or female, old or young, everyone is treated in the same way across the Neanderthal world. What a lovely thought.

I still have a lot of work to do on my research, so hopefully by next year’s Day of Archaeology I will have more to tell you. But in the mean time I’m sure my cheery topic will continue to destroy dinner party conversations for some time to come, and maybe, I will be on my way to mastering the art of discussing taboo subjects without scaring the general population.

Sarah Schwarz

PhD Student, CAHO, University of Southampton

Follow me on Twitter: @archaeosarah

Or read more about my research on my blog: http://archaeosarah.wordpress.com/

The East African Association for Paleoanthropology and Paleontology: 2013 Conference in Mombasa, Kenya

Hi everyone,

We’d like to introduce ourselves – we are the East African Association for Paleoanthropology and Paleontology (EAAPP)!

 

The EAAPP was officially launched in Kenya on July 18, 2005.  Membership is open to paleoanthropologists and paleontologists working in Eastern Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda). The first objective of the society is to bring scholars working in this region together for scientific exchange and reporting on paleoanthropological and paleontological research findings. To this end, we hold bi-annual conferences with an emphasis on making East African and foreign scholars working in East Africa aware of each other’s research, as well as addressing issues affecting all researchers in East Africa such as policy regarding research requirements, collections management, and fieldwork ethics.  The second objective of the society is to raise funds for East African scholars to conduct field and laboratory research within East African countries.

 

Let us introduce ourselves: the members of the EAAPP Secretariat are —

1. Chairperson: Dr. Emma Mbua (Kenya), a Senior Research Scientist and the Head of Earth Sciences at the National Museums of Kenya, Kenya

2. Vice Chairperson: Dr. Zeresenay Alemseged (Ethiopia), Chair of the Anthropology Department at the California Academy of Sciences, USA

3. Organizing Secretary and Representative for the USA (USA): Dr. Briana Pobiner, Research Scientist and Museum Educator in the Human Origins Program, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, USA

4. Representative for Tanzania: Dr. Jackson Njau (Tanzania), Assistant Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and Geoanthropology, Indiana University, USA

5. Representative for Kenya: Dr. Purity Kiura (Kenya), Head of Archaeology at the National Museums of Kenya, Kenya

6. Representative for Eritrea: Dr. Amanuel Beyin (Eritrea), Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice, University of Southern Indiana, USA

7. Representative for Ethiopia: Dr. Zelalem Assefa (Ethiopia), Research Associate in the Human Origins Program, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, USA

8. Representative for South Africa: Ms. Andrea Leenan, Chief Operating Officer, Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST), South Africa

9. Representative for Europe (Germany): Dr. Christine Hertler, Scientific Researcher for Paleobiology, Research Centre ROCEECH (The Role of Culture in Early Expansion of Humans), Senckenberg Research Institute, Frankfurt, Germany

10: Representative for Asia: Dr Masato Nakatsukasa (Japan), Associate Professor, Laboratory of Physical Anthropology, Kyoto University, Japan

11. Representative for South America: Dr. Rene Bobe (Chile), Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, George Washington University, USA

 

Right now we’re in the throes of gearing up for our 4th bi-annual conference, which will begin in two days! It’s being held at the Leisure Lodge Resort in Mombasa, Kenya, from July 28th – August 2nd. The conference is organized by the secretariat of the EAAPP in coordination with the National Museums of Kenya (NMK). We’re very excited to have 52 presentations planned by researchers from all over the world. The archaeology talks range from discussions of the characterization and chronology of the earliest Acheulean at Konso, Ethiopia to characterization of obsidian sources and provenience of Middle Stone Age artifacts in the Kenyan Rift Valley, to the implications of ostrich eggshell strontium isotope analysis for reconstructing prehistoric exchange systems in the African Late Stone Age, to recent findings of multidimentional features of megalithic monument centers in southwestern Ethiopia. There are also papers on case studies of cultural heritage management such as conservation of the paleoanthropological record with limited resources: the case of Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania and oil exploration in sensitive cultural landscapes: the case of Tullow Oil in the Lake Turkana Basin, Kenya.

 

We invite you to visit our website: http://www.eaapp.or.ke/ and Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/East-African-Association-of-Paleoanthropology-and-Paleontology/167166840038050, and we’d love for any of you to attend our conferences! Email us at eaapp.committee@gmail.com if you’d like to be put on our email list to get updates about future conferences.

British Museum International Training Programme : Facebook Group

The British Museum International training Programe  (ITP) , is a six week course arranged with several UK museums, in museology, art galleries. for experts, archaeologist and all students around the world.

Most Participants come from different parts of the world From :Afghanistan, Brazil China , Egypt, Ghana, India ,Iran , Iraq, Kenya, ,Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria, Palestine , South Africa ,Sudan, Turkey, UAE and Uganda.

However, during the ICTP 2009, a facebook group (ICTP) has been launched to keep communication between ICTP participants, BM staff, and collegeus from other participant Museums. The group gives its members the chance to share their news through posting on group wall, and uploading their photos on the group. The ICTP facebook group has an international environment, with its 84  members from more than 16 countries, sharing different cultures and languages, but all has same interests in Museum Studies, Archaeology, and history…etc. Moreover, the group celebrated all kinds of events social and professional.

The group has been developed well over the past months, and it starts to become an excellent communication link between participants and a gathering point to all members. It also started a self introduction of itself towards further participants. For the first time, the group had sent welcoming PowerPoint slides before the beginning of the programme to both ICTP  participants of 2010, and 2011 and plan to send it Annually .

The group also developed and now has an offical e-mail: BMITP@groups.facebook.com

where you can e-mail the group, and all of your comments will be automatically posted on the group wall.

We will be very happy, to see you on our group, to participate and share with us your experience in Archaeology, Museology, Galleries, and any related subject. : This is our link on facebook : https://www.facebook.com/groups/BMITP/

 

Its our pleasure to have you in our goup 🙂 Your Always welcome !!!

Regards,

Haytham Dieck

BM-ICTP facebook Administrator