The Stone Age may have lasted 20,000 years longer in some part of Africa than previously thought, recent archeological finds have revealed.
New discoveries in places in Senegal on the west coast of Africa, made by researchers at the Max Planck Institute, fuel a rethinking of the passage of human evolution.
Previous discoveries have suggested that people in Africa stopped using certain tools and methods – including simple tips and scrapers – in favor of more sophisticated and sophisticated equipment, including spears and blades about 30,000 years ago.
This distinction in equipment and the transition to a more artistic and regionally diverse approach to instruments marked the transition from the Middle to the Late Stone Age.
Archaeologists have found that ancient West Africans still used simple tools about 1
This refutes the long-held theory that humanity is evolving in only one way to our modern way of life – and instead is evolving at different speeds around the world.
New discoveries in places in Senegal on the west coast of Africa, made by researchers at the Max Planck Institute, fuel the rethinking of the passage of human evolution
The Stone Age is divided into three periods – the Lower Stone Age before Homo sapiens, the Middle Stone Age, where the early Homo sapiens used simple tools such as tips and scrapers – and the Late Stone Age, when mastery began to take hold.
Middle Stone Age finds are most common in African records about 300,000 to 30,000 years ago, after which they largely disappeared – although new research shows that this continued in some isolated areas much later.
The exact transition varies from region to region, but the last stage of the later Stone Age – the Neolithic – played a way to the Bronze Age around 3500 BC.
Archaeologists say their research supports the idea that – for most of human prehistory – groups of people have been relatively isolated from each other.
The discovery comes as archaeologists take some of the first steps in uncovering West Africa’s prehistoric past, which they say is understudied compared to the eastern and southern parts of the continent.
The lead author of a new study, Dr. Eleanor Sceri, said West Africa was a real frontier for human evolutionary research – as almost nothing was known about its prehistory.
“Almost everything we know about human origins is extrapolated from discoveries in small parts of East and South Africa,” Sceri explained.
Her colleague, Dr Khady Niang, from Cheikh Anta Diop University in Senegal, added: “These findings show the importance of investigating the entire African continent if we really want to deal with the deep human past.
“Before our work, the history of the rest of Africa suggests that long ago, 11,000 years ago, the last traces of the Middle Stone Age were long gone.”
The team does not know exactly why the people of the Stone Age in West Africa needed more time to adopt new tools, but suggest that this may be due to geographical isolation.
Other theories suggest that this may be due to less radical climate change, which means that people living there do not have to find new ways to adapt.
Archaeologists say their research supports the idea that – for most of human prehistory – groups of people have been relatively isolated from each other. These drawings show some of the tools used 11,000 years ago in West Africa that are already obsolete elsewhere.
Dr Niang said: “All we can be sure of is that this persistence is not just a lack of capacity to invest in the development of new technologies.
“These people were intelligent, they knew how to choose a good stone for the production of tools and use the landscape in which they lived.”
The team said their findings, along with genetic findings that show a huge amount of diversity among people living on the continent, fit into a newer view of human evolution that Stone Age groups lived and developed separately.
Dr Niang said: “We are not sure why, but in addition to physical distance, there may be some cultural boundaries. Perhaps the populations using these different material cultures also lived in slightly different ecological niches. “
Team walk on the Gambia River, Senegal. The team does not know exactly why West Stone Age residents took longer to adopt new tools, but speculate that this may be due to geographical isolation.
About 15,000 years ago, a significant increase in humidity and forest growth in Central and West Africa connected different areas and provided corridors for groups to disperse – marking the end of the Middle Stone Age instruments.
Dr Scerri added: “These findings do not fit into a simple one-line model of cultural change towards ‘modernity’.
“Groups of hunter-gatherers, embedded in radically different technological traditions, have occupied neighboring regions of Africa for thousands of years and sometimes share the same regions.
“Long-isolated regions, on the other hand, may have been important reservoirs of cultural and genetic diversity. This may have been a determining factor in the success of our species.
The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE STORY OF THE STONE AGE?
The Stone Age is a period in human prehistory, characterized by the initial development of stone tools, which covers more than 95 percent of the technological prehistory of man.
It began with the earliest known use of stone tools by hominins, the ancient ancestors of humans, in the Old Stone Age – beginning about 3.3 million years ago.
Between approximately 400,000 and 200,000 years ago, the pace of innovation in stone technology began to accelerate very slightly, a period known as the Middle Stone Age.
At the beginning of this time, handicrafts with exquisite craftsmanship were made. This eventually gave way to smaller, more diverse sets of tools, with a focus on flake tools rather than larger tools.
The Stone Age is a period in human prehistory, characterized by the initial development of stone tools, which covers more than 95 percent of the technological prehistory of man. This image shows Neolithic jadeite axes from the Toulouse Museum
These toolkits have been established for at least 285,000 years in some parts of Africa and from 250,000 to 200,000 years in Europe and parts of West Asia. These toolkits lasted at least 50,000 to 28,000 years ago.
During the later Stone Age, the pace of innovation increased and the level of mastery increased.
Groups of Homo sapiens experimented with a variety of raw materials, including bone, ivory and horn, as well as stone.
The period, between 50,000 and 39,000 years, is also associated with the emergence of modern human behavior in Africa.
The different groups sought their own cultural identity and adopted their own ways of creating things.
Later, the Stone Age peoples and their technologies spread from Africa over the next few thousand years.