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Dr. Watson Publishes Articles in Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa

Dr. Sara Watson, Negaunee Postdoctoral Research Scientist at the Field Museum, has co-authored an article in Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa entitled "Small tool production in the Howiesons Poort: a view from Montagu Cave, South Africa."


Watson, S., Dogandžić, T., Zhang, P., Steele, T.E., Zwyns, N., 2023. Small tool production in the Howiesons Poort: A view from Montagu Cave, South Africa. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa. 58.


During the late Pleistocene (~126,000 – 11,600 years ago), we see the emergence and spread of so-called ‘microlithic’ technologies, which in the broadest sense are focused on the intentional production of small stone artifacts. These small tools are argued to be part of a global-scale reorganization of lithic technologies around the development of mechanically assisted projectiles and new hunting weapons. The Howiesons Poort technocomplex (~65,000 – 58,000 years ago) of southern Africa is one of the earliest instances where small lithic artifacts become prevalent. Although described by some researchers as ‘microlithic,’ Howiesons Poort segments, small blades, and bladelets are typically larger than those seen later in time. Small lithic artifacts, like those in Howiesons Poort assemblages, may be present because they were intentionally produced, or they may be a byproduct of the production of larger blanks or the result of raw material constraints. Implementing traditional size-based definitions of microliths can present challenges for older assemblages and museum collections, where small lithic artifacts are often underrepresented. Because of this, we focused on examining the different steps of the reduction systems used during knapping to evaluate the development of strategies specific to the production of small tools and independent of the production of large ones. This approach utilizes the whole assemblage rather than only end products, so can still provide insight into the importance of small artifacts when the smallest materials are not available. We showed that at Montagu Cave, the small size of the lithic artifacts was an intentional decision, though not all of them are small enough to be included in size-based definitions of “microliths.” This highlights that focus on the intentional production of small tools using the entire assemblage is more useful for understanding early manifestations of so-called “microlithic” technologies and is more productive for making use of abundant museum collections.