MSA point from Lake Tumba: More questions than answers..


msa kongo aggsbach aaFigure 1 shows a MSA point made on a Levallois flake from Lake Tumba, Central Africa (Fiedler and Preuss: African Archaeological Review 3: 179–187). Such unifacial points were found together with material reminiscent of the Lupemban (Tumba-West) and the Tshitolian (Tumba East) on the surface.

Since the 1960ies the Sangoan and the Lupemban are widely acknowledged to characterize the regional MSA-sequence of central Africa. Overall, the Sangoan in central Africa is rare and the regional MSA is mainly represented by the Lupemban, which has been detected in the Congo basin, adjacent river basins and their respective bordering plateaus.

First named after an assemblage of tools recovered along the Lupemba stream in the Kasai province (Breuil et al. 1944), the Lupemban is characterized by fine lanceolates (Fig.2: personal picture of a famous lanceolate from Kalambo Falls: 22 cm long, ca 350-300 k.a.).

The Lupemban overlies the Sangoan industry at the sites of Muguruk, Kenya , Kalambo Falls, Zambia, and in northeastern Angola . The Sangoan itself overlies Acheulian industries at Nsongezi, Uganda  and Kalambo Falls, Zambia. The Lupemban appears to constitute the earliest archaeological signature for the sustained prehistoric settlement of the Congo basin.

The Lupemban comprises both heavy- and light-duty implements, in addition to the large, bifacially-flaked lanceolate points that are the regionally-distinctive “fossile directeur” of the industry. Lanceolate points vary in size and shape, but share fundamental morphological features; they are foliate in planform profile, are pointed at one or both ends, and exhibit careful bifacial retouch along their lateral edges. If these tools been utilized as the tips of hafted spears or were handheld butchery tools or digging implements is the matter of discussions.

The heavy-duty component of the Lupemban toolkit includes core-axes and picks, which are generally more common than lanceolate points. Picks are minimally-worked, large, heavy pieces that may be pointed or rounds ended, and are commonly thought to have functioned as handheld woodworking tools. Core-axes are heterogeneous in form, occurring in parallel-sided, convergent and divergent types, with distal ends that are pointed or round ended. The greater refinement of many core-axes suggests they may have functioned as hafted heavy-duty woodworking tools. The light duty component of the Lupemban toolkit includes small unifacial and bifacial points-the unifacials very similar to the one shown in my Fig.1, backed flakes and blades, trapezia, and rare tranchets, for which hafted projectile functions have been suggested. Pollen samples and paleoclimatic reconstructions correlate the Lupemban industry both with deciduous woodland and open bushland or grassland palaeoenvironment.

At Kalambo Falls and numerous sites in northern Angola, the Lupemban is followed by lithic assemblages attributable to the LSA Tshitolian industry ( < 18 k.a.), which is similarly found across the forested lowland interior . The Tshitolian is a microlithic industry, manufactured mainly on quartz as the predominant raw material. This industry contains segments, tranchets, backed pieces and a small point retouched by pressure technique, and is widely acknowledged as a prehistoric hunting and gathering technology.

Anyhow, sequences with fine grained stratigraphy are poor in central Africa.  The acidic soils of central Africa typically lead to the rapid degradation of organic remains, the Quaternary sediments are poorly, the stratigraphies are usually disturbed by  the growth and movement of tree roots.

The lesions learned from the dating of Aterian ensembles in the North and from MSA ensembles in S/E- Africa are that any estimates of the antiquity by radiocarbon (14C), especially data beyond 40 k.a., have to be taken with extreme caution. Regarding the age of the Lupemban elsewhere in Africa, this techno complex, estimated by Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) and Uranium-Series, may be dated to roughly 400-200 k.a.

OSL dates from Sai Island have yielded a maximum age of 182±20 k.a. and minimum age of 152±10 k.a. The age of the Lupemban-bearing breccia at Twin Rivers by Uranium-series has resulted in a date range of ~170– >400 k.a. , including a date of 270 k.a. for a speleothem sample directly associated with the tool assemblage. Ongoing research at Kalambo Falls, Zambia will certainly give a reliable age estimate of the Lupemban through the application of luminescence dating. At the site of Katanda on the eastern margin of the Congo basin, dates of ca. 90 k.a. have been reported for an undifferentiated MSA associated with  bone harpoons. At Twin Rivers and Kalambo Falls there is the first African indication for backed tool technology, suggestive for hafting these artifacts.

In summary the Lupemban remains one of the most innovative technocomplexes of Homo sp. during the Middle Pleistocene and seems to be an industry well adapted to different habitats. Central Africa offers an immense potential for further evaluation of the Lupemban, which should defined not only by ensembles “from the margins” but also by stratified sites of the Lupemban heartland, yet to be excavated.

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome!

About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University.

Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.

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