Howiesons Poort and Stillbay

Middle Stone Age Stone Tool Industries

Multiple comparisons of Engraved ochres from Blombos Cave.
Engraved ochres from Blombos Cave. Henshilwood et al. 2002 / Science

Howiesons Poort and Stillbay industries of southern Africa are among the most advanced stone tool industries of the African Middle Stone Age, identified at a handful of archaeological sites, mostly caves in South Africa. Recent investigations at Sibudu Cave, as additional data supporting the earlier excavations, have achieved a timeline of between ~77,000-70,000 years before the present for Stillbay and ~66,000-58,000 bp for Howiesons Poort.

Howiesons Poort and Stillbay Living

These sites contain lithic stone industries that are comparable to European Upper Paleolithic in their sophistication, yet they date fully 20,000 to 30,000 years earlier than the UP. Stone tools from these industries include crescent-shaped blades (arguably hafted) and lanceolate projectile points. Bone artifacts include tools, perhaps even bone arrow points. Other advances shown by Howiesons Poort individuals include abstract portable art, in the form of ochre which has been engraved in a cross-hatched pattern.

Some scholars have pointed to similarly sophisticated industries in eastern Africa and Asia, at dates ranging about 30,000 to 50,000 BP. This may thus represent the migration of Early Modern Humans from South Africa beginning about 60,000 years ago along the Southern Dispersal Route, well before the European colonization by Africans leading to the European Upper Paleolithic.

Dating the Middle Stone Age in South Africa

Recent examination of dates from several sites in South Africa by Jacobs and colleagues found that Howiesons Poort and Still Bay are clearly separate cultures, separated by several thousand years.

Howiesons Poort/Still Bay sites

South Africa: Pinnacle Point, Rose Cottage Cave, Blombos Cave, Border Cave, Klasies River Caves, Sibudu Cave