The Shungura lithic record: A cultural or raw material induced variant within the context of the Early Oldowan from eastern Africa?

Anne Delagnes1, Michel Brenet2, Yonas Beyene3, Jean-Renaud Boisserie4

  1. PACEA, CNRS / University of Bordeaux, France;
  2. INRAP GSO & PACEA, CNRS / University of Bordeaux, France;
  3. ARCC &CFEE, MEAE / CNRS, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia;
  4. PALEVOPRIM, CNRS / University of Poitiers, France;


The archaeological assemblages from the Shungura Formation (Member F, ca. 2.34 Ma) show a number of Early Oldowan features combined with a set of technological characteristics which are unique in the context of the earliest material cultures. These distinctive technological characteristics consist in the exploitation of quartz river pebbles, high fragmentation rates and small overall dimensions of the lithic production, as initially pointed by J. Chavaillon and H.V. Merrick. This has long raised the question of the technical skills of the Shungura tool-makers, some people claiming for a close similarity of the Omo record with unintentional flaked stones from nut-cracking sites attributed to Pan (e.g. Mercader et al., 2002), others (e.g., de la Torre, 2004) arguing for “a technical knowledge and manual precision” similar to those observed in other Early Oldowan sites. The questions still pending beyond these considerations being: which adaptive responses to raw material constraints did the Early Oldowan groups develop in this context and which technological skills do they reflect? For testing the quality of the quartz pebbles from the Omo river and their fragmentation patterns, we performed an experimental program with the contribution of four novice knappers and one expert knapper, using two percussion techniques: bipolar and free hand. It resulted in a large experimental collection that has been analyzed using descriptive attributes similar to those applied to the archaeological material. Direct comparisons can thus be drawn between the experimental data and the archaeological record from OMO 123 K, which constitutes to date the best preserved archaeological occurrence at Shungura. These data tend to confirm the difficulty, even for skilled knappers, to develop controlled and repetitive knapping methods from the Omo pebbles.

Subject Communication
Language of text English
Topics AFR.001: Recent Advances in Early Stone Age Studies in Africa, New Insights on the Oldowan and the Acheulian Stone Technology
Keywords Shungura; Oldowan; Raw material; lithic technology; experiment;
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