Before Farming

The origins of hunting & gathering in the Congo basin

a perspective on the Middle Stone Age Lupemban industry

Before Farming (2011), 2011, (1), 1–20.

Abstract

This paper reviews current archaeological evidence for the origins of hunting and gathering in the Congo basin, which may have first been settled ~300 ka BP (years before present) by archaic Homo sapiens. Initial dispersal into central Africa is reflected by the widespread appearance of stone tools belonging to the Middle Stone Age (MSA) Lupemban industry. The Lupemban is characterised by implements suitable for attachment to handles for use, including as the tips of projectile weapons and heavy-duty axes. Recent dates for the appearance of this technology coincide with warm and wet (interglacial) climatic conditions, suggesting it enabled foraging communities to exploit the resources of the equatorial woodland and rainforest belt. As one of the earliest purported signatures for mobile human foragers in the global archaeological record, the convergence of techno-typological, chronological and palaeoenvironmental data support the assertion that the Lupemban is of central relevance to understanding the origins of hunting and gathering in the Congo basin. In this paper the problems inhibiting Stone Age research in central Africa are highlighted alongside a review of evidence for the Lupemban as the first archaeological signature in the region. The technological characteristics of Lupemban tools are outlined, and theories pertaining to their use(s) in the context of woodland and rainforest foraging are presented. Palaeoecological and biogeographical evidence for rainforest and woodland subsistence is explored, followed by a discussion of the age of the industry. The implications of this research for the origins of hunting and gathering in the Congo basin are highlighted, with reference to contemporary hunter-gatherer groups.

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Taylor, Nicholas