‘The study of man’s past by scientific analysis of the material remains of his cultures’
Even though there are a good few questionable things about this definition (most obviously man’s past, and the term cultures – what constitutes a culture after all?), it highlights an important point: we can tell a lot about the lifestyles, behaviours, ecology, and indeed physiology, of past humans through finding remnants of their way of life.
Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely fascinated by the sphinxes of ancient Egypt, the jungle temples of the Mayans, or the daggers of Bronze Age Britons. But elevated high above these on a whole new pedestal of fascination and excitement, are those humans who lived long before any of these complex societies. Humans so old it’s hard to determine whether they are human at all!
I have been given the incredible opportunity to work with Prof John Parkington at the University of Cape Town for a year, with the aim of trying to reveal the behaviour and ecology of early humans of the Middle Stone Age (~300,000-30,000 years ago), as well as some later periods. The Middle Stone Age is exceptionally important and interesting because our species evolved in this time (~200,000 years ago), and the first evidence of abstract thought, symbolic behaviour and art occurs here.
By excavating and analysing animal bones, shellfish remains, lithics (stone tools) and other human-made objects found in ancient hangout spots around the Western Cape (caves and rock shelters), we are revealing a tiny piece in the vast picture of how these early humans not only survived, but evolved massive brains, leading to art, music, agriculture, iPhones, and you reading this sentence.
Follow the research here