Alison Melville

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Connecticut, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9381

Approve Date

October 13, 2016

Project Title

Melville, Alison F., U. of Connecticut, Storrs, CT - To aid research on 'Structure and Variability in Lithic Technology in the East African Middle Stone Age,' supervised by Dr. Sally McBrearty

Preliminary abstract: Hominin populations during the Middle Stone Age (MSA) exhibit a previously unprecedented range of behavioral innovation and variability. The MSA of East Africa, however, stands in contrast to the techno-typologically distinct and temporally constrained cultural phasing present in South Africa. For East Africa, evidence for spatial or temporal patterns is ambiguous or overly generalized, as are explanations of the mechanisms that underlie the observed variability. New approaches are necessary if we are to improve understanding of the structure of MSA variability and the extent of shared material culture between assemblages. This project provides one such approach, founded in robust middle-range theory that connects knapping behaviors with the social transmission of technical knowledge. It uses multivariate statistical methods to identify clusters of similar knapping decisions in 15 assemblages from Ethiopia and Kenya and to explore the relative (or interacting) roles of cultural transmission, environment, raw material, reduction intensity, or cultural drift in structuring the distribution of lithic behaviors. The cultural transmission of technological behaviors can be used as a generalized proxy for the degree of social interaction between Pleistocene groups. Systematic tests that can demonstrate this are important prerequisites for assessing hypotheses about the evolutionary relationships of MSA hominins and their inferred dispersals and contractions.