Jessica Thompson

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Emory U.

Grant number

Gr. 9437

Approve Date

April 18, 2017

Project Title

Thompson, Dr. Jessica C., Emory U., Atlanta, GA - To aid research on 'Social and Biological Dynamics in the Later Stone Age of Northern Malawi'

Preliminary abstract: Understanding the circumstances that promote human cooperation and conflict is a provocative area of current anthropological research. As these behaviors are argued to have arisen during our evolutionary past as hunter-gatherers, it is essential to develop a robust record of diversity in forager lifeways and social organization. However, most ethnographic examples derive from small groups living in environments not representative of those that maintained long-term foraging populations in the past. The objective of this project is to establish an archaeological chronology of hunter-gatherer technology, subsistence, art, and social interactions in the east-central part of Africa, which will be used to test hypotheses about how these relationships were affected first by environmental change during the mid-Holocene, and later by encroachment of food-producing societies during the Bantu expansion. We will test our hypotheses by excavating three rock art sites in the Mzimba District of northern Malawi, dating and analyzing their remains, and tying those records to existing human biological and paleoenvironmental datasets. We will also collect new data on the local rock art record and paleoenvironmental context through landscape work that provides context for the excavations. This will contribute to broader anthropological questions about the conditions under which human foragers express territorial behaviors that can result in conflict, and what archaeological signatures might reasonably be expected to preserve of this expression. In addition to its immediate outcomes, the project will lay the groundwork for larger regional-scale comparisons of hunter-gatherer social and biological relationships in this part of Africa.