Grant TypePost PhD Research Grant
Institutional AffiliationEmory U.
Grant numberGr. 9437
Approve DateApril 18, 2017
Project TitleThompson, Dr. Jessica C., Emory U., Atlanta, GA - To aid research on 'Social and Biological Dynamics in the Later Stone Age of Northern Malawi'
JESSICA C. THOMPSON, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, was awarded a grant in April 2017 to aid research on “Social and Biological Dynamics in the Later Stone Age of Northern Malawi.” Humans develop large-scale social networks reaching far beyond local kin. Understanding the orgins of this unique characteristic requires research into forager adaptations in the environments of our evolution. This grant supported excavation and dating of three rock shelter sites in the Mzimba District of northern Malawi, which produced the first high-resolution archaeological data of forager technology, subsistence, and symbolic behavior in this part of Africa. Significant results of the 2017 fieldwork and subsequent analyses of the recovered materials included a record of environmental change and hunter-gatherer behavior extending back 30,000 years, six times as old as the oldest previously known archaeological sites in Malawi with preserved organic remains. These remains included ostrich eggshell in a part of Africa that no longer supports ostrich populations, the oldest directly-dated land snail beads, and a human cremation — arguably the oldest in sub-Saharan Africa — dated to 9500 years ago. The material culture documents changes in ornamentation, hunting decisions, and technology in connection with a major shift from grasslands to woodlands at the end of the last Ice Age. This contributes to broader anthropological questions about the conditions under which human foragers express territorial behaviors, and identifies which archaeological remains preserve signatures of this expression.