Early Evidence for the Extensive Heat Treatment of Silcrete in the Howiesons Poort at Klipdrift Shelter (Layer PBD, 65 ka), South Africa
Heating stone to enhance its flaking qualities is among the multiple innovative adaptations introduced by early modern human groups in southern Africa, in particular during the Middle Stone Age Still Bay and Howiesons Poort traditions. Comparatively little is known about the role and impact of this technology on early modern human behaviors and cultural expressions, due, in part, to the lack of comprehensive studies of archaeological assemblages documenting the heat treatment of stone. We address this issue through an analysis of the procedure used for heating and a technological analysis of a lithic assemblage recovered from one Howiesons Poort assemblage at Klipdrift Shelter (southern Cape, South Africa). The resulting data show extensive silcrete heat treatment, which adds a new dimension to our understanding of fire-related behaviors during the Howiesons Poort, highlighting the important role played by a heat treatment stage in the production of silcrete blades. These results are made possible by our new analytical procedure that relies on the analysis of all silcrete artifacts. It provides direct evidence of a controlled use of fire which took place during an early stage of core exploitation, thereby impacting on all subsequent stages of the lithic chaîne opératoire, which, to date, has no known equivalent in the Middle Stone Age or Middle Paleolithic record outside of southern Africa.