Middle Stone to Late Stone Age at Gona, Afar, Ethiopia: New sites 50-10,000 years ago

It is a consensus view in paleoanthropology that Africa is the place of origin of Homo sapiens. Currently, the H. sapiens cranium from Jebel Irhoud in Morocco (associated with MSA artifacts) dated to 300 Ka, and the MSA stone artifacts from Olorgesailie (~320 Ka) represent the earliest such evidence in Africa. However, the meaning of variability in the MSA and the nature of the transition to LSA in East Africa are among the least understood, mainly due to the paucity of well-dated archaeological materials from well-stratified sequences. As a result, we have a poor understanding of the biological and behavioral evolution of the H. sapiens population that inhabited East Africa ~50-10 Ka.

At Gona, systematic survey has produced about 50 new MSA and LSA archaeological localities with artifacts and fauna from Odele South (ODS), Busidima South (BSS) and Kilaitoli (KLT) areas.  Based on preliminary 14C and U-series dating, these localities are estimated to ~50-10 Ka. A test-excavation opened at KLT1, the youngest in the sequence, produced blades, bladelets, blade cores, bladelet cores, pyramidal cores, denticulates, perforators, OES beads, perforated marine shells, grindstones and a large number of H. sapiens fossils (probably representing  burials). Our survey has shown great potential for yielding in situ contextual data and critical information on the environment in which our most recent ancestors lived. The ODS, BSS and KLT localities at Gona provide a unique opportunity for illuminating the hotly debated issue regarding the biological as well as the behavioral evolution of H. sapiens, and the meaning of the variability in the MSA as well as the nature of the transition to the LSA (50 - 10 Ka).


Sileshi Semaw at Gona Site