Symbolic Arts and Rituals in the African Middle Stone-Age

John E. Collins


Since the 1950s the huge amount of archaeological research done in Africa has shown that Homo sapiens originally came from Africa rather than Western Eurasia as was previously thought. Nevertheless, some Western scholars retain a Eurocentric bias by suggesting that humans only became fully intelligent after they migrated out of Africa and settled in Europe where, during the ‘Upper Palaeolithic Transition’ around 45,000 years ago, there was an abrupt advance in human neural wiring. Their evidence is the relatively sudden change from Middle Palaeolithic to more advanced Upper Palaeolithic2 tools and the appearance of the spectacular figurative cave art of Europe. This mental revolution was initially believed to have occurred in ‘Cro-Magnon Man’ who lived in Europe and Western Eurasia 45,000- 40,000 years ago and was considered to be the first human to have the cross-domain cognition and enhanced memory necessary for a sophisticated language and symbolic behaviour. In short, although after the 1950s archaeologists generally have acknowledged that prehistoric Africa was the cradle of mankind, some still insist that prehistoric Europe was the cradle of human intelligence. New research on the African Middle Stone Age (MSA), that itself goes back 300,000 years, is challenging this view. This paper provides some examples of symbolic, ritual and artistic behaviour, and indeed advanced tool making that took place during this period and up to around 60,000 years ago, long before the appearance of CroMagnon Man.

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