Comparing the expansions of Middle Stone Age and Middle Palaeolithic populations in East Africa and South Asia

Tea break during my excavations at Katoati in Rajasthan.

Fossil and genetic studies on the origins and expansions of modern humans reveal an increasingly complex mosaic, including regionally structured populations within Africa, and numerous expansions into Eurasia resulting in multiple episodes of interbreeding with other hominins.

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Until recently, East Africa preserved the oldest fossil evidence for Homo sapiens, but it remains a key region to explore the emergence of modern
humans as a crossroads for interactions of structured populations within Africa and providing access to routes beyond. In contrast, South Asia is the last major region of Eurasia to present fossil evidence for the arrival of Homo sapiens, despite a similarly pivotal role in putative routes of expansion across Asia. These two regions share a broadly similar size, a coastline on the Indian ocean and a comparable range of habitats, but distinct differences in the evolution of behaviour evident in the archaeological record. In the first part of my talk, I will examine behavioural diversity within the Middle Stone Age of East Africa, based upon a comprehensive synthesis of the archaeological literature and the application of a quantitative approach. This identifies aspects of continuity throughout the MSA, as well as pulses of behavioural diversification, both regarding packages of lithic technology and landscape colonisation. In the second part of my talk, I will focus more broadly on the culture history of South Asia to examine modern human dispersal. With respect to the most current evidence, it appears modern humans used Middle Palaeolithic toolkits to colonise South Asia during MIS 5. In conclusion, I will argue that examinations of human expansion and behavioural variability need to be rooted within a biogeographic framework.

Event Information:

Date, Time:23/04/2018, 16:00 h – 17:00 h

Location: Kleiner Hörsaal der Geologie (310a), Zülpicher Straße 49, Cologne

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