Ismael Sánchez-Morales has been awarded a Research Grant from the Leakey Foundation during their Spring 2019 round to fund research for his dissertation project “Assessing Variability in Aterian Lithic Technology: Implications for Late MSA Land-Use Patterns in Morocco.” This grant, together with an SBSRI dissertation research grant and a Riecker Grant from the School of Anthropology, will fund two data collection trips for his dissertation project: A one-month trip to the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology to study the Middle Stone Age Aterian lithic collection from the archaeological site of Mugharet el’Aliya; and a six-month trip to Rabat, Morocco, to study the lithic collections from the Middle Stone Age cave sites of Bizmoune, Rhafas, and Dar es Soltan I, housed at L’Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine.
Research project abstract: Understanding the traits that define our species is one of the principal endeavors in the study of human evolution. It can be argued that Homo sapiens are characterized by exceptional behavioral flexibility and adaptability to varied environments. This flexibility is well expressed in several dimensions of lithic technology. The Aterian techno-complex of the North African Middle Stone Age appears to present an anomaly. The Aterian was produced by Homo sapiens from ~130 to ~40 ka BP in varied environments extending from the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts to the southern Sahara. Yet despite its long chronology and vast distribution, Aterian lithic technology is often described as invariant, suggesting low diversity of land-use strategies. The objective of the proposed research is to test whether or not Aterian technology is indeed as homogeneous as it appears, or if there is significant variability in particular aspects of Aterian technology thought to reflect facets of land-use including mobility and lithic raw material exploitation patterns. The Aterian lithic assemblages from the Moroccan sites of Mugharet el’Aliya, Dar es-Soltan I, Rhafas, and Bizmoune will be analyzed and compared in order to answer two specific questions: 1) do Aterian sites located in varied geographic contexts show significant inter-assemblage technological variability?; and 2) do observed technological similarities/differences reflect behavioral consistency/flexibility in terms of land-use strategies? These questions will be addressed using lithic analyses aimed at documenting mobility-conditioned aspects of technology such as reduction methods, patterns of artifact reworking and discard, and the qualities and diversity of utilized raw materials. Through the investigation of the variability of Aterian land-use patterns, this research will progress our understanding of the nature and ubiquity of behavioral flexibility among early Homo sapiens.
Photo: Ismael with a Clovis point he found while doing survey in El Fin del Mundo archaeological site in Sonora in 2018
Anthro News date: 5/24/2019