Early Stone Age History of the Victoria Falls Area

Artist Geoff Hunter's interpretation of the early formation of the Victoria Falls, overlooked by an early human ancestor.Africa is humanity's original home. The most significant landmarks in human evolution all took place in Africa - the transition from ape to ape-man to man-ape, the increase in relative brain size, the first tools, the first domesticated use of fire, the first artwork and burial of the dead, indeed our very humanity, are all African phenomena which took place between 5 million and 50 000 years ago.The Victoria Falls area is strategically situated between the two great centres of human evolutionary discoveries on this continent - East Africa and South Africa. Early human activity in the Victoria Falls area dates back at least two million years, proof of which lies in the large number of early Stone Age tools found in and around the gorges.Kabwe Man

Of particular importance to studies of the origins of humans in Africa is the early human fossil discovery at Kabwe in Zambia. Often referred to as "Kabwe Man" (originally "Broken Hill Man"), these fossils have been varyingly attributed to archaic Homo sapiens, Homo heidelbergensis or Homo rhodesiensis, in short the hominid species that immediately predated our own species Homo sapiens. These human ancestors lived in southern and eastern Africa from around 600?000 years ago and were probably the makers of many of the early Stone Age implements found in the Victoria Falls region.It is, however, almost certain that humans and our distant ancestors have been visiting the Falls effectively since their origins, as evidence of early apes have been found just a few hundred kilometres to the west in Namibia and ape-men just a few hundred kilometres to the south. But time and the slow meanderings of the river upstream, and the erosive power of the river downstream, have swept the land clean of much of this earlier evidence, so that only relatively young sediments sit directly atop the ancient basalts.

Stone tools - the First Technology

Stone Age tools are categorised into "cultures" depending on how they were made or used. The basic categories are: Oldowan - a crude and limited stone tool kit associated with the Early Stone Age and named after the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania where the first examples were found.

Acheulean - a more refined and complicated tool kit that developed during the Early Stone Age around 1,8 million years ago and lasted until approximately 250 000 years ago. It is characterised by a tool type known as the hand axe. The culture is named after the French site of St Acheul.

Middle Stone Age - appearing about 250?000 years ago, the tools of the Middle Stone Age are more complex and include spear points and smaller serrated blades and knives.

Late Stone Age - emerging around 45 000 years ago, tools of the Late Stone Age are more specialised and diverse than earlier tool technologies and display a sense of aestheticism in their creation. They comprise smaller, hafted blades and retouched flakes.

In clock-work order: Early Acheulean hand axe, Oldowan chopper, Late Stone Age hand axe, Later Acheulean hand axe.
Center: Late Stone Age scraper.

Brett Hilton-Barber and Lee R. Berger. Copyright © 2010 Prime Origins.

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