Earlier exits of H. sapiens from Africa were overprinted by the big exit around 60-70,000 years ago. Why was this exodus so successful when the earlier excursions were not? A new study by an international team of scientists confirm that social networking was key to this success.
A team of international scientists, led by the Australian Museum’s Dr Amy Mosig Way, have revealed that strong social networks allowed early humans to prosper across southern Africa. The clue from the past lay in a prehistoric backed artifact; this kind of ‘stone Swiss Army knife’ was found to be the same shape across multiple populations. The uniformity of these tools demonstrates that these populations must have been in contact with each other.
People have walked out of Africa for hundreds of thousands of years. We have evidence for early H. sapiens in Greece and the Levant from around 200,000 years ago. However, these earlier exits were overprinted by the big exit around 60-70ka, which involved the ancestors of all modern people living outside of Africa today.
Published in Nature: Scientific Reports, this paper presents the first morphometric analysis of Howiesons Poort backed artifacts across southern Africa and, for the first time, demonstrates how these artifacts are made to a similar template across great distances and several biomes. This tool can be made to a range of shapes and so the choice by multiple different cultural groups, to make them the same shows that they must have been connected and sharing knowledge at this time. In this study, the scientists also correlate for the first time the frequency of backed artifact discard with high-resolution paleo-environmental proxies at Sibudu.
Together, these analyses provide new insight into strength of social ties over across southern Africa during the Howiesons Poort and provide evidence that these social connections were in place just before this big exodus. It was the strength of the social network which allowed populations to prosper in the face of changing climatic conditions.
Archaeologists have long thought that our ability to cooperate with and share knowledge with people who are not related to us, who may not even share the same language as us has been key to survival, and this publication has provided evidence of early human social networks. These findings hold global implications for understanding our evolutionary path, and how expanding social networks contributed to the expansion of modern humans out of Africa and into new environments across Eurasia.
Dr Amy Mosig Way, Scientific Officer Archaeology, Geosciences and Archaeology, Australian Museum Research Institute.
Meagan Warwick, AMRI Project and Communications Officer, Australian Museum.
Way, A.M., de la Peña, P., de la Peña, E. et al. Howiesons Poort backed artifacts provide evidence for social connectivity across southern Africa during the Final Pleistocene. Sci Rep 12, 9227 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-12677-5
- The Conversation. 65,000-year-old ‘stone Swiss Army knives’ show early humans had long-distance social networks.
- Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Swiss Army knife’ shows ancient humans were talking to one another.
- The Guardian. 65,000 year-old ‘Swiss Army knife’ proves ancient humans shared knowledge, research says.
- Cosmos Magazine. Stone Age “Swiss Army knife” reveals early humans’ connections.
- Science Alert. Ancient 'Swiss Army Knives' Suggest Early Humans Were Social Across Long Distances.