Middle Stone Age of technology at Cartwright's site, Kenya

Date of Completion

January 2007


Anthropology, Archaeology




Technological complexity, including the use of projectile weaponry, is an important attribute of modern human behavior. The transition from the hand-held hand axe to smaller hafted tools may have happened as early as 285 ka, but the unequivocal use of the bow and arrow is undocumented before the Later Stone Age. ^ This investigation contributes to the understanding of Middle Stone Age (MSA) behavior from a technological perspective and directly addresses behavioral complexity as part of the adaptive package of Homo sapiens in the MSA of East Africa. The work investigated the technology and functions of points found at the MSA Cartwright's site, Kenya. The description of the MSA assemblage at the site has been carried out to find out its character and how it compares to other MSA sites in the surrounding Central Rift Valley sites of Prospect Farm and Prolonged Drift. Stone points occur at all three MSA sites that have been examined in this study, but they may have been used to arm short stabbing spears (assegais), long throwing spears (javelins), or arrows. To clarify this issue, the points' aerodynamic properties and traces of damage and use-wear were examined and compared with those documented in experimental studies to determine what weaponry systems they were part of. Replicated points were used with the bow and arrow to test the proposition that some MSA points were used to arm bows and arrows. The findings from this experimental study suggest that some MSA points were used with the bow and arrow and are effective weapons in terms of distance, accuracy and penetration, and may have served to increase the hunting success of MSA hominids. ^ The study also provides useful insights into the technological variability found among assemblages. Results from comparative analyses of artifacts from Cartwright's site, Prolonged Drift and Prospect Farm show that Cartwright's site largely conforms to MSA patterns that include plasticity in manufacture techniques and variation in assemblage composition among other parameters. ^