Important advances to discover origins and evolution of modern African cultures


Bone artefacts and pearls, and ocher pieces found in the site of Panga ya Saidi, Kenya.

Bone artefacts and pearls, and ocher pieces found in the site of Panga ya Saidi, Kenya.

The archaeological site of Panga ya Saidi, in Kenya, which is about 78,000 years old, is the only site in eastern Africa that allowed researchers to document for the first time, the periods ranging from the Middle Stone Age (MSA) to the Late Stone Age (LSA). Now, an article in the Journal of Human Evolution, analyses -for the first time- materials found in Panga ya Saidi, such as bone artefacts and incised bones, engraved ocher pieces, corals, fossils and pearls made of ostrich’s eggshell beads and beads made of shells. The study, signed -among others- by Àfrica Pitach, researcher at the Prehistoric Studies and Research Seminar (SERP-UB), is an important advance to discover the development of the first modern cultures, whose origins are in Africa and date back to the MSA, and regarding Eurasia, the Middle Palaeolithic.

The study is also signed by researchers from the University of Bordeaux, Max Planck Institute, the Australian National University and the National Museums of Kenya. The study shows that the main cultural innovations of eastern Africa appeared about 67,000 years ago and diversified in later periods. A specific example of the analysis are the pearls made of ostrich eggshell pieces. Its observation allows researchers to identify the existence of several artisans with different skills.

Many know about the great variability in the origins of cultural innovations in eastern Africa during the MSA and during LSA. The recently published study presents that the cultural paths documented in Panga ya Saidi were influenced by both regional traditions and cultural and demographic diffusion phenomena. “The processes that started with the first emergence of symbolic behaviour in the analysed period do not constitute a single event but rather a series of changes within regional connections and diversifications over the millennia”, the article says. “There were populational phenomena as well as regional evolution phenomena to be elucidated yet”, notes Pitach to explain the need for further research studies.

At the moment, Àfrica Pitarch is Beatriu de Pinós postdoctoral researcher (AGAUR) and her research lines are, among others, the origins and evolution of Palaeolithic technologies of artistic production in Europe, and the geochemical and traceological characterization of pigments used during the transition from Middle to Upper Palaeolithic in Europe and from MSA to LSA in eastern Africa.

Article reference:

D’Errico, F.; Pitarch Martí, A.; Shipton, C.; Le Vraux, E.; Ndiema, E.; Goldstein, S.; Petraglia, M.D.; Boivin, N. «Trajectories of cultural innovation from the Middle to Later Stone Age in Eastern Africa: Personal ornaments, bone artifacts and ocher from Panga ya Saidi, Kenya», Journal of Human Evolution, 141 (2020) 102737. Doi: https://authors.elsevier.com/c/1aiUoAlZXFx49

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