Defining the ‘generalist specialist’ niche for Pleistocene Homo sapiens the case study of mountains

Tue, 19/10/202116:30
Dr. Brian A. Stewart, Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, USA

Tuesday October 19h, 16:30

This week’s talk is by
Dr. Brian A. Stewart
Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, USA

Charting the evolution of behavioral plasticity in Lesotho’s Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains, southern Africa

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Of myriad hominin species, ours stands alone in having colonized the globe in all its ecological diversity. The unique ecological tolerance of Homo sapiens – underwritten by an unprecedented capacity for complex, rapidly transmittable culture ­– stems from selective pressures faced by Middle Stone Age societies in Africa. However, a complex blend of historical contingency and geographical positioning limit the utility of analogies drawn from contemporary African foragers. In relatively recent periods like the late Holocene, rich, well-preserved archaeological records can mitigate this issue. Much more challenging are the problems created across deep time; the nature, scale, and pace of later Pleistocene climatic and environmental changes, for example, have no parallels in the Holocene, including the ethnographic present. Moreover, during most of the evolution of our species Africa experienced temperatures substantially lower than those of today. What forms did African hunter-gatherer societies take during periods of pronounced climatic instability or cooling, when conditions differed most from the present? I address this question by exploring the evolution of human strategies to cope with one of Africa’s most temperate regions: the Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains of highland Lesotho, southern Africa.