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Fauresmith Industries


Retouched Point from Kathu Pan 1

~500,000-year-old retouched point from Kathu Pan 1. The scale bar is 1 cm long

Image courtesy of Jayne Wilkins

Fauresmith industries is the name archaeologists have given to a Middle Stone Age tool manufacturing technique thought originally to date to the same period as the Mousterian (ca. 75,000 to 100,000 years before the present) in southern Africa. However, later excavations have firmly placed this set of technologies in the Middle Stone Age, but not without some controversy. Most importantly, if the dates and integrity of the occupations at the site of Kathu Pan are correct, Fauresmith represents the first hominid use of spear points, some 500,000 years ago.

The Fauresmith type site is located in Orange Free State Province of South Africa and it exhibits both Lower and Middle Paleolithic occupations, as do most other sites with Fauresmith occupations. The stone tools within Fauresmith sites are a blend of handaxe technology (used by several of our hominid ancestors including Neanderthals) and blade technology, assumed until recently to have been a development invented by early modern humans. As a result, over the past century or so, Fauresmith has been the subject of a significant controversy, resulting in part from its advanced technology and its apparent great age.

Fauresmith Controversy

Initially discovered in 1894, the Fauresmith was first recognized as a distinct stone tool industry in 1923, and officially named in 1926. It was typified by very fine, small and carefully worked almond-shaped handaxes reminiscent of the Micoquian, and prepared cores and blades. Fauresmith is stratified above Acheulean and below Middle Stone Age deposits at the South African sites of Pniel 6 and Canteen Koppie, and it is often found in somewhat mixed or at least possibly mixed contexts.

By 1956 it was believed to be best considered as transitional between the Earlier and Middle Stone Ages. Part of the difficulty pinning down Fauresmith as a specific, arguable stone industry has been that the tool assemblages have been characterized in various ways, by reference to raw material, to the types of activity which took place, by a fairly simple culture categorization, and as a result of post-depositional mixing.

By 1965 its very reality was challenged. Scholars argued that the combination of prepared cores and blades with Acheulean handaxes was unlikely, and the result of post-depositional mixing by animals or other forces. In 1965, the term Fauresmith was 'officially' abandoned.

Recent work at the Wonderwerk site, in the Northern Cape, revealed stratified Fauresmith technologies dated by Uranium-series to between 276,000 and at least 350,000 years ago. But, the cultural designation is still controversial, although that may change with the publication of Kathu Pan.

Fauresmith at Kathu Pan

In 2012, Wilkins and colleagues published results from excavations at the Kathu Pan site in central South Africa, where apparently distinct Fauresmith industries have been identified. At this site, say the researchers, there is clear evidence that the combination of artifact types of Acheulean and Mousterian is not the result of mixing. Stratum 4, which bears typical Fauresmith, is of a different soil color and texture than the succeeding Stratum 3, supporting the lack of mixing; further, although Stratum 3 artifacts are waterworn, those in Stratum 4 are not.

Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dates at Kathu Pan returned a minimum age of 464,000 years and U-series/ESR analysis estimated it at 542,000 years old. Kathu Pan's technologies include pointed flakes which have some characteristics of having been used as spear tips: and if that situation continues to be upheld, Fauresmith will represent the earliest yet known use of such a technology.

Sites: Kathu Pan, Pniel 6, Wonderwerk Cave, Bundu Farm, Rooidam 1, Canteen Koppie (all in South Africa); Twin Rivers (Zambia)


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to the Middle Stone Age, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Barham L. 2012. Clarifying Some Fundamental Errors in Herries' “A Chronological Perspective on the Acheulian and Its Transition to the Middle Stone Age in Southern Africa: The Question of the Fauresmith” (2011). International Journal of Evolutionary Biology 2012:230156. Open Access

Lombard M. 2012. Thinking through the Middle Stone Age of sub-Saharan Africa. Quaternary International 270(0):140-155.

Porat N, Chazan M, Grün R, Aubert M, Eisenmann V, and Horwitz LK. 2010. New radiometric ages for the Fauresmith industry from Kathu Pan, southern Africa: Implications for the Earlier to Middle Stone Age transition. Journal of Archaeological Science 37(2):269-283.

Tryon CA, and McBrearty S. 2002. Tephrostratigraphy and the Acheulian to Middle Stone Age transition in the Kapthurin Formation, Kenya. Journal of Human Evolution 42(1-2):211-235.

Wilkins J, and Chazan M. 2012. Blade production ~500 thousand years ago at Kathu Pan 1, South Africa: support for a multiple origins hypothesis for early Middle Pleistocene blade technologies. Journal of Archaeological Science 39(6):1883-1900.

Wilkins J, Schoville BJ, Brown KS, and Chazan M. 2012. Evidence for early hafted hunting technology. Science 338:942-946.

Pniel 6 (South Africa)
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