Investigating the Deep Roots of Human Behaviour

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Archaeology Classics and Egyptology

Abstract

When did human ancestors start behaving like us? Recent research has shown that our direct ancestor, Homo heidelbergensis, lived in Africa 600,000-200,000 years ago and was probably capable of behaviour such as language, symbol use and complex tool-making.The African archaeological record offers some clues to support this thesis, eg, ochre use, possibly for symbolic purposes, and the invention of tools made of multiple parts.Indirect fossil record evidence suggests that this large-brained species formed extended social networks using language.But all this evidence is sparse, poorly dated, unevenly distributed across the continent and insufficient to answer the questions of how, where, when or why these developments took place. This project aims both to add a significant bank of data to the evidence base and expand its geographical coverage.It will provide a research model archaeologists can use elsewhere to generate more data with which to investigate the deep roots of behaviours once thought to be the hallmark of Homo sapiens.
A multidisciplinary team will undertake excavation and analysis of three key localities (Victoria Falls, Kalambo Falls, Luangwa Valley) spanning 1100 km of south-central Africa which preserve artefacts from the period associated with H. heidelbergensis,the Early to Middle Stone Age transition,ESA/MSA,filling a large regional gap between the better known records of east and southern Africa.
The team includes archaeologists, dating specialists and a research group investigating how stone tools were made and used. Materials with high symbolic content such as beads are unlikely to survive from this period thus our primary focus is on technology as a window on the past. Recent research in east and South Africa points to an invention in tool-making that took place before 300,000 years ago,marking a break with long established traditions of the Early Stone Age. A conceptually new approach to problem solving appeared: the combining of separate parts to invent a new whole. The process of adding a stone to a handle and securing it by various means sounds simple but required levels of planning and learning not previously needed. The individual components were themselves made using other tools, other materials and routines of assembly. This recursive principle of 'combinatorial technology' underpins all later technologies including industrial manufacturing.
In the time of H. heidelbergensis we also see selection of purple, red and yellow ochres for purposes unknown but which in later periods have practical and symbolic values. These cognitively and socially complex behaviours, along with the fossil evidence for a large modern-like brain, point to a species that shared much with its descendant H. sapiens.
We lack the depth of archaeological data to answer the basic questions of time, place and processes of change that make this a potentially key interval in human evolution. This project addresses the need for an Africa-wide perspective on the ESA/MSA transition. Our regional focus offers a test case of a new model of research integrating the best of new dating methods with innovations in the study of early technology. A 'primitive technologist' embedded in the fieldwork will make and use replica tools from the time of the transition. Contemporary local knowledge about materials used in tool-making will be incorporated in the replication experiments. These data will be used to interpret patterns of microscopic wear that accumulate on artefact surfaces in their making and use.Traces of long decayed handles can now be identified by their distinctive patterns of damage. Organic residues may also survive on tool surfaces under the right conditions for preservation. We will be looking for these traces along with evidence of ochre use in the project sites. The results will be compared with what we already know about the ESA/MSA transition in Africa and the research model evaluated in a multidisciplinary workshop.

Planned Impact

The project offers two types of societal impact linked to education. Stone Age archaeology is now part of the England & Wales primary school curriculum and Zambia's secondary school curriculum. This is an opportunity to increase public understanding of human evolution and research methods used to study the deep past. 1) We will produce formal educational material tailored to national needs, making it widely available and cost effective. 2) Using social media the educational impact will reach a global community.
In England & Wales, Key Stage 2 History curriculum now covers Stone Age to Iron Age, focusing on the British archaeological record but incorporating wider Palaeolithic topics, eg, technology and evolution of Homo sapiens. A freely available information pack for schools will be produced with a PowerPoint overview of the Stone Age illustrating the interdisciplinary nature of Palaeolithic research and exercises exploring "what the Stone Age did for us". Accessible via the project website the presentation will be regularly updated. Seventeen Merseyside schools will be offered replica Palaeolithic artefacts for handling. The selection of replicas will echo the PowerPoint content and link to an exhibition at the Victoria Gallery and Museum (Liverpool) on the origins and influence of combinatorial technology.
In Zambia's new curriculum for junior secondary schools, Social Studies topics include archaeological research methods; human evolution; Stone Age hunter-gatherers. Students are introduced to science-based evidence for human origins and asked to reflect on economic, technological and social changes in the Pleistocene. In the PI's experience of Zambian schools groups there is widespread distrust of an evolutionary perspective on human origins stemming from strong religious beliefs and ignorance of how an interdisciplinary narrative of the past is constructed. We will offer teachers an education pack complementing the Social Studies textbook consisting of a timeline and methods poster with an information booklet for teachers explaining how the past is dated, artefacts analysed and Stone Age life reconstructed. Visits to the excavations will be offered to give students and teachers first-hand experience of archaeological research and Stone Age material culture.
The project website, the portal for a global audience, will be written with non-specialist viewers in mind, with links to a project blog post and Facebook page. The blog adds a human dimension, showing the daily realities of fieldwork. Post-excavation analyses will be reported as updates from behind the microscope to maintain interest in the project. We will report on the workshop and inform followers when the final volume is published.
Resources, milestones
The project website will be online from September 2016; the Key Stage 2 PowerPoint will be online by September 2017. The website will be produced and maintained by Liverpool's School of Histories, Languages & Cultures website coordinator. Replica artefacts will be scanned and 3D printed by York Archaeological Trust. The Merseyside schools will receive a pack of replica artefacts and supporting notes (£1.2k). The schools are already involved in outreach activities with the University of Liverpool. Posters and information packs for 300 Zambian schools will be produced by Gadsden Books, Lusaka (£375). The poster will be produced using PowerPoint poster templates and will be ready, along with teacher information booklet, for the second field season July 2017. The PI will oversee blog entries and maintenance of the Facebook page. Co-I Gowlett will coordinate teacher pack distribution in Liverpool. The PI will be responsible for production and distribution of material in Zambia as well as arranging site visits for local schools.
 
Description The field work phase of the project ended in April 2022 and analyses continue with the aim of addressing three related questions: 1) what is the age of the technological transition from the Early to Middle Stone Age in this region of Africa; 2) how did tool use change over the transition; and 3) how does the new data affect our understanding of the broader process of technological change at a continental level.
The dating results are now complete for both sites, and have been published for the deep sand sequence at Victoria Falls. The deposits here are unexpectedly old at their base (600,000 - 500,000 years old) with overlying deposits incorporating Early Stone Age artefacts, the Early to Middle Stone Age transition, a Middle Stone Age occupation of the sands and a recent use of the area as recently as 6,000 years ago. The associated archaeological record is undergoing analysis. Downstream below Victoria Falls we excavated evidence of another transition, from the Middle to Later Stone Age, which was an unexpected discovery. A luminescence chronology now exists for this locality and the artefacts have been analysed and these results are being prepared for publication.
The second locality investigated was the well-known site of Kalambo Falls which was the focus of large-scale excavations in the 1950s and 1960s by archaeologist J. Desmond Clark. Excavations by the Deep Roots Project team in 2019 uncovered waterlogged deposits with unexpectedly fine preservation of wood and other plant remains. Some of the wood was shipped to Liverpool for analysis and conservation and will be returned to Zambia for curation at the Livingstone Museum once the wood has been preserved. The dating of this deposit with its Acheulean and Sangoan tools (Early Stone Age) is now complete as is the analysis of the wood, and a publication has been submitted and is under review. Kalambo Falls is on the World Heritage register as a tentative site. The results of the recent excavations will contribute to a renewed application for full listing based, in part, on its unique waterlogged archaeological record.
Covid-19 and related lockdowns have delayed the outcomes of the Deep Roots project, and at this stage the primary contribution has been to the development of a robust chronology for dating sand deposits using a combination of luminescence and electron spin resonance techniques. This result will be of interest to Quaternary scientists (geographers, geologists) and Palaeolithic archaeologists studying the early human record.
Exploitation Route In the immediate region of Victoria Falls the results are being used by the National Heritage Conservation Commission (NHCC), which manages the World Heritage site. The dating results are being incorporated into the planned updating of information panels in the site museum. The museum was built in the early 1950s to cover an excavation by Desmond Clark which exposed a 3m deep Stone Age archaeological sequence. Sediment samples were collected from the old excavation by the Deep Roots Project team in 2017 for luminescence dating. The dating results will form part of the new exhibit. In 2002, the project team, at the request of the NHCC, cleaned and stabilised the exposed excavation sections and recorded the stratigraphy in advance of the reopening of the museum.

The new luminescence chronology for the site of Kalambo Falls, based on samples collected during the project excavations in 2019, are to be used by the NHCC in revising their application for World Heritage Listing of the falls and its environs. A paper has been submitted for publication which details the dates and our analysis of rare samples of wood that survive in the waterlogged deposits at Kalambo Falls. The preservation of wood, some possibly shaped by humans, adds considerably to the international significance of the site.
Sectors Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/archaeology-classics-and-egyptology/research/projects/deep-roots/
 
Description The PI and students involved in the Deep Roots project contributed to the production of a video installation 'Dust to Data' on display at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT), Liverpool, as part of the exhibition 'Future Ages will Wonder' curated by Annie Jael Kwan (https://www.fact.co.uk/artist/larry-achiampong-and-david-blandy). This creative collaboration raised awareness of the continuing societal impact of colonial legacies on how we interpret the past. The installation included visual imagery derived from our ongoing research in Zambia and in a podact commissioned by FACT the artists David Blandy and Larry Achiampong discussed decolonising the past with Professor Barham (PI, Deep Roots Project).
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description ANCIENT ADHESIVES - A WINDOW ON TECHNOLOGICAL COMPLEXITY
Amount € 1,499,926 (EUR)
Funding ID 804151 
Organisation European Research Council (ERC) 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 02/2019 
End 01/2024
 
Description Constraining the style and rate of headward erosion of Victoria Falls, South Central Africa".
Amount £30,171 (GBP)
Funding ID CIAF/9192/1018 
Organisation UK Research Data Facility, Edinburgh (UKRDF) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 12/2019
 
Description Endangered Material Knowledge Programme
Amount £14,877 (GBP)
Funding ID 2020SG01 
Organisation British Museum 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2021 
End 07/2022
 
Description General Research Grant
Amount £898,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/N008804/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 08/2021
 
Title Biomechanics of hafting 
Description Methods of motion and energy capture drawn from biomechanics were applied in a pilot study to assess the feasibility of a larger scale research project. The pilot study arose from speculation published in from 'Hand to Handle: The First Industrial Revolution' that hafted tools might have had an impact on the evolution of the human body. The pilot study resulted in a PhD thesis which used a controlled experiment to test the hypothesis that hafted tools (tools with handles) were more efficient energetically than hand held tools when compared across the same tasks. At the time of the research the use of kinematics to record upper body movement during tool use was still new, but the novel elemet of the study was the application of quantitative methods used in neuroscience (one-dimensional statistical parametric mapping, SPM) to analyse the data. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2022 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The analytical approach set a benchmark for rigour in biomechanical approaches to the study of the co-evolution of tool-use and human anatomy. The publication in 2022 received international attention as 'Early Humans Greatest Invention: The Handle'. 
URL https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/early-mans-greatest-invention-the-handle-t8qp3lqd7
 
Title Enhanced methods of dating Pleistocene sediments 
Description The radiometric dating of quartz sands using luminescence and electron spin resonance are established techniques to building chronologies of archaeological and geological sites. The Deep Roots Project brought these two techniques together to assess their combined reliability to Middle Pleistocene deposits. The deep sands near Victoria Falls, Zambia provided a testing ground with samples collected from exposures and assessed using both techniques. Residual ages were subtracted from the apparent ages for the lower part of the sand deposist which led to a smooth transition from OSL ages to ESR ages over the course of the sequence, spanning from 776 ± 89 ka to 6.1 ± 0.5 ka using both ESR (Ti centre) and OSL. 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2022 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact We used a combined approach of quartz OSL and ESR dating to construct a chronology of the sand scarp. The validity of the residual substraction method was confirmed by the consistent OSL and ESR ages after subtraction for deep sand sequence at two localities. The results confirm that the combination of OSL and ESR methods is a powerful tool to date Pleistocene sediments, and an approach that will be of value to researchers working with particular old deposits that exceed the age range of OSL methods. 
 
Description Artefact function research group 
Organisation University of Liege
Country Belgium 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I contributed to the teaching of postdoctoral research students at the University of Liege through participation in a workshop where I delivered two lectures based on my research linked to the book 'From Hand to Handle: The First Industrial Revolution'. The Liege team participates in the Deep Roots Project with a Co-I and a post-doctoral student analysing artefacts excavated in 2019 in Zambia. Two Liverpool PhD students (AHRC funded) have completed training in use-wear analysis at Liege. I have loaned artefacts from the Deep Roots Project to the University for use-wear analysis and contributed a reference collection of replica stone tools that were made in Zambia using raw materials local to the archaeological sites which are a focus of the project. As well as these materials I am contributing my expert knowledge in the formation of the sites, the construction of the tools and spatial data on the location of the finds to support the partner's ongoing analyses as part of the Deep Roots Project.
Collaborator Contribution The partner has contributed material to a museum dispaly at the Victoria Gallery & Museum, Liverpool. The display resulted from AHRC funding that led to the publication of 'From Hand to Handle'. The partnership has more recently contributed to a presentation to an international audience for EXARC 2021 (experimental archaeology conference). Currently, the partner is analysing Early Stone Age tools recovered from waterlogged deposits in Zambia for traces of residues and use-wear indicative of artefact function. Knowing the function of these tools is a key research question in the Deep Roots Project design. The ongoing contribution also includes experimental use of hafted tools in the chopping of wood. This experimental data contributes to the analysis of shaping marks preserved on wood recovered from the same waterlogged deposits. The analysis and interpretation of the wood has been submitted to Nature (in January 2023) and is currently under review.
Impact No outputs at present.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Endangered Material Knowledge Programme, Zambia 
Organisation British Museum
Department Department of Africas, Oceania & Amercias
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The collaboration with the British Museum is through the Endangered Material Knowledge Programme administered by the British Museum. The award of funding (July 2020) is for a 1-year ethnographic project based in northern Zambia working with the Moto Moto Museum. The aim of the project is to record and archive (digitally) the disappearing knowledge of bark cloth working among the Bemba people of northern Zambia. There are only three craftsmen still producing bark cloth which was once the primary form of clothing and material for making containers. The project has an archaeological application which comes via the analysis of contemporary bark cloth making tools and comparing them with archaeological examples. The tradition may be at 12,000 years old based on similarities in tool forms. The Moto Moto Museum will contributes its expertise in ethnographic research and close cooperation with the local communities involved. The British Museum has provided training for me and staff at the Moto Moto Museum in research methods and recording techniques. This training and the equipment purchased through the award will build the capacity for the Moto Moto Museum Department of Ethnography to continue to gather ethnographic data long after this particular project has been complete. This is part of the longer term impact of the collaboration with the both museums. The digital archive will be open access and hosted by the British Museum. The idea for the project arose in the course of research undertaken for the Deep Roots Project which involved participation of staff from the Moto Moto Museum. The EMKP project extends the reach of the Deep Roots project into the present with a technology that may have a long ancestry stretching back to the key periods being examined by the Deep Roots team.
Collaborator Contribution The British Museum is providing the training for myself and colleagues at Moto Moto in ethnoarchaeological research methods. This training builds on those aspects of the Deep Roots project that involve recording indigenous knowledge (use of wood and plant products linked to early technologies such as making handles and binders for hafted tools). The Moto Moto Museum team has identified the participants for the fieldwork and has arranged permissions for the research to take among local communities. They are assisting me in producing an application for ethics approval by the Univeristy of Zambia, including forms in the local language (Bemba) and by the University of Liverpool.
Impact The project fieldwork has not yet begun. The Covid-19 outbreak in Zambia and the Red listing of the country until late 2021 has delayed the start of the project. One of the participants has been ill with long Covid, and the ethics approval process has been delayed by the closure of the University of Zambia. The intention now is start from April 2022.
Start Year 2021
 
Description A dedicated blog post for the Deep Roots project keeps global community and peers informed of ongoing research and its significance. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Deep Roots Africa blogpost provides updates for the general public on the research process and results related to the Deep Roots Project. The writing is accessible, personal and informative. Topics include immediate results and their significance as well as the broader social context of the research in Zambia. Covid-19 and its impact on the project featured from 2020. The blog post frequency dropped during 2020 and 2021 reflecting the limited progress on the project as a result of fieldwork being cancelled and limited access to facilities during the pandemic. The posts are now back on track reflecting the resumption of project related research in April 2022, reporting on our final season of fieldwork which took place at Victoria Falls. Three short videos allow the viewer to see a contribution to the conservation of the World Heritage Site of Victoria Falls, and a dramatic moment of discovery of a new site on the morning of the final day of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019,2020,2021,2022,2023
URL http://www.liverpool.ac.uk/archaeology-classics-and-egyptology/research/projects/deep-roots/
 
Description Documentary subject by Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation was approached in 2017 to ask if they would be interested in reporting on the Deep Roots Project fieldwork in Zambia. They decided to make a documentary for national release and filmed our work in 2017 and in 2018. The documentary is in production with the intended release in 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
 
Description I was invited by the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT), Liverpool, to contribute expert knowledge to the creation of a video installation and podcast as part of the exhibition 'Future Ages will Wonder' curated by Annie Jael Kwan (https://www.fact.co.uk/artist/larry-achiampong-and-david-blandy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact I participated in the creation of a video based artwork - 'From Dust to Data' - on the theme of decolonising academia, in particular raising awareness of the colonial roots of archaeology and the lasting impact of this legacy on perceptions of race and identity. At a practical level, I involved undergraduate and postgraduate students in the production of 3D visual imagery which was used in the installation and which gave the students experience in methods of digital heritage recording.
More than 500 people visited the exhibtion (which ended 20 February 2020), and a podcast was commissioned to bring me and the two video artists into conversation on the legacies of colonialism and on our experience of working with those from other fields.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022
URL https://www.fact.co.uk/artist/larry-achiampong-and-david-blandy
 
Description Invited to present a keynote address to a panel meeting organised by the University of Vienna to discuss the development of the bow and arrow and its impact on human evolution 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The keynot address gave the workshop a broader historical and intellectual content for the topic under discussion (the role of the bow and arrow in human evolution). My aim was to situate this particular technology in the broader scope of human anatomical, social and cognitive evolution, drawing on the results of my research on hafting and the findings of the current Deep Roots Project. The bow and arrow was introduced as an outcome of the invention of hafting which created the first simple machines that long predated this particular technology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://ifk.ac.at/index.php/kalender-detail/eindringliche-zeichen-elemente-einer-kultur-und-bildgesc...
 
Description School visit (Widnes, Moorfields Primary School) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A half-day of activities and talks took place to introduce students to archaeological research and in particular to the history of early technologies (linked to the Deep Roots Project). The session amplified their understanding of early prehistory as part of the Key Stage 2 History curriculum (Stone Age). The event was attended by 79 students, 4 teachers, and involved 2 doctoral students and 2 MSc students as part of their education in making research accessible to a broader public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
URL https://www.moorfieldprimary.co.uk/
 
Description School visit, Ormskirk Primary School, Lancashire (2020) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Invited to teach the Key Stage 2 History curriculum component on the Stone Age. Thirty-five students and two staff took part in practical activities (tool-making, fire-making, and cave painting) that reinforced the curriculurm themes. The children were encouraged to engage with questions and reflection on their own lives. The Deputy Headteacher commented "I honestly can't thank you enough for giving your time to talk to our children. They absolutely loved it and more importantly, learnt lots from what can be a tricky a topic to teach."
The school visit is part of the project impact plan and the feedback given by the staff will be used to produce a teaching pack including 3D printed skulls and tools as well as a PowerPoint presentation for use by teachers nationally.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://deeprootsafrica.blog/2020/03/08/stone-age-memories/