PhD Dissertations: Fidelis Taliwawa Masao, 1977

The Late Stone Age and the Rock Paintings of Central Tanzania

The present study is a descriptive and comparative analysis of four Later Stone Age assemblages from four rock shelter sites in central Tanzania and the associated rock paintings. The sites were chosen and the rock painting data collected after an extensive survey which covered an area of about 64,000 sq. km.

The assemblages display some features considered characteristic of the Later Stone Age hunter/gatherer cultures of East Africa. The raw material used is almost exclusively quartz, and accounts for 90% of all the raw material. The industry is a flake industry with very few blades. The percentage of formal tools is comparatively low, and some categories such as points, burins and bone tools are almost nonexistent. The industry is microlithic, with geometric microliths, scrapers and outils ├ęcaill├ęs accounting for the largest percentage of tools. The bipolar technique is prevalent. It is customary at present to lump all the late ill-defined industries of East Africa under the rubric of "Later Stone Age". Within this broad category however, it is possible to distinguish four tentative chrono-stratigraphic units:-

  1. The "Basal" Later Stone Age;
  2. The "Standard" Later Stone Age;
  3. The "Terminal" Later Stone Age;
  4. The Stone Bowl Cultures

The typology, relative composition of artifact types and the short cultural chronological span would suggest that the central Tanzania Later Stone Age falls in the third stage, the "Terminal Later Stone Age" of East Africa.

Although there are older Later Stone Age occurrences known from central Tanzania, the assemblages reported here fall between 3,500 and 200 years B.P., and represent a Later Stone Age - Iron Age cultural continuum with pure Later Stone Age in the lower strata and an increasing proportion of Iron Age artifacts in the upper strata. It may therefore be inferred that Later Stone Age technology was not replaced by Iron Age technology at the time of introduction of the latter; rather the two technologies co-existed for some time. There are only minor inter-site and intra-site variations in tool frequencies.

Many authors have implied that the rock painting tradition was the work of the Later Stone Age and Iron Age peoples. Although there is no direct proof for this, it is of interest that when rock painting sites contain stratified archaeological deposits, the latter are usually Later Stone Age or Early Iron Age. This is the case not only in central Tanzania but also in Central and South Africa. The subject matter depicted suggests that this was a hunters' art, motivated either by magico-religious beliefs or the mere pleasure of painting and recording an event. Four stylistic categories have been recognized but their chronological sequence is adumbrated by unreliable superpositioning. The rock painting of central Tanzania share some common features with the rock art of the Sahara and that of central/south Africa and may be related to the latter.