The Victoria West: earliest prepared core technology in the Acheulean at Canteen Kopje and implications for the cognitive evolution of early hominids

Hao Li, Kathleen Kuman, Matt G. Lotter, George M. Leader, Ryan J. Gibbon

Prepared core technology illustrates in-depth planning and the presence of a mental template during the core reduction process. This technology is, therefore, a significant indicator in studying the evolution of abstract thought and the cognitive abilities of hominids. Here, we report on Victoria West cores excavated from the Canteen Kopje site in central South Africa, with a preliminary age estimate of approximately 1 Ma (million years ago) for these cores. Technological analysis shows that the Victoria West cores bear similarities to the ‘Volumetric Concept’ as defined for the Levallois, a popular and widely distributed prepared core technology from at least 200 ka (thousand years ago). Although these similarities are present, several notable differences also occur that make the Victoria West a unique and distinctive prepared core technology; these are: elongated and convergent core shapes, consistent blow directions for flake removal, a predominance of large side-struck flakes, and the use of these flakes to make Acheulean large cutting tools. This innovative core reduction strategy at Canteen Kopje extends the roots of prepared core technology to the latter part of the Early Acheulean and clearly demonstrates an increase in the cognitive abilities and complexities of hominids in this time period.