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Culture and Convergence: the curious case of the Nubian Complex


Carleton,  W. Christopher
Max Planck Research Group Extreme Events, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Carleton, W. C. (2020). Culture and Convergence: the curious case of the Nubian Complex. In H. S. Groucutt (Ed.), Culture history and convergent evolution: Can we detect populations in prehistory? (pp. 55-86). Cham: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-46126-3_4.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0006-CB34-B
‘Nubian LevalloisLevallois’ lithic technologyTechnology has been found from South AfricaSouth Africa to IndiaIndia, it occurs sporadically over a period of more than two hundred thousand years, and it appears to be associated with at least two hominin species. Despite this, proponents of the ‘Nubian Complex’Nubian Complex/Nubian Technocomplex argue that this technocomplexTechnocomplex—often, but not exclusively, defined by the presence of Nubian LevalloisLevallois technologyTechnology—offers a strong culture historical signal. This argument claims that the Nubian ComplexNubian Complex/Nubian Technocomplex is an originally Northeast African entity, dating toMarine Marine Isotope Stage 5Marine Isotope Stage (MIS)MIS 5, and that by tracing the distribution of Nubian LevalloisLevallois technologyTechnology it is possible to trace the spread of Homo sapiensHomo sapiens from Northeast Africa. In light of these bold claims, it is important to test the reality and usefulness of the Nubian ComplexNubian Complex/Nubian Technocomplex idea. In this paper I review the history of the Nubian ComplexNubian Complex/Nubian Technocomplex, evaluate sites assigned to it, and consider the characteristics and significance of Nubian LevalloisLevallois technologyTechnology. This review suggests that the original reasons for defining the Nubian ComplexNubian Complex/Nubian Technocomplex were flawed, definitions of it are overly-variable and inconsistent, and that the concept is driving misleading models that are actively harming interpretations of the record. It should therefore be abandoned. Perhaps the most telling criticism of the Nubian ComplexNubian Complex/Nubian Technocomplex is that even its proponents do not agree on which sites should be included (e.g. Bir Tarfawi)Bir Tarfawi. I explore the possibility that Nubian LevalloisLevallois technologyTechnology—which should be disentangled from the culture-historical concept of the ‘Nubian Complex’Nubian Complex/Nubian Technocomplex—represents a case of convergent evolution and identify avenues for future research. This reorientation facilitates insights into the behavioral significance of Nubian LevalloisLevallois technologyTechnology, in terms of factors such as standardizationStandardization and mobilityMobility strategies.