Kisese II Rockshelter

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Site type:
Site function:
Habitation site, Decor cave
-4.72, 35.83
Tanzania, United Republic of

The Kisese II rock shelter, in the Kondoa area, has art of the 'naturalistic tradition' on the walls, and evidence of occupation on the floors dated to more than 40,000 years ago.

The Kisese II Rockshelter is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Kondoa region of Tanzania. The site contains transitional assemblages from the Middle to Later Stone Age. The rock shelter has preserved diverse paintings, beads, lithics, pottery, and other artifacts. It is studied for its insight into the major social transitions that were taking place during the late Pleistocene and Holocene eras. The site was also used for the burial of seven Holocene individuals. There are not very many well-dated sites that span this transitionary period, so Kisese II excavations have been very informative. A significant number of ostrich eggshell beads were used for radiocarbon dating of the site, the oldest of which dates to 46.2–42.7 ka cal BP.

The Kisese II Rockshelter began to be excavated by Mary and Louis Leakey in 1935, and Raymond Inskeep expanded the excavation trench in 1956. Inskeep uncovered the large collection of ostrich eggshell (OES) beads that allowed for later radiocarbon dating of the site, in addition to almost 6,000 lithic artifacts in situ. The stratigraphic nature of the depositions was also studied by both Inskeep and the Leakeys in an attempt to date the site.

The lithic artifacts at Kisese II range from flakes to cores, mostly made of local quartz-based stone, and mostly made by using the Levallois method or the LSA microlith method. The site supports the idea that some MSA technologies, such as this method of making stone tools, persisted well into the LSA. Tryon et al proposed that the transitionary period may have been a minimum of five to ten thousand years.