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Neural networks differentiate between Middle and Later Stone Age lithic assemblages in eastern Africa

Matt Grove, James Blinkhorn

The Middle to Later Stone Age transition marks a major change in how Late Pleistocene African populations produced and used stone tool kits, but is manifest in various ways, places and times across the continent. Alongside changing patterns of raw material use and decreasing artefact sizes, changes in artefact types are commonly employed to differentiate Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Later Stone Age (LSA) assemblages. The current paper employs a quantitative analytical framework based upon the use of neural networks to examine changing constellations of technologies between MSA and LSA assemblages from eastern Africa. Network ensembles were trained to differentiate LSA assemblages from Marine Isotope Stage 3&4 MSA and Marine Isotope Stage 5 MSA assemblages based upon the presence or absence of 16 technologies. Simulations were used to extract significant indicator and contra-indicator technologies for each assemblage class. The trained network ensembles classified over 94% of assemblages correctly, and identified 7 key technologies that significantly distinguish between assemblage classes. These results clarify both temporal changes within the MSA and differences between MSA and LSA assemblages in eastern Africa.

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