Pamela Willoughby


13-10 Tory Bldg.
Office phone: 492-0138

(1) Benjamin Collins (MA, 2009) and Pamela Willoughby at the newly discovered Kigwambimbi Middle Stone Age site, Iringa, Tanzania, August 2008 (Photo by Katie Biittner)

DR. PAMELA R. WILLOUGHBY is a Professor of Anthropology and a specialist in Palaeolithic archaeology, the study of the origins and early evolution of technology and culture.  She conducts archaeological field research in the Iringa Region in the southern highlands of Tanzania.  Her research focuses on the issues of the origins of our species, Homo sapiens, during the Middle and Later Stone Age.  The MSA or Middle Stone Age ranges from around 200,000 to 30,000 years ago and is identified by the presence of distinctive flake tools, such as points and scrapers.  It was produced by the earliest members of our own species, Homo sapiens. The Later Stone Age or LSA, begins around 40,000 years ago, and is associated with more complex material culture.   Either before or soon after the LSA appears, humans have dispersed out of Africa and colonized the globe.  

Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, as well as fossil evidence, demonstrate that the earliest members of our own species evolved in Africa by the start of the MSA.  But their material culture is not very different from that of their cousins in Europe, the Neanderthals.  So why is it that we all share a recent African common ancestor rather than a Neanderthal one?  And did the first modern people become capable of more complex thought and behavior only at the end of the MSA?  Pamela Willoughby and her graduate students are trying to answer these questions through the identification and excavation of archaeological sites in Iringa.  

Some sites, such as Magubike, are located in rockshelters; these contain long term MSA and LSA occupations. There are also places where MSA and more ancient artifacts are eroding out of gullies in the open, such as at Kigwambimbi (see photo above).  Working with Tanzanian archaeologists, they are trying to understand how MSA people became fully modern.  Working with local communities, they are also developing ways to publicize the history and archaeology of Iringa for ecotourism.