Recent research has made great strides clarifying the chronology, temporal span, and geographic and technological patterning of the Acheulian in eastern Africa. However, highland occurrences of the Acheulian remain under-represented and their relationship to cultural dynamics in the Rift are still poorly understood. Recently, a stratified sequence of four archaeological layers, recording Acheulian occupations dated between ~1.6 Ma and ~1.3 Ma, has been discovered in locality MW2 of the Melka Wakena site-complex (south-central Ethiopian highlands). This database enabled a systematic exploration of the question of tempo and mode of technological changes at a local sequence, allowing, for the first time, comparison with other highland sites as well as in the Rift. The detailed techno-economic study presented in this study shows that the early Acheulian at the locality was characterized by the co-existence of lithic reduction sequences for small debitage and for flake-based Large Cutting Tool production. In the early, ~1.6 Ma assemblage, a strategy of variable raw material exploitation and technological emphasis on small debitage were coupled with production of few crude bifacial elements. These shifted at ~1.4 Ma towards a preferential and intensive exploitation of a highly knappable glassy ignimbrite and emphasis on Large Cutting Tool production, including higher investment in their techno-morphological aspects. The MW2 sequence tracks lithic technological trends observed in the Rift, with only a short time lag. Diachronic changes in the raw material economy and land use patterns may have occurred at MW2 earlier than previously reported for the Acheulian on the highlands. The behavioral dynamics gleaned from the early Acheulian assemblages at MW2 are important for our understanding of the diachronic changes in the abilities of Acheulian hominins to exploit the diverse geographic and ecological habitats of eastern Africa and beyond.
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