Flake based assemblages (Mode 1) comprise the earliest stone technologies known, with well-dated Oldowan sites occurring in eastern Africa between similar to 2.6-1.7 Ma, and in less securely dated contexts in central, southern and northern Africa. Our understanding of the spread and local development of this technology outside East Africa remains hampered by the lack of reliable numerical dating techniques applicable to non-volcanic deposits. This study applied the still relatively new technique of cosmogenic nuclide burial dating (Be-10/Al-26) to calculate burial ages for fluvial gravels containing Mode 1 artefacts in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia. The Manzi River, a tributary of the Luangwa River, has exposed a 4.7 m deep section of fluvial sands with discontinuous but stratified gravel layers bearing Mode 1, possibly Oldowan, artefacts in the basal layers. An unconformity divides the Manzi section, separating Mode 1 deposits from overlying gravels containing Mode 3 (Middle Stone Age) artefacts. No diagnostic Mode 2 (Acheulean) artefacts were found.
Cosmogenic nuclide burial dating was attempted for the basal gravels as well as exposure ages for the upper Mode 3 gravels, but was unsuccessful. The complex depositional history of the site prevented the calculation of reliable age models. A relative chronology for the full Manzi sequence was constructed, however, from the magnetostratigraphy of the deposit (N>R>N sequence). Isothermal thermoluminescence (ITL) dating of the upper Mode 3 layers also provided consistent results (similar to 78 ka). A coarse but chronologically coherent sequence now exists for the Manzi section with the unconformity separating probable mid- or early Pleistocene deposits below from late Pleistocene deposits above. The results suggest Mode 1 technology in the Luangwa Valley may post-date the Oldowan in eastern and southern Africa. The dating programme has contributed to a clearer understanding of the geomorphological processes that have shaped the valley and structured its archaeological record. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.