The Middle Stone Age (or MSA) was a period of African prehistory between the Early Stone Age and the Late Stone Age. It is generally considered to have begun around 280,000 years ago and ended around 50–25,000 years ago. The beginnings of particular MSA stone tools have their origins as far back as 550–500,000 years ago and as such some researchers consider this to be the beginnings of the MSA. The MSA is often mistakenly understood to be synonymous with the Middle Paleolithic of Europe, especially due to their roughly contemporaneous time span, however, the Middle Paleolithic of Europe represents an entirely different hominin population, Homo neanderthalensis, than the MSA of Africa, which did not have Neanderthal populations. Additionally, current archaeological research in Africa has yielded much evidence to suggest that modern human behavior and cognition was beginning to develop much earlier in Africa during the MSA than it was in Europe during the Middle Paleolithic. The MSA is associated with both anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) as well as archaic Homo sapiens.
The stone tool technology in use during the Middle Stone Age (MSA) shows a mosaic of techniques. Beginning approximately 300 kya, the large cutting tools of the Achuelian are gradually displaced by Levallois prepared core technologies, also widely used by Neanderthals during the European Middle Paleolithic. As the MSA progresses, highly varied technocomplexes become common throughout Africa and include pointed artifacts, blades, retouched flakes, end and side scrapers, grinding stones, and even bone tools. However, the use of blades (associated mainly with the Upper Paleolithic in Europe) is seen at many sites as well. In Africa, blades may have been used during the transition from the Early Stone Age to the Middle Stone Age onwards. Finally, during the later part of the Middle Stone Age, microlithic technologies aimed at producing replaceable components of composite hafted tools are seen from at least 70 ka at sites such as Pinnacle Point and Diepkloof Rock Shelter in South Africa.