The later Pleistocene archaeological record of southernmost Africa encompasses several Middle Stone Age industries and the transition to the Later Stone Age. Through this period various signs of complex human behaviour appear episodically, including elaborate lithic technologies, osseous technologies, ornaments, motifs and abstract designs. Here we explore the regional archaeological record using different components of lithic technological systems to track the transmission of cultural information and the extent of population interaction within and between different climatic regions. The data suggest a complex set of coalescent and fragmented relationships between populations in different climate regions through the late Pleistocene, with maximum interaction (coalescence) during MIS 4 and MIS 2, and fragmentation during MIS 5 and MIS 3. Coalescent phases correlate with increases in the frequency of ornaments and other forms of symbolic expression, leading us to suggest that population interaction was a significant driver in their appearance.