Resharpening, Retooling, Lithic Variability and Behavioral Patterns

Resharpening of stone artifacts as an important factor in determining lithic variability became an important issue in the 1980ies, although first considerations about this topic appeared in the literature as early as the 1867 (Reliquiae Aquitanicae). The phenomenon was also discussed on double patinated artifacts by A. Rust on the Yabroud material and by D. Garrod in the 1940ies and 50ies regarding the Paleolithic of the Carmel caves.

 After 1980, American archaeologists realized that lithic artifacts changed their shape as they were resharpened and that resharpening accounted much for the lithic variability of their samples. In this view different shapes found in archaeological collections are only “snapshots“of the same tool at different stages of reduction. In the 1990ies these results influenced the interpretations of the archaeological record in Eurasia and Africa, too.

 In general, lithic variability is now recognized as being related to factors like raw material availability, distance, and quality, duration of stay and site-function. Besides the countless factors that affect tool reliability and rejuvenation rates, resharpening is essentially a continuous process by which the shape of the original object is altered in a generally stepwise fashion.

 So far, the majority of studies of tool reduction in the Paleolithic have focused on demonstrating that various artifact typologies were artificial discretizations of a continuum in morphological variation and therefore heavily questioned the reality of “Paleolithic cultures”. A new generation of researchers now begins  to realize that incorporating the rejuvenation history of an artifact is both methodologically powerful, and at the same time behaviorally informative. Patterns in resharpening trajectories and the comparison of resharpening trajectories in different classes of tools, modeled by advanced mathematical algorithms will certainly help to formulate new hypotheses about behavioral patterns of our ancestors.

 Suggested reading:

 New Perspectives on Old Stones: Analytical Approaches to Paleolithic Technologies.

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