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An experimental program was designed to compare and contrast the stone tool-making skills of modern African apes (bonobos or Pan paniscus), of prehistoric toolmakinghominins from the earliest known Palaeolithic sites at Gona, Ethiopia (sites EG 10 and EG 12) dating to approximately 2.6 million years ago (possibly Australopithecusgarhi), and of mode...

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The causes of technological innovation in the Palaeolithic archaeological record are central to understanding Plio-Pleistocene hominin behaviour and temporal trends in artefact variation. Palaeolithic archaeologists frequently investigate the Oldowan-Acheulean transition and technological developments during the subsequent million years of the Ache...

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... While current evidence suggests that the lithic technologies of early hominins and chimpanzees differ in form and function (Arroyo & de la Torre, 2016;Toth et al., 2006), it is likely they had similar plant-dominated diets supported by invertebrates and sporadic meat consumption (Panger et al., 2002). Thus, it is plausible that, like chimpanzees, early hominin tool use operated within behavioural landscapes influenced by localized environmental parameters, where foraging strategies were shaped by the distribution and availability of predictable food sources, the dietary dependence on extractive foraging, and the availability of the necessary raw materials, as well as by the location of places for sleeping. ...
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Ecology is fundamental in the development, transmission, and perpetuity of primate technology. Previous studies on tool site selection have addressed the relevance of targeted resources and raw materials for tools, but few have considered the broader foraging landscape. In this landscape-scale study of the ecological contexts of wild chimpanzee ( Pan troglodytes verus ) tool use, we investigated the conditions required for nut-cracking to occur and persist in discrete locations at the long-term field site of Bossou, Guinea. We examined this at three levels: selection, frequency of use, and inactivity. We collected data on plant foods, nut trees, and raw materials using transect and quadrat methods, and conducted forest-wide surveys to map the location of nests and watercourses. We analysed data at the quadrat level ( n = 82) using generalised linear models and descriptive statistics. We found that, further to the presence of a nut tree and availability of raw materials, abundance of food-providing trees as well as proximity to nest sites were significant predictors of nut-cracking occurrence. This suggests that the spatial distribution of nut-cracking sites is mediated by the broader behavioural landscape and is influenced by non-extractive foraging of perennial resources and non-foraging activities. Additionally, the number of functional tools was greater at sites with higher nut-cracking frequency, and was negatively correlated with site inactivity. Our research indicates that the technological landscape of Bossou chimpanzees shares affinities with the ‘favoured places’ model of hominin site formation, providing a comparative framework for reconstructing landscape-scale patterns of ancient human behaviour. A French translation of this abstract is provided in theelectronic supplementary information: EMS 2.
... Previously, knapping skill has most often been quantified by the frequency and severity of knapping mistakes and inefficiencies [65,119,[132][133][134][135][136][137][138]. Here, we demonstrate how a precise mathematical feature of ventral surface morphology alone can distinguish knappers of different skill levels. ...
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The study of artifacts is fundamental to archaeological research. The features of individual artifacts are recorded, analyzed, and compared within and between contextual assemblages. Here we present and make available for academic-use Artifact3-D, a new software package comprised of a suite of analysis and documentation procedures for archaeological artifacts. We introduce it here, alongside real archaeological case studies to demonstrate its utility. Artifact3-D equips its users with a range of computational functions for accurate measurements , including orthogonal distances, surface area, volume, CoM, edge angles, asymmetry, and scar attributes. Metrics and figures for each of these measurements are easily exported for the purposes of further analysis and illustration. We test these functions on a range of real archaeological case studies pertaining to tool functionality, technological organization, manufacturing traditions, knapping techniques, and knapper skill. Here we focus on lithic arti-facts, but the Artifact3-D software can be used on any artifact type to address the needs of modern archaeology. Computational methods are increasingly becoming entwined in the excavation, documentation, analysis, database creation, and publication of archaeological research. Artifact3-D offers functions to address every stage of this workflow. It equips the user with the requisite toolkit for archaeological research that is accurate, objective, repeat-able and efficient. This program will help archaeological research deal with the abundant material found during excavations and will open new horizons in research trajectories.
... For individual technologies, a wide range of core and flake attributes have been derived archaeologically, ethnographically, and experimentally in order to model skill level. These attributes include a low rate of aberrant flake terminations (step, hinge or overshot), flakes with regular or standardised shapes, flakes that efficiently exploit the length of the core surface, and an absence of ineffective strikes on unsuitably high-angled surfaces or too far from the core's edge [11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27] . ...
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Stone tools are a manifestation of the complex cognitive and dexterous skills of our hominin ancestors. As such, much research has been devoted to understanding the skill requirements of individual lithic technologies. Yet, comparing skill across different technologies, and thus across the vast timespan of the Palaeolithic, is an elusive goal. We seek to quantify a series of commensurable metrics of knapping skill across four different lithic technologies (discoids, handaxes, Levallois, and prismatic blades). To compare the requisite dexterity, coordination, and care involved in each technology, we analysed video footage and lithic material from a series of replicative knapping experiments to quantify deliberation (strike time), precision (platform area), intricacy (flake size relative to core size), and success (relative blank length). According to these four metrics, discoidal knapping appears to be easiest among the sample. Levallois knapping involved an intricate reduction sequence, but did not require as much motor control as handaxes and especially prismatic blades. Compared with the other Palaeolithic technologies, we conclude that prismatic blade knapping is set apart by being a skill intensive means of producing numerous standardised elongate end-products.
... Similar to the comparisons made by Mercader et al. (2002) between chimpanzee stone artefacts and hominin stone tools, Toth et al. (2006) compared the flake-like objects produced by Kanzi and Panbanisha to flakes made by experienced modern humans and to 2.6-million-year-old flakes found in the archaeological record (presumably made by Australopithecus garhi) at Gona (Ethiopia). Quantitative and qualitative analyses revealed that the Gona flakes had an intermediate morphology between those produced by bonobos and modern humans on a variety of measures, including the ratio of split to whole flakes (indicative of hammerstone velocity), the quality of flaking, and the amount of edge battering (indicative of less skilled flaking, Toth et al., 2006). ...
... Similar to the comparisons made by Mercader et al. (2002) between chimpanzee stone artefacts and hominin stone tools, Toth et al. (2006) compared the flake-like objects produced by Kanzi and Panbanisha to flakes made by experienced modern humans and to 2.6-million-year-old flakes found in the archaeological record (presumably made by Australopithecus garhi) at Gona (Ethiopia). Quantitative and qualitative analyses revealed that the Gona flakes had an intermediate morphology between those produced by bonobos and modern humans on a variety of measures, including the ratio of split to whole flakes (indicative of hammerstone velocity), the quality of flaking, and the amount of edge battering (indicative of less skilled flaking, Toth et al., 2006). Thus, in terms of motor skill, bonobos may represent a behavioural model of early hominin species that did not customarily or habitually engage in knapping, but that had the cognitive and motor abilities to produce sharp stones if required. ...
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Extant primates, especially chimpanzees, are often used as models for pre-modern hominin (henceforth: hominin) behaviour, anatomy and cognition. In particular, as hominin behaviour cannot be inferred from archaeological remains and artefacts alone, extant primates (including modern humans) are used as a ‘time machine’ to reconstruct the technological repertoires of our early ancestors. Whilst many continue to use primates to approximate hominin tool behaviours, others have questioned the value of these comparisons. The aim of this review is to critically examine how previous studies have compared various primate species to hominins with regards to stone percussion and flaking, as well as to discuss the limitations and strengths of these comparisons. Evidence is presented to support the view that certain monkey species, alongside non-primate animal species, might provide important insights when reconstructing hominin stone tool culture, despite being phylogenetically further removed from our lineage. In conclusion, whilst some studies may inflate the value of primates as models for early hominins, data from extant primates, alongside the archaeological record and anthropological reports, can help create a more comprehensive picture of hominin stone tool culture.
... The identification of knapping skill within the Oldowan has long been investigated (Apel 2008;Chavaillon 1976;Delagnes and Roche 2005;Geribàs et al. 2010;Kibunjia 1994;Olausson 1998;Roche et al. 1999;Stout et al. 2019), ranging from the identification of individual skill levels to discussions on skill-related variation across the entire techno-complex (de la Torre 2004; Delagnes and Roche 2005;Toth et al. 2006). Such skill-related studies can be broadly separated into two main approaches: firstly, technological qualitative lithic analyses of archaeological assemblages (de la Torre 2004;Delagnes and Roche 2005;Pelegrin 1993Pelegrin , 1990) and secondly, experimental investigations into technological attributes associated with varying skill levels (Ludwig 1999;Stout 2011Stout , 2002Toth et al. 2006). ...
... The identification of knapping skill within the Oldowan has long been investigated (Apel 2008;Chavaillon 1976;Delagnes and Roche 2005;Geribàs et al. 2010;Kibunjia 1994;Olausson 1998;Roche et al. 1999;Stout et al. 2019), ranging from the identification of individual skill levels to discussions on skill-related variation across the entire techno-complex (de la Torre 2004; Delagnes and Roche 2005;Toth et al. 2006). Such skill-related studies can be broadly separated into two main approaches: firstly, technological qualitative lithic analyses of archaeological assemblages (de la Torre 2004;Delagnes and Roche 2005;Pelegrin 1993Pelegrin , 1990) and secondly, experimental investigations into technological attributes associated with varying skill levels (Ludwig 1999;Stout 2011Stout , 2002Toth et al. 2006). ...
... Complementing the archaeological record, experimental studies have contributed greatly to our understanding of knapping skill (Bril et al. 2005;Callahan 2006;Eren et al. 2011aEren et al. , 2011bGeribàs et al. 2010;Nami 2010;Nonaka et al. 2010;Pelegrin 2006;Toth 1982), including on the production of Oldowan technology (Harlacker 2003;Schick et al. 1999;Stout et al. 2009;Toth 1982;Toth et al. 2006Toth et al. , 1993, each of whom conducted comparative experimental studies aimed at identifying either the technical skill of ESA hominins (Toth et al. 2006), or technical attributes associated with varying skill levels (Harlacker 2003;Stout et al. 2009). ...
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The identification of Oldowan hominin knapping skill levels has been a focus of numerous studies, with apparent variation in technical abilities identified between a number of Early Stone Age archaeological sites. Raw material variability, however, can play a significant role in the outcomes of knapping events as well as in the accuracy of analysis. Implications of such variability are yet to be fully understood. Here we present an experimental study to assess the effects that varying raw materials have on the identification of technological attributes typically associated with varying skill levels and whether it is possible to identify knapper skill levels across multiple raw materials. Variation was tested between raw materials from Olduvai Gorge across and between skill levels. The results suggest that knapping skill levels manifest differently in the material record across raw materials. In addition, we suggest that raw material has a significant effect on identifying knapper skill variation. This has implications for future research concerned with identifying knapper skill within and between early assemblages of differing raw materials.
... During this same experiment, Kanzi also produced sharp stones using the freehand percussion technique that had been demonstrated to him. Later on, Kanzi's half-sister Panbanisha and his sons were reported to have learnt to knap, although no details of the knapping techniques nor the learning process of these bonobos have been published [40,41]. ...
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Early stone tools, and in particular sharp stone tools, arguably represent one of the most important technological milestones in human evolution. The production and use of sharp stone tools significantly widened the ecological niche of our ancestors, allowing them to exploit novel food resources. However, despite their importance, it is still unclear how these early lithic technologies emerged and which behaviours served as stepping-stones for the development of systematic lithic production in our lineage. One approach to answer this question is to collect comparative data on the stone tool making and using abilities of our closest living relatives, the great apes, to reconstruct the potential stone-related behaviours of early hominins. To this end, we tested both the individual and the social learning abilities of five orangutans to make and use stone tools. Although the orangutans did not make sharp stone tools initially, three individuals spontaneously engaged in lithic percussion, and sharp stone pieces were produced under later experimental conditions. Furthermore, when provided with a human-made sharp stone, one orangutan spontaneously used it as a cutting tool. Contrary to previous experiments, social demonstrations did not considerably improve the stone tool making and using abilities of orangutans. Our study is the first to systematically investigate the stone tool making and using abilities of untrained, unenculturated orangutans showing that two proposed pre-requisites for the emergence of early lithic technologies–lithic percussion and the recognition of sharp-edged stones as cutting tools–are present in this species. We discuss the implications that ours and previous great ape stone tool experiments have for understanding the initial stages of lithic technologies in our lineage.
... Initially, flakes could have been made by simply using one cobble to break up another (which only requires WM = 2) and selecting a flake with a sharp edge from the débris. By 2.6− 2.5 mya stone-flaking was frequent (Braun et al., 2019;Harris, 1986;Kimbel et al., 1996;Semaw et al., 1997Semaw et al., , 2003, probably becoming habitual behavior (Shea, 2017), markedly different from stones battered by anthropoid primates (Arroyo et al., 2016;Toth et al., 2006), and perhaps attributable to an early evolutionary appearance in Africa of Homo which is claimed on the basis of a small number of fossil fragments from 2.8− 2.3 mya (Kimbel et al., 1996;Villmoare et al., 2015). Between 2.6 and 2.3 mya African assemblages of flaked stones have permitted the refitting of excavated pieces that show repetitive striking where siliceous stones afforded surface angles ≤ 90 • (Delagnes and Roche, 2005). ...
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In this article we review publications relevant to addressing widely reported claims in both the academic and popular press that chimpanzees working memory (WM) is comparable to, if not exceeding, that of humans. WM is a complex multidimensional construct with strong parallels in humans to prefrontal cortex and cognitive development. These parallels occur in chimpanzees, but to a lesser degree. We review empirical evidence and conclude that the size of WM in chimpanzees is 2 ± 1 versus Miller’s famous 7 ± 2 in humans. Comparable differences occur in experiments on chimpanzees relating to strategic and attentional WM subsystems. Regardless of the domain, chimpanzee WM performance is comparable to that of humans around the age of 4 or 5. Next, we review evidence showing parallels among the evolution of WM capacity in hominins ancestral to Homo sapiens, the phylogenetic evolution of hominins leading to Homo sapiens, and evolution in the complexity of stone tool technology over this time period.
... Archaeologists working with assemblages from these very early sites have provided detailed descriptions of knapping procedures based on flake sizes and shapes, negative scar patterns on cores, and presumed absence of specific knapping products and byproducts. The sites of Gona, Ethiopia (2.6 million) (Semaw et al., 2003;Stout, Rogers, Jaeggi, & Semaw, 2019), and (Stout, 2002;Stout, Schick, & Toth, 2009;Toth, 1987;Toth, Schick, & Semaw, 2006) and refitting of cores (Delagnes & Roche, 2005) knappers held a clast of raw material in one hand (perhaps bracing it on the thigh) and struck the edge of it with a stone hammer gripped by the other hand. If successful, the blow stripped off a thin, sharp flake of stone. ...
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This essay introduces a special issue focused on 4E cognition (cognition as embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended) in the Lower Palaeolithic. In it, we review the typological and representational cognitive approaches that have dominated the past 50 years of paleoanthropology. These have assumed that all representations and computations take place only inside the head, which implies that the archaeological record can only be an ‘‘external’’ product or the behavioral trace of ‘‘internal’’ representational and computational processes. In comparison, the 4E approach helps us to overcome this dualist representational logic, allowing us to engage directly with the archaeological record as an integral part of the thinking process, and thus ground a more parsimonious cognitive archaeology. It also treats stone tools, the primary vestiges of hominin thinking, as active participants in mental life. The 4E approach offers a better grounding for understanding hominin technical expertise, a crucially important component of hominin cognitive evolution.
... This is a pattern similar to that seen at the sites of EG10 and EG12 at Gona, Ethiopia, ca. 2.6 Ma (Semaw et al., 2003;Toth et al., 2006), although at Gona, there is a preponderance of unifacial flaking of cobbles, whereas at Olduvai Trench 168, there is a preponderance of bifacial/ polyfacial flaking of cores (using previous flake scars on cores as striking platforms and removing flakes from the opposite side of a cobble or chunk). ...
Article
Previously, Olduvai Bed I excavations revealed Oldowan assemblages <1.85 Ma, mainly in the eastern gorge. New western gorge excavations locate a much older ~2.0 Ma assemblage between the Coarse Feldspar Crystal Tuff (~2.015 Ma) and Tuff IA (~1.98 Ma) of Lower Bed I, predating the oldest eastern gorge DK assemblage below Tuff IB by ~150 kyr. We characterize this newly discovered fossil and artifact assemblage, adding information on landscape and hominin resource use during the ~2.3-2.0 Ma period, scarce in Oldowan sites. Assemblage lithics and bones, lithofacies boundaries, and phytolith samples were surveyed and mapped. Sedimentological facies analysis, tephrostratigraphic and sequence stratigraphic principles were applied to reconstruct paleoenvironments and sedimentary processes of sandy claystone (lake), sandstone (fluvial), and sandy diamictite (debris flow) as principal lithofacies. Artifacts, sized, weighed, categorized, were examined for petrography, retouch, and flake scar size. Taxonomic classifications and taphonomic descriptions of faunal remains were made, and phytoliths were categorized based on reference collections. Lithics are dominantly quartzite, mainly debitage and less frequently simple cores, retouched pieces, and percussors. Well-rounded spheroids and retouched flakes are rare. Identifiable taxa, Ceratotherium cf. simum (white rhinoceros) and Equus cf. oldowayensis (extinct zebra), accord with nearby open savanna grasslands, inferred from C3 grass, mixed and/or alternating with C4 grass-dominated phytolith assemblages. Palms, sedges, and dicots were also identified from phytoliths. Diatoms and sponge spicules imply nearby freshwater. The assemblage accumulated at the toe of a Ngorongoro Volcano-sourced fan-delta apron of stacked debris flows, fluvials, and tuffs, preserving fossil tree stumps and wooded grassland phytoliths farther upfan. It formed after the climax of Ngorongoro volcanic activity during a Paleolake Olduvai lowstand and was then buried and preserved by lacustrine clays, marking the first of two lake transgressions, signifying wetter climates. Orbital precessional lake cycles were superposed upon multimillennial (~4.9 kyr) lake fluctuations.
... Archeologists have focused a great deal of attention on the technical aspects of these assemblages. Using experimental replication (Stout, 2002;Stout et al., 2009;Toth, 1987;Toth et al., 2006) and refitting of cores (Delagnes & Roche, 2005), they have been able to reconstruct the procedures that the early hominins used when making tools. Two techniques dominated. ...
Article
Traditional typological, technical, and cognitive approaches to early stone tools have taken an implicit Cartesian stance concerning the nature of mind. In many cases, this has led to interpretations of early technology that overemphasize its human-like features. By eschewing an epistemic mediator, 4E approaches to cognition (embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended) are in a better position to make appropriate evaluations of early hominin technical cognition that emphasize its continuity with non-human primates and ground a description of the evolution of hominin technology. This essay takes some initial steps in that direction by shifting focus away from tool types and knapping patterns toward a description based on ergonomics and Gibsonian affordances. The analysis points to the evolutionary importance of two hitherto underappreciated aspects of hominin technical systems—the emergence of ergonomic clusters instantiated in artifact form and the development of displaced affordances.