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Movement and mobility are key properties in understanding what makes us human and so have been foci for archeological studies. Stone artifacts survive in many contexts, providing the potential for understanding landscape use in the past through studies of mobility and settlement pattern. We review the inferential basis for these studies based on archeological practice and anthropological understanding of hunter-gatherer bands. Rather than structured relationships among band size, composition, and mobility, anthropological studies suggest variability in how hunter-gatherer groups were organized. We consider how stone artifact studies may be used to investigate this variability by outlining a geometric approach to stone artifact analysis based on the Cortex Ratio. An archeological case study from Holocene semi-arid Australia allows consideration of the potential of this approach for understanding past landscape use from stone artifact assemblage composition more generally.
Evidence for changes in human mobility is fundamental to interpretations of transitions in human socioeconomic organization. Showing changes in mobility requires both archaeological proxies that are sensitive to movement and a clear understanding of how different mobility configurations influence their patterning. This study uses computer simulation to explore how different combinations of reduction, selection, transport, and discard of stone artifacts generate patterning in the “cortex ratio,” a geometric proxy used to demonstrate movement at the assemblage level. A case study from western New South Wales, Australia, shows how cortex ratios are used to make inferences about movement. Results of the exploratory simulation show that redundancy in movement between discards reduces variability in cortex ratios, while mean assemblage values can be attributed to the relative proportions of artifacts carried into and out of the assemblages. These results suggest that raw material availability is a potentially crucial factor in determining what kinds of mobility are visible in assemblages, whereby different access to raw material can shift the balance of import and export of stone in an otherwise undirected movement configuration. These findings are used to contextualize distributions of cortex ratios from the raw material–rich study area, prompting suggestions for further fieldwork.
The generative nature of the archaeological record stands in contrast with reconstructive goals of the discipline. This is particularly evident in discussions of surface archaeology, which is often considered deficient for reconstructing human behavior in the past when compared with subsurface deposits. We look at a case study from Rutherfords Creek in arid southeastern Australia, where lithics and combustion features appear in differing densities across the surface. These have been interpreted variably in terms of settlement patterns; however, the relationships between accumulation, visibility, and preservation are complex. This study addresses these relationships in terms of formation dynamics, drawing out patterns from surface assemblages that bear on the mobility and resilience of the ancestral Aboriginal populations that occupied Rutherfords Creek during the late Holocene. A different view of the record emerges, one that foregrounds the notions of reversibility in the patterning to identify the kinds of questions the record might be most fruitfully brought to bear on, with implications for both surface and subsurface archaeology.
Artifacts with varying use-lives have different discard rates and hence are represented unequally among archaeological assemblages. As such, the ability to gauge the use-lives of artifacts is important for understanding the formation of archaeological assemblage variability. In lithic artifacts, use-life can be expressed as the extraction of utility, or work potential, from existing stone volume. Using experimental data and generalized linear modeling, this study develops models of artifact use-life on cores in the form of reduction intensity. We then apply these models to two archaeological case studies to (a) reconstruct the reduction intensities of archaeological cores and (b) investigate the survivorship curves of these archaeological cores across the reduction continuum using the Weibull function. Results indicate variation in core reduction and maintenance with respect to raw material properties and place use history and implicate evolutionary differences between Early Stone Age hominins and Holocene modern humans.
Rates of soil loss were determined using erosion pins on a severely eroded surface in a small (19 km2) arid rangelands catchment in western New South Wales, Australia, over a 10-year period. Rates of up to 209 t ha−1 year−1 on rilled surfaces, 59·5 t ha−1 year−1 on flat surfaces, and 30·6 t ha−1 year−1 on vegetated hummocky surfaces were calculated. The initiation of this erosion is attributed to overgrazing by sheep and rabbits in the late nineteenth century, and its amelioration is precluded by hydraulic factors which prevent the use of reclamation techniques like waterponding.
Silcrete flakes and cores are abundant in the surface assemblages from western New South Wales, Australia but retouched tools made from silcrete are much less frequent, especially the heavily retouched forms like flake adzes. The distribution and abundance of these forms together with other silcrete retouched tools is investigated. While heavily retouched forms are present, forms thought to represent the intermediate stages of rejuvenation reduction are largely absent. This absence is used to consider how archaeological sites from the region should be interpreted. It is concluded that sites should not be interpreted as though they represent a material record of activities that occurred only at the place where archaeological sites are identified.
Here is a paper of pivotal importance to all prehistorians attempting to reconstruct societies from assemblages of shells or stone artefacts in dispersed sites deposited over tens of thousands of years. The authors demonstrate the perilous connections between the distribution and content of sites, their geomorphic formation process and the models used to analyse them. In particular they warn against extrapolating the enticing evidence from Pleistocene Willandra into behavioural patterns by drawing on the models presented by nineteenth-century anthropologists. They propose new strategies at once more revealing and more ethical.
http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/691436 A case study from western New South Wales, Australia, illustrates the age, preservation, and distribution of late Holocene heat-retainer hearths that are abundant in the semiarid archaeological record in the region. These hearths were constructed as underground ovens with stone heat retainers. They appear archaeologically as eroded concentrations of heat-fractured stone sometimes protecting charcoal deposits. We explore geomorphic processes influencing hearth temporal and spatial distributions using a neutral agent-based model. Parallels between model outcomes and the distribution of hearths in space and time suggest that processes of sediment erosion and deposition are having complex effects on hearth survivorship and therefore on patterns of hearth frequency. We consider the various processes that explain why hearths were made in the past and how they manifest in the present. Despite the relatively recent age of the hearths when compared with evidence for fire use in the Paleolithic record, the presence and absence of these fire features reflect the outcome of a large number of processes interacting together, not all of them related to human behavior. We use the results of the case study to comment on current behavioral models for the presence and absence of fire use in the distant past.