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The morphological variability of large cutting tools (LCT) during the Middle Pleistocene has been traditionally associated with two main variables: raw material constraints and reduction intensity. Boxgrove — c.500 ka — is one of the most informative sites at which to analyze shaping strategies and handaxe morphological variability in the European Middle Pleistocene, because of the large number of finished handaxes, and the presence of complete operational chains. We focused on the entire handaxe and rough-out sample from Boxgrove-Q1/B with the aim of assessing the role of raw material characteristics — size, form, and homogeneity of nodules — in the shaping process, and to ascertain if they represent real constraints in the production of handaxes. Additionally, given the large number of handaxes and the intensity of the thinning work at Boxgrove, we also aimed to determine if reduction intensity affected the final shape to the degree that some authors have previously postulated. The methodology combines traditional technological descriptions, metrical analysis, and experimental reproduction of shaping processes together with geometric morphometry and PCA. The conclusions we draw are that the Q1/B handaxe knapping strategies were flexible and adapted to the characteristics of the blanks. These characteristics affected the reduction strategy but there is no clear relationship between initial nodule or blank morphology and final handaxe shape. Throughout the experiments, we explored the capacity to solve problems arising from reduction accidents, which led to re-configuring the knapping strategy to achieve the predetermined “mental template.” Furthermore, no substantial morphological differences related to reduction intensity were noticed with the Q1/B handaxes. Systematic re-sharpening as the cause of shape variation seems highly unlikely, perhaps related to the short use-life of the Boxgrove-Q1/B handaxes. Preferred forms constitute part of a broader pattern emerging for specific handaxe types at different times during the British Acheulean. The patterns have tentatively been interpreted as the result of changing environments and the movement of hominin populations.
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The Mental Template in Handaxe Manufacture: New
Insights into Acheulean Lithic Technological Behavior
at Boxgrove, Sussex, UK
Paula García-Medrano
1
&Andreu Ollé
2,3
&
Nick Ashton
1
&Mark B. Roberts
4
#Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018
Abstract The morphological variability of large cutting tools (LCT) during the Middle
Pleistocene has been traditionally associated with two main variables: raw material
constraints and reduction intensity. Boxgrove c.500 ka is one of the most informa-
tive sites at which to analyze shaping strategies and handaxe morphological variability in
the European Middle Pleistocene, because of the large number of finished handaxes, and
the presence of complete operational chains. We focused on the entire handaxe and rough-
out sample from Boxgrove-Q1/B with the aim of assessing the role of raw material
characteristics size, form, and homogeneity of nodules in the shaping process,
and to ascertain if they represent real constraints in the production of handaxes. Addition-
ally, given the large number of handaxes and the intensity of the thinning work at
Boxgrove, we also aimed to determine if reduction intensity affected the final shape to
the degree that some authors have previously postulated. The methodology combines
traditional technological descriptions, metrical analysis, and experimental reproduction of
shaping processes together with geometric morphometry and PCA. The conclusions we
draw are that the Q1/B handaxe knapping strategies were flexible and adapted to the
characteristics of the blanks. These characteristics affected the reduction strategy but there
is no clear relationship between initial nodule or blank morphology and final handaxe
J Archaeol Method Theory
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-018-9376-0
*Paula García-Medrano
pgarciamedrano@gmail.com
1
Department of Britain, Europe & Prehistory, British Museum, Franks House, 56 Orsman Road,
London N1 5QJ, UK
2
Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES), Zona educacional 4, Campus
Sescelades URV (Edifici W3), 43007 Tarragona, Spain
3
Àrea de Prehistòria, Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV), Fac. Lletres, Av. Catalunya, 35,
43002 Tarragona, Spain
4
Institute of Archaeology, UCL, 31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY, UK
... Many researchers agree that the Later Acheulian handaxes do reflect complex knapping routines that distinguish them from earlier forms. For example, the extent of procedures involved in thinning Later Acheulian handaxes has been used as a proxy for assessing the skill of ancient knappers (Callahan, 1979;García-Medrano et al., 2019;Shimelmitz et al., 2017;Shipton, 2018;Shipton et al., 2013;Stout et al., 2014). Successfully detaching invasive flakes that penetrate the midline of handaxes requires careful control over the preparation of platforms, altering external platform and bevel angles, raising the plane of bifacial intersection and the accuracy and force of percussive strikes (Callahan, 1979;García-Medrano et al., 2019;Pargeter et al., 2020Pargeter et al., , 2019Shipton, 2018;Shipton et al., 2013). ...
... For example, the extent of procedures involved in thinning Later Acheulian handaxes has been used as a proxy for assessing the skill of ancient knappers (Callahan, 1979;García-Medrano et al., 2019;Shimelmitz et al., 2017;Shipton, 2018;Shipton et al., 2013;Stout et al., 2014). Successfully detaching invasive flakes that penetrate the midline of handaxes requires careful control over the preparation of platforms, altering external platform and bevel angles, raising the plane of bifacial intersection and the accuracy and force of percussive strikes (Callahan, 1979;García-Medrano et al., 2019;Pargeter et al., 2020Pargeter et al., , 2019Shipton, 2018;Shipton et al., 2013). This is one of the most technically challenging aspects of Large Cutting Tool (LCT) production and is thought to reflect a level of mastery in handaxe-making. ...
... It is therefore possible that the frequency of knapping mishaps is simply a factor of raw material properties. However, recent experimental studies have suggested that raw materials have little to no impact on the final forms of handaxes (Eren et al., 2014;García-Medrano et al., 2019;Sharon, 2008). It is hypothesized the skill of Acheulian knappers is able to adapt to and overcome raw material properties to achieve specific forms, although this issue is discussed in more detail below. ...
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... To this end, 18 lithic workshops were carried out by three individuals with different degrees of experience in knapping handaxe tools. Due to its complexity, the manufacture of this tool requires complex skills that involve a high degree of cognitive development (García-Medrano et al., 2019;McPherron, 2000;Stout, 2002;Stout et al., 2000;Stout & Chaminade, 2007). The adaptability and effectiveness of this tool over the course of time, its existence throughout Africa and Eurasia, and its use by several different hominin species (García-Medrano et al., 2019;McPherron, 2000;Moncel et al., 2018) make this a good candidate with which to draw conclusions relevant to Palaeolithic studies. ...
... Due to its complexity, the manufacture of this tool requires complex skills that involve a high degree of cognitive development (García-Medrano et al., 2019;McPherron, 2000;Stout, 2002;Stout et al., 2000;Stout & Chaminade, 2007). The adaptability and effectiveness of this tool over the course of time, its existence throughout Africa and Eurasia, and its use by several different hominin species (García-Medrano et al., 2019;McPherron, 2000;Moncel et al., 2018) make this a good candidate with which to draw conclusions relevant to Palaeolithic studies. ...
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... In each instance, much technological information can be derived from the position, number and size of these scars, such as reduction sequences, reduction intensity and knapping strategy. For instance, analysis of scar abundance on 3D scans has previously been used to calculate reduction intensity [120][121][122][123][124], while scar directionality has been used to infer reduction strategies of cores [125,126]. Surface area has also proven particularly useful in improving our ability to calculate the reduction intensity of cores [120,127,128], core-tools [122,124,129,130], and flake-tools [86,87,92,131]. ...
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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.
... This method was at the heart of the Marie-Curie funded Western European Acheulean Project (WEAP), which developed a unified technological analysis of handaxes in combination with 3D morphometrics (see below). These methods have been used in the current work drawing on analyses undertaken by Shipton and White (2020) in combination with those from the British sites studied for WEAP (García-Medrano et al., 2019;García-Medrano et al., 2020, submitted). ...
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... Width and thickness were also measured at fixed fractions of the total length (25%, 50%, and 75%). These variables were also combined into ratios such as elongation (L/W), refinement (W/Th), tip-based (W25/W75), width-to-length (W/L) and thickness-to-length (Th/L) (Beyene et al., 2013;Bordes, 1961;García-Medrano et al., 2019;Grosman et al., 2008;Roe, 1968). As a general size index, tool module was computed averaging ML, width and thickness. ...
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