Stephen J. Lycett's research while affiliated with University at Buffalo, The State University of New York and other places

Publications (112)

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During the nineteenth century, biographic art was used to depict events representing a warrior's most prominent accomplishments. These compositions were narrative in form, designed to be read by anyone familiar with the conventions embedded within their animated scenes. Accordingly, these artifacts are genuine historical documents, which – as part...
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Understanding early stone tools, particularly relationships between form and function, is fundamental to understanding the behavioral evolution of early hominins. The oldest-claimed flake tools date to ca. 3.3 million years ago, and their development may represent a key step in hominin evolution. Flake form, and its relationship to function, has lo...
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The Nelson stone tool cache was discovered in 2008 in Mount Vernon, Ohio. The cache does not include any diagnostic materials, and independent age control is unavailable. Although aspects of its 164 bifaces are suggestive of a Clovis affiliation – including the occasional occurrence of unmistakable flute scars – nearly all are in the early- to mid-...
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The means by which hominins invented lithic cutting technology is currently unknown. However, the origin of stone knapping is frequently associated with nut-cracking, whereupon hominins are assumed to have accidentally produced flakes and/or transferred a percussive motion to stone cobbles. Here, we consider whether bone flakes produced during marr...
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Crow warrior-artist White Swan authored more biographic images than any other Historic-period Crow artist. It has even been suggested that he drew one rock art scene at the historically important petroglyphs at Joliet, Montana. Here, the authors evaluate the likelihood that the Joliet scene is a White Swan drawing, and they also evaluate the possib...
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A newly discovered rock art site in Montana (No Bear) displays eight anthropomorphic images from an Archaic-period artistic tradition named Foothills Abstract. We present two independent means of establishing the relative chronology and stylistic sequence of change across these anthropomorphs. Two different cultural processes may underpin this sequ...
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The knapping experiments with Kanzi, a bonobo, are among the most insightful experiments into Oldowan technology ever undertaken. Comparison of his artifacts against archeological material, however, indicated he did not produce Oldowan lithic attributes precisely, prompting suggestions that this indicated cognitive or biomechanical impediments. The...
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One of the defining characteristics of Acheulean handaxes is the presence of a substantial length of sharp cutting edge, often covering the majority or entirety of their plan-form outline. Recently, factors affecting the efficiency and effectiveness of handaxes for cutting have come under increased scrutiny. Most studies investigate how shape, size...
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Objectives The cranium is generally considered more reliable than the postcranium for assessing primate taxonomy, although recent research suggests that pelvic shape may be equally reliable. However, little research has focused on intrageneric taxonomic discrimination. Here, we test the relative taxonomic efficacy of the cranium and os coxa for dif...
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Paleolithic wooden spears provide rare but unique insights into early hunting technology. Examples from Schöningen, Germany indicate that spear tips were sometimes asymmetrical. This asymmetry has previously been interpreted as evidence for planning depth. A more parsimonious explanation, however, is that asymmetrical tips could be more efficiently...
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Large elements of anthropology and archaeology study the circulation of ideas through and across communities and the spatial and temporal patterns this produces. Examination of case studies with known particular dynamics are one means by which relevant factors can be examined, and so come to understand the underpinning of patterns that might be obs...
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Historic period Plains biographic art provides narratives of the deeds and actions of Indigenous peoples of the region. The Crow ( Apsáalooke ) are one such people with a rich record of biographic drawings in rock art and portable works. However, chronological and stylistic links between these two media have long been thought out of reach, even tho...
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Understanding the patterns that result from intercommunity contact has long been an interest in anthropology. Although linguistically diverse, peoples of the Historic-period Great Plains came into contact through a diversity of means, both malevolent and benevolent in form. Accordingly, the idea that the Plains was an environment that led to high d...
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The issue of cultural transmission has recently seen intensified interest across a broad geographical and temporal range of archaeological case studies. However, we must constantly assess our understanding of how cultural transmission and related issues (e.g., cultural selection) affect and effect material patterns, if the body of theory underpinni...
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Biographic artworks produced by Historic-period Plains Indian warriors can be viewed as genuine historical documents, detailing important events in their lives. This is especially true because these documents contain a genuinely narrative component, telling their stories as much as depicting them. However, for individual lives to create a broader s...
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Rivers are known to play a role in human subsistence, economic, transport, and communication dynamics in many regions of the world. However, there has been little systematic investigation of how landscape features such as rivers might structure cultural transmission, such that this has a direct influence on cross-community patterns of artifactual v...
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Biographic tradition artworks produced on the Great Plains by historic-period Native Americans constitute genuine documents of history, recording—in narrative form—real events that took place in people’s lives. In the early 2000s, a previously undocumented example of a painted robe in the biographic tradition became known (the “Malcolm robe”). Prel...
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Both the form of a stone tool and the anatomy of the individual using it have potential to influence its cutting performance. To date, however, the selective pressures acting on stone‐tool form and hominin biometric/biomechanical attributes have been investigated in isolation and their relative influence on performance have never been compared dire...
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Flintknappers must successfully deploy specific physical techniques to make stone artifacts. Somewhat analogous to flintknapping, the successful performance of conjuring tricks also relies on effective deployment of physical actions and techniques to bring about desired outcomes. To prevent spectators detecting the cause–effect relationships betwee...
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Cultural evolution refers to the concept that cultural behaviors may have been subject to Darwinian evolutionary processes, thus influencing their distribution temporally and geographically. There are, however, at least two levels at which the concept of culture can be seen to relate potentially to evolutionary theory. At a basic level, the ability...
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Lower Palaeolithic hominins are thought to have been dependent upon stone tools during the acquisition and processing of food resources. Hence, it is hypothesized that the evolutionary advantages provided by efficient stone tool use may have selected for anatomical changes observed in the hand during this period. Similarly, hominin manipulative cap...
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David Clarke’s Analytical Archaeology (1968) has been seen as a pivotal work that emerged when new ideas and approaches were transforming archaeology as a discipline. However, the authors contend that some of its key ideas have only been picked up on and given closer consideration in more recent years. At the 50th anniversary of its publication, th...
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In the study of cultural evolution, observed among-group affinity patterns reflect the effects of processes such as mutation (e.g. innovation and copying error), between-group interaction (culture flow), drift and selection. As in biology, cultural affinity patterns are often spatially correlated, making it difficult to distinguish between the oppo...
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For some time it has been recognized that areal arrangements in ethnographic data might help archaeologists understand equivalent arrangements in artifactual data, especially in anthropologically relevant terms. Equally, ethnographic data have shown that material-culture patterns do not necessarily conveniently map discrete “peoples” or ethnolingui...
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The occurrence of unnotched triangular points is exceptional in the North American archaeological record. The study of these items can shed light on selective forces that influence the evolution of prehistoric weaponry, especially that which involves small stone tipped projectiles, which is itself a global phenomenon during the late Pleistocene and...
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Bifacially flaked stone tools, traditionally referred to as “handaxes” were produced by Pleistocene hominins for over one million years over three different continents. This spatial and temporal prevalence raises questions about the factors that may have motivated their use as supplements to more simple flake tools. Hence, understanding the compara...
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Percussively flaked stone artefacts constitute a major source of evidence relating to hominin behavioural strategies and are, essentially, a product or byproduct of a past individual’s decision to create a tool with respect to some broader goal. Moreover, it has long been noted that both differences and recurrent regularities exist within and betwe...
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Handaxes represent one of the most temporally enduring and geographically widespread of Palaeolithic artifacts and thus comprised a key technological strategy of many hominin populations. Archaeologically observable variation in the size (i.e., mass) and shape properties of handaxes has been frequently noted. It is logical to ask whether some of th...
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A relationship between behavioral variability and artifactual variability is a founding principle of archaeology. However, this relationship is surprisingly not well studied empirically from an explicitly “microevolutionary” perspective. Here, we experimentally simulated artifactual variation in two populations of “artifact” manufacturers, involvin...
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The Deadmond robe, an example of painted biographic art attributed to Blackfoot, is thought to date from the last two decades of the nineteenth century. A previous frequency seriation analysis reported in this journal provided results indicative of such a date. Here, this claim is reassessed. Two multivariate statistical methods were utilized that...
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Rock art can provide an important source of data on the past lives of individuals and the societies to which they belonged. However, rock art does not generally become part of the stratigraphic record, which has the unfortunate consequence that it may be decontextualized from its archaeological and/or historical context, thus limiting its potential...
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Edge angle is widely considered to be a morphological attribute that influences the functional performance of lithic technologies. However, the comparative performance capabilities of handaxes that vary in terms of edge angles has never been investigated under experimental conditions. Similarly, detailed accounts of Acheulean handaxe angle variatio...
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The transmission of genes and culture between human populations has major implications for understanding potential correlations between history, biological, and cultural variation. Understanding such dynamics in 19th century, post-contact Native Americans on the western Great Plains is especially challenging given passage of time, complexity of kno...
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For many years, intuition and common sense often guided the transference of patterning ostensibly evident in experimental flintknapping results to interpretations of the archaeological record, with little emphasis placed on hypothesis testing, experimental variables, experimental design, or statistical analysis of data. Today, archaeologists routin...
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Recent years have seen substantial growth in the application of evolutionary approaches to spatial and temporal variation exhibited in archaeological data. As is now well known, the application of this approach rests on the basis that artifacts are an expression of a genuine evolutionary system mediated by transmission (via social learning), variat...
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Native American communities occupying the western Great Plains during the postcontact period exemplify the highly contingent relationships between artifactual data and cultural processes. Here, cultural evolutionary theory and quantitative analyses are used to approach this challenge. Two sets of artifactual products were examined: parfleche attrib...
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The “Acheulean” is comprised of individual knapping events undertaken by individual hominins. In other words, it is a particular component of hominin behavior that we draw out and amalgamate into a wider “pattern.” The resultant phenomenon (i.e., “the Acheulean”) is an entity that stretches over the space of three continents and spans a time period...
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In recent years, several studies have shown that populations from cold, high-latitude regions tend to have relatively shorter limbs than populations from tropical regions, with most of the difference due to the relative length of the zeugopods (i.e., radius, ulna, tibia, fibula). This pattern has been explained either as the consequence of long-ter...
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Levallois reduction was geographically widespread during the Middle Palaeolithic, being practiced by both Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) and early Modern Humans (Homo sapiens). Here, we review and synthesize a range of recent work that we have undertaken on the issue of Levallois, with the aim of further considering its implications in terms...
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Lithic artifacts are increasingly being used to address questions in evolutionary, i.e., historical, terms. The explicit assumption in such analyses is that lithic attributes reflect patterns of inheritance via social learning. However, both raw material and reduction factors are known to be potential sources of lithic variation. The cultural–evolu...
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Cultural evolutionary approaches highlight that different social learning processes may be involved in the maintenance of cultural traditions. Inevitably, for traditions to be maintained, they must be transmitted with reasonably fidelity. It has been proposed that ‘imitation’ (i.e., the direct copying of actions of others displayed in tasks such as...
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Recent studies have indicated that Levallois-style core reduction offered potential practical benefits to hominin populations. However, none of these studies have yet considered one of the most important functional attributes of flake tools, which is edge angle. To address this shortcoming, we statistically examined flakes produced experimentally d...
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It has becoming increasingly common for archaeologists to draw on evolutionary theory and methods to analyze artifactual variation over time and space. The term “evolution” and its traditionally biological connotations, however, can provide a source of confusion, which might cause hindrance to those trying to understand the growing array of case st...
Chapter
‘Learning’ is a process by which an individual gains new information. In the case of ‘social learning’, this process occurs because at least one individual has undertaken an activity that results in another individual learning something new. For an individual, therefore, ‘learning’ is an active process that takes place in vivo. For those faced with...
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Culture is a phenomenon shared by all humans. Attempts to understand how dynamic factors affect the origin and distribution of cultural elements are, therefore, of interest to all humanity. As case studies go, understanding the distribution of cultural elements in Native American communities during the historical period of the Great Plains would se...
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Simple flake cutting tools were utilized across broad chronological and geographical ranges during prehistory. Fundamental to their functional utility is the presence of a relatively acute working edge. The acuteness of this ‘edge angle’ is widely hypothesized to be a primary determinant of cutting efficiency and, subsequently, of potential consequ...
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Diverse species exhibit cultural traditions, i.e. population-specific profiles of socially learned traits, from songbird dialects to primate tool-use behaviors. However, only humans appear to possess cumulative culture, in which cultural traits increase in complexity over successive generations. Theoretically, it is currently unclear what factors g...
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Ethnographic research highlights that there are constraints placed on the time available to produce cultural artefacts in differing circumstances. Given that copying error, or cultural 'mutation', can have important implications for the evolutionary processes involved in material culture change, it is essential to explore empirically how such 'time...
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How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement. MALAFOURIS LAMBROS . 2013. TheMIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. xv + 304 pp. $40.00 (cloth), ISBN-978-0-262-01919-4. - Volume 79 Issue 2 - Stephen J. Lycett
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Previous studies have indicated that the cutting efficiency of flake tools increases with increased tool size. Here, we undertook to examine the relationship between flake size and efficiency parameters using a larger and more variable flake dataset than used in previous analyses. Our analyses were specifically designed to assess whether there is a...
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Copying errors that occur during the manufacture of artifactual traditions are potentially a major source of variation. It has been proposed that material items produced via “additive” processes (e.g., pottery) will possess less variation than traditions produced via “reductive” processes (e.g., stone knapping). The logic of this premise is that “a...
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Mathematical modelling has suggested that Levallois core morphology represents a reduction strategy driven by economic considerations; particularly the minimization of ‘waste’ while aiming to maximize cutting edge length of flakes obtained from cores of a given size. Such models are elegant in that they facilitate formal modelling of economic consi...
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Recent applications of population genetic models to human craniodental traits have revealed a strong neutral component to patterns of global variation. However, little work has been undertaken to determine whether neutral processes might also be influencing the postcranium, perhaps due to substantial evidence for selection and plastic environmental...
Data
R source code for statistical simulation. (R)
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Archaeologists interested in explaining changes in artifact morphology over long time periods have found it useful to create models in which the only source of change is random and unintentional copying error, or 'cultural mutation'. These models can be used as null hypotheses against which to detect non-random processes such as cultural selection...
Data
A demonstration of one round of the experiment. (MOV)
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The extent to which past climate change has dictated the pattern and timing of the out-of-Africa expansion by anatomically modern humans is currently unclear [Stewart JR, Stringer CB (2012) Science 335:1317-1321]. In particular, the incompleteness of the fossil record makes it difficult to quantify the effect of climate. Here, we take a different a...
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Alleged differences between Palaeolithic assemblages from eastern Asia and the west have been the focus of controversial discussion for over half a century, most famously in terms of the so-called 'Movius Line'. Recent discussion has centered on issues of comparability between handaxes from eastern Asian and 'Acheulean' examples from western portio...
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Configuration of 51 landmarks used in the 3D geometric morphometric analyses. (TIF)
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Morphometric variability (standard deviations) of each of three major groups of stone tools compared across each of the first 22 Principal Components (accounting for 95% of the total morphometric variation). Mode 1 cores consistently showed the greatest variability across all PCs compared with Acheulean and Bose handaxes. F-tests found that for eac...
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One of the main events in the history of our species has been our expansion out of Africa. A clear signature of this expansion has been found on global patterns of neutral genetic variation, whereby a serial founder effect accompanied the colonization of new regions, in turn creating a wilhin-pupulation decrease in neutral genetic diversity with in...
Data
Principal component results of 3D geometric morphometric analysis comparing archaeological examples of Levallois core against the experimental replicas produced for this study. This Figure shows PC1 plotted against PC2. (TIF)
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Flake variables measured for analyses. (DOC)
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A comparative 3D geometric morphometric analysis of the experimental Levallois cores and archaeological examples. (DOC)
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Principal component results of 3D geometric morphometric analysis comparing archaeological examples of Levallois core against the experimental replicas produced for this study. This Figure shows PC2 plotted against PC3. (TIF)
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Principal component results of 3D geometric morphometric analysis comparing archaeological examples of Levallois core against the experimental replicas produced for this study. This Figure shows PC1 plotted against PC3. (TIF)
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Middle Palaeolithic stone artefacts referred to as 'Levallois' have caused considerable debate regarding issues of technological predetermination, cognition and linguistic capacities in extinct hominins. Their association with both Neanderthals and early modern humans has, in particular, fuelled such debate. Yet, controversy exists regarding the ex...
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A key issue in the ongoing debate about the existence of culture in chimpanzees is the nature of the behavioural differences documented among wild populations. Some argue that many of the behaviours in question are socially learned and that the interpopulation differences can be considered cultural
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The use of stone cutting tools opened a novel adaptive niche for hominins. Hence, it has been hypothesised that biomechanical adaptations evolved to maximise efficiency when using such tools. Here, we test experimentally whether biometric variation influences the efficiency of simple cutting tools (n=60 participants). Grip strength and handsize wer...
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In recent years, an increasing range of scientists from the fields of psychology, anthropology and archaeology are recognising the value of utilising Darwinian theory to study cultural transmission and evolution. Such an approach is based on recognition that culture involves a mode of inheritance (social transmission), variation of practice, and th...
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Patterns of Palaeolithic variability between eastern Asia and western portions of the Old World continue to engender controversial discussion. Most famously, debate has focused on variability in the absence/presence of 'handaxes' east and west of the so-called 'Movius Line'. However, it is becoming equally apparent that cross-regional contrasts can...