Term Paper: Tool Assemblage

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¶ … Assemblage

Stone tools from the time of the Neanderthals, the Middle Paleolithic in Europe, Africa (called the "Middle Stone Age") and the Near East, dating from about 300,000 years to about 40,000 years ago have survived in great quantities and now serve as the major means of determining hominin activities. Tool assemblages from this period are generally referred to as Mousterian in Europe and the Near East and as post-Acheulian in Africa. On the basis of style, srchaeologists have found distinct stone tool uses and industries and named them after the site of their original identification. The major industries include the Oldowan (Olduvai), Acheulean, Mousterian, Aurignacian, Solutrean, and Magdalenian industries (in chronological order) (Stone 1).

Homo erectus, ranged widely from Africa (where the species probably originated) to Asia to parts of Europe, from c. 1,700,000 to 200,000 years ago. Most of the anatomical differences between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens concern the skull and teeth, Homo erectus had a low, thick braincase with jutting brow ridges and a wide nose, palate, and jaw, with large teeth that are hominin and not apelike. The bones of the limbs are similar to those of Homo sapiens, indicating that Homo erectus was of medium stature and walked upright. Homo erectus are associated with the Acheulean tool tradition and was the first hominin to master fire and inhabit caves (Aiello 268).

The Mousterian Tool Complex

The Mousterian tool complex is named after those found in a rock shelter at Le Moustier in the Dordogne region of southwestern France. A Mousterian tool assemblage has a smaller proportion of large core tools, compared with Acheulian assemblages, and include hand axes, cleavers and a bigger proportion of small flake tools such as scrapers. Though flakes struck off from a core were often used without alteration, the Mousterian is also characterized by flakes that were retouched by chipping small flakes off one or more edges. Studies of wear on scrapers show many were used for scraping hides or wood. Some of the tools, such as points, were thinned or shaped on one side, suggesting they were attached to a shaft or handle or "hafted." (23).

The Acheulian Tool Assemblage

The Acheulian assemblages consist mostly of various types of flake tools. A group of these tools comes from the area around the mouth of the Klasies River on the southern coast of South Africa containing shelters and caves in which early and later Homo sapiens lived. The oldest remains in one of the caves dates back 120,000 years. These tools include parallel-sided blades used as knives, pointed flakes that could have been spearpoints, burins or gravers and chisel-like tools, and scrapers. Another group of tools discovered at Border cave in South Africa, date back to almost 200,000 years ago. (Ember 134)

The name derives from the site near St. Acheul, in northern France, where such tools were first discovered. Acheulean industry was extremely long-lived (1,500,000-110,000 years ago) and is associated with both Homo erectus and archaic Homo sapiens.

Mary Leakey classified stone tools from Olduvai Gorge, which classification is illustrative of how archaeologists differentiate stone technology. She said that the majority of the tools and utilised material can readily be separated into heavy- and light-duty groups, but to avoid ambiguity, tools with a mean diameter exceeding 50 mm. have been termed heavy-duty, and those of 50 mm. Or less light-duty. She used the revised terminology for the Oldowan, Developed Oldowan and Acheulean tools found at the Olduvai site in Africa.:

Comparing the Two

Some scientists find these Mousterian and Acheulian traditions similar: The tools are alike in richness and assemblage size, which is significant within five industrial variants of the Mousterian period. The relationships for Typical, Quina and Ferrassie Industries are similar to one another, but have lower slopes and higher intercepts than those of the Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition (MTA) and Denticulate Industries, which are similar to one another. The differences in slope and intercept are similar to the general Mousterian in richness, assemblage, and size relationship (Grayson p. 930).

There are websites dedicated to listing comparisons between tool assemblage traditions, such as the From "Coup de Poing" to Clovis: Multiple approaches to biface variability site found at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~hdibble/particip.htm. The Acheulean in the Middle Awash covers the period of the earlier biface occurrences in the lower Pleistocene, the technologies of the earlier middle Pleistocene and those of the later Acheulean in the late middle Pleistocene. Each stage of development is technologically and typologically distinct and time related. The variability in assemblage composition range, depending on different environmental contexts, alluvial floodplain silts, channel sands of tributary streams, and lakeside habitats. This variability is, of course, in relation to the tool makers' behavioral activities and group composition.

Clactonian and Levalloisian Methods

Mousterian tool assemblage shows flaking techniques in common with the Clactonian, as well as the frequent practice in some assemblages of the Levallois flaking technique. Clactonian tool making, originally found in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex in 1911, included flint chopping tools, flint flakes and the tip of a worked wooden shaft. Making these tools involved striking thick, irregular flakes from a core of flint, which was then employed as a chopper. The flakes were used as knives or scrapers. Some of them were notched, implying they had been attached to handles or shafts. Clactonian tools were rarely retouched.

In the prehistory of humankind, the transition from the Middle Paleolithic to the Upper Paleolithic is a major revolution. Archaeological phenomena observed in Eurasia, and the lack it in other regions, create a biological argument for the role of Cro-Magnons and the demise of the Neanderthals, as well as cultural-technological, and environmental arguments. Hominids began to make tools with greater control over the shape of the flakes. The new technique, termed Levallois, is known for the maker's ability to produce flakes of a desired shape, a result of preshaping the core. Like Mousterian tools, many of the Acheulian tools in Africa during the Middle Stone Age were struck off prepared cores in the "Levalloisian" way.

Levallosian technique was an ingenious way of creating points in a quicker and more detailed than previous techniques, involving striking flakes from a prepared core. A striking platform is formed and the core's edges are trimmed by flaking off pieces around an outline of the intended shape, creating a dome on the side of the core called a tortoise core, since it reminds one of a tortoise shell. When the striking platform is finally hit, the flake separates from the core with a plano-convex shape and all of its edges sharpened by earlier trimming work. These flakes were used more for scrapers or knives, though the technique could also be used to produce points. There is evidence that these points were attached to wooden shafts (Dom-nguez-Rodrigo 289).

Describing the Differences in Mousterian and Acheulian Traditions

The Mousterian tool tradition of the Neanderthals and early modern Homo erectus, is a continuation of this technological advance. Mousterian tradition is also much more varied than the earlier Acheulian. (Feder, page 290).

In 1961, Bordes classified a typology of 63 flake tools found in Old World assemblages from the Lower and Middle Paleolithic periods. While Bordes' typology has been useful as a means of describing tools, there has been a major point of disagreement for decades about the basis of this variability. The variability of Upper Pleistocene hominid stone tools is, in his tables, applied to behavioral interpretation. "The lithics are viewed as a source of information about the lifeways of Pleistocene hominids. Important questions about evolution and adaptation are related to this debate. Yet the extent to which the lithic assemblage variation is indicative of behavior itself remains a point of debate" (Feder, p. 193).

Lithic description dominated Bordes' artifact taxonomy by the late 1950's, and typological studies of artifact morphology dominated Old World Paleolithic research until about 1970. In recent decades new explanations for these variations have been offered. Cultural (ethnic tradition) differences, functional differences, temporal differences, and utilization differences have all been ascribed to the variability of lithic assemblages (Ember p. 245).

The Debate over Groups

Francois Bordes identified five different assemblage groups and kinds of flake tools. He hypothesized that there were assemblage groups correlating to five or more distinct cultures. Five Mousterian groups are discernible, say Lewis and Sally Binford, but they explain that the five groups are actually different toolkits used by the same hominids for different purposes. There is also disagreement on the functions of certain types of lithics. F. Bordes, S.R. Binford and L.S. Binford do agree that Levallois points and retouched Mousterian points could have been used as weapons and some researchers claim Levallois points were actually weapon tips, while others disagree that hafted projectiles were in use (Trinkhaus, 9).

Harold L. Dibble questions the Bordes-Binford debate's overall assumption "that regards tools as desired end products." In 1984, Dibble, in a study of Middle Paleolithic material from Iran, raised the issue of whether these were functional or stylistic types (Dibble… [END OF PREVIEW]

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