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2022-09-14 15:18:15   •   ID: 2349

Explaining Stone Tool Modifications

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Figure 2
Figure 3
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Figure 5
Figure 1 and 2 show a 6 cm long Jerzmanowice point from Kleinheppach in Baden-Würtenberg / Germany with a typical dorsal and baso-ventral flat retouch.

Figure 3 displays two thick and partial cortical typical Quina scrapers from the classic Quina-Aval site.

Figure 4 and 5 show a 5 cm long MSA point from Eyden Ubari / Libya with secondary thinning in the apical and ventral / dorsal basal parts.

Conventionally, it is argued that the retouche of the Quina scraper is indicative of a re-sharpening process and that the thinning in the other artifacts was executed to facilitate hafting.

However such explanations are often based on shaky ground....

In Paleolithic Archaeology, tool maintenance involves secondary modification of a tool, mainly by retouch.

Functionally, a stone tool can be retouched for a variety of reasons, such as reshaping, resharpening, recycling and facilitation of prehension and hafting (Odell 1996, Inizan et al. 1999).

  • Reshaping is restoring the original design or redesigning an artifact with a different function


  • Resharpening describes the restoration of a sharp cutting or scraping edge by retouching, resulting in the aspect of a "retouch scalariform ecaleuse" as shown in Figure 3.

    It should be noted that the functional significance of such a retouch is usually assumed a priori in the literature but often not proven


  • Recycling, mainly defined by double patinas, is interestingly a common phenomenon starting during the late Acheulean and early MSA in Africa and the Middle Paleolithic in Europe and the Middle East, while it is nearly absent during early ESA and Upper Paleolithic times. This observation may have multiple causes including environmental conditions, cognitive competence, raw material characteristic and settlement patterns


  • An important secondary modification of flakes since the Middle Pleistocene consists of blank thinning, including the one used for by bulb removal, basal or apical thinning and medial thinning applied in fixing of the profile curvature, edge flattening and flattening of cross-sections of the angles between the working edges on déjeté-type artifacts (Derevianko 1992, 2009).

    Why does artifact thinning occur? The most common answer, which is also often claimed a priori, relates to facilitate hafting of the artifact.

    Microtraceology may allow a confirmation of this assumption in certain cases (Rots 2011). However the proof of a specific functional gain by morphology alone is not possible. Form does not always follow function.

    The earliest claims for hafting come from the Acheulean site of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov (GBY) in the Jordan valley, dated to ca. 800 k.a. at the boundary between the Lower and Middle Pleistocene. However this statement is not based on Microtraceology but on more speculative assumptions (Alperson-Afil & Goren-Inbar, 2016).


  • There is virtually no literature that proves that thinning Stone Tools really contributes to improved hafting or that Quina-retouch is due to a reshaping process. As in any science, one sometimes encounters fundamental problems that have never really been settled or even worked out.

    Suggested Readings:

    V. Rots: Prehension and Hafting Traces on Flint Tools. A methodology (2010)

    D.S Amick: The recycling of material culture today and during the Paleolithic.Quaternary International 361 (2015) 4-20

    Povenance: Collection Reinhard Family (1,2); Halm (3) and Wagner (4,5) GER




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