Comparing Lithic Assemblage Edge Damage Distributions: Examples from the Late Pleistocene and Preliminary Experimental Results

Benjamin Schoville, Kyle S. Brown

Abstract


Drawing behavioral inferences from macroscopic edge damage observations on lithic assemblages relies on linking observed damage patterns to behavioral processes identified during experimentation. Such methods have proven useful. However, critics frequently cite equifinality between different processes and wear traces on individual artifacts as well as inconsistent inter-observer agreement as problems with a ‘low-powered approach’ to lithic use-wear. One potential source of information that has received less attention is the patterns of edge damage detectable at the assemblage scale. Such patterns are only discernable by quantification of the collective distribution and frequency of edge damage on individual specimens. Here we use GIS to digitize and spatially reference artifacts to standardize and quantify edge damage. We applied this method to an assemblage of Middle Stone Age convergent flakes from Pinnacle Point Cave 13B, South Africa (165 - 90 ka) and a series of experimental flakes recreated for several tasks including use in a calibrated crossbow experiment. Assemblage results indicate that archaeological patterns of edge damage are unlikely to have a taphonomic origin. Moreover, the patterning does not appear to result from use as hafted spear armatures. Our results demonstrate the statistical and interpretive power gained by assemblage analyses compared to individual artifacts. The additional benefit of including microwear and residue analysis using a single cohesive GIS recording framework will enable rapid dissemination of results between analysts and create a record of experimental and archaeological wear-traces available to other researchers.

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