3rd Experimental Archaeology Conference Abstract – Farina Sternke

From the 3rd Experimental Archaeology Conference, Edinburgh, 2008.

Apprenticeship in Palaeolithic Societies – Preliminary Results of Recent Experimental Flintknapping and its Implications for Archaeological Interpretation

Farina Sternke

Honorary Research Fellow, Department of Archaeology,  University of Glasgow

Recent studies involving skill and its transmission have provided information on the nature and length of apprenticeship and the social organization of labour. However, attention has focused almost exclusively on the younger periods of prehistory such as the Neolithic and Bronze Age. In many European countries differential levels of skill and skill development can be observed in Palaeolithic stone tool productions although to-date, research has only concentrated on the description of individual assemblage components.

My research is based on the assumption that the modalities (neuropsychological and biomechanical) of the knapping procedure remained the same throughout prehistory and explores the acquisition and transmission of the knapping skill in European Palaeolithic societies through a re-evaluation of existing literature and published data sets in combination with an analysis of new lithic replication data. I particularly concentrate on the identification of different skill levels and examples of skill development in knapped stone assemblages to establish skill transmission patterns linked to different production methods and techniques, for example Prepared-Core-Technologies (PCT), i.e. Levallois, as well as biface and blade production. The main research questions addressed in this project are,

  1. How was the knapping skill associated with a specific reduction method acquired and transmitted?
  2. Does the complexity of a reduction method affect the nature of skill transmission?
  3. How was the knapping skill transmission integrated into the social division of labour in Palaeolithic society?

I aim to critically examine the proposition that theoretical knowledge is more important than practical know-how in the early stages of the acquisition of the knapping skill by an integrated analysis of modern replication studies.

The methods that are employed consist of a review of existing experimental and archaeological data sets supplemented by a focused targeted analysis of new experimental data. For this purpose, beginner, novice and expert knappers were inducted in the production of comparative stone tool collections using three production methods: bifacial reduction (1), the Levallois method (PCT) (2) and blade production (3) to determine the technological and conceptual features associated with these three skill levels and to identify the main stages of skill acquisition. In the near future, these experimental stone tool collections will be used for a description of the technological and conceptual attributes of selected archaeological assemblages in an overall comparison of the evidence for differential skill and skill acquisition in Palaeolithic assemblages on an inter-site and inter-regional basis.

In this paper, I will present some preliminary results of the experimental stone tool production carried out at the Historical and Archaeological Experimental Research Centre (HAF) in Lejre, Denmark and comment on their implications for our current archaeological interpretations of Palaeolithic technology.

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