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Influence of handaxe size and shape on cutting efficiency: a large-scale experiment and morphometric analysis

Key, Alastair J. M., Lycett, Stephen J. (2016) Influence of handaxe size and shape on cutting efficiency: a large-scale experiment and morphometric analysis. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, . pp. 1-28. ISSN 1072-5369. E-ISSN 1573-7764. (doi:10.1007/s10816-016-9276-0) (KAR id:54006)

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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 this variability may have had functional implications. Here, we report the results of a large-scale (n = 500 handaxes) experiment designed to examine the influence of variation in handaxe size and shape on cutting efficiency rates during a laboratory task. We used a comprehensive dataset of morphometric (size-adjusted) shape variables and statistical methods (including multivariate methods) to address this issue. Our first set of analyses focused on handaxe mass/size variability. This analysis demonstrated that, at a broad-scale level of variation, handaxe mass may have been free to vary independently of functional (cutting) efficiency. Our analysis also, however, identified that there will be a task-specific threshold in terms of functional effectiveness at the lower end of handaxe mass variation. This implies that hominins may have targeted design forms to meet minimal (task-specific) thresholds, and may also have managed handaxe reduction and discard in respect to such factors. Our second set of analyses focused on handaxe shape variability. This analysis also indicated that considerable variation in handaxe shape may occur independently of any strong effect on cutting efficiency. We discuss how these results have several implications for considerations of handaxe variation in the archaeological record. At a general level, our results demonstrate that variability within and between handaxe assemblages in terms of their size and shape properties will not necessarily have had immediate or strong impact on their effectiveness when used for cutting, and that such variability may have been related to factors other than functional issues.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1007/s10816-016-9276-0
Uncontrolled keywords: Functionality, Efficiency, Handaxes, Cutting, Acheulean, Performance characteristics
Subjects: C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CC Archaeology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Depositing User: Alastair Key
Date Deposited: 04 Feb 2016 11:50 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2022 03:00 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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