Anthropology, Department of
Date of this Version
Published in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory (2017) doi: 10.1007/s10816-016-9297-8
While lithic objects can potentially inform us about past adaptations and behaviors, it is important to develop a comprehensive understanding of all of the various processes that influence what we recover from the archaeological record. We argue here that many assumptions used by archaeologists to derive behavioral inferences through the definition, conceptualization, and interpretation of both individual stone artifact forms and groups of artifacts identified as assemblages do not fit squarely with what we have learned from both ethnographic sources and analyses of archaeological materials. We discuss this in terms of two fallacies. The first is the fallacy of the “desired end product” in stone artifact manufacture, which also includes our ability to recognize such end products. The second fallacy has to do with the notions that lithic assemblages represent simple accumulations of contemporary behaviors and the degree to which the composition of the depositional units we study reliably match the kinds of activities that took place. Although it is beyond the scope of this paper to offer a comprehensive set of new methodologies and theoretical perspectives to solve these problems, our goal here is to stress the importance of rethinking some of our most basic assumptions regarding the nature of lithic objects and how they become part of the archaeological record. Such a revision is needed if we want to be able to develop research questions that can be addressed with the data we have available to us.
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