Stone tool analysis and human origins research: some advice from Uncle Screwtape

Evol Anthropol. Mar-Apr 2011;20(2):48-53. doi: 10.1002/evan.20290.


The production of purposefully fractured stone tools with functional, sharp cutting edges is a uniquely derived hominin adaptation. In the long history of life on earth, only hominins have adopted this remarkably expedient and broadly effective technological strategy. In the paleontological record, flaked stone tools are irrefutable proof that hominins were present at a particular place and time. Flaked stone tools are found in contexts ranging from the Arctic to equatorial rainforests and on every continent except Antarctica. Paleolithic stone tools show complex patterns of variability, suggesting that they have been subject to the variable selective pressures that have shaped so many other aspects of hominin behavior and morphology. There is every reason to expect that insights gained from studying stone tools should provide vital and important information about the course of human evolution. And yet, one senses that archeological analyses of Paleolithic stone tools are not making as much of a contribution as they could to the major issues in human origins research.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Archaeology / methods*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Hominidae
  • Humans
  • Paleontology / methods*
  • Research Design
  • Technology*
  • Tool Use Behavior*