Learning to be Human

Skill Acquisition and the development of the human brain

Stone tool making (Image © Francis Wenban-Smith)

This Leverhulme Trust-funded project (2010-2013) involves a three-year practice-led experimental programme training subjects in replicating prehistoric stone tools, co-ordinated by Bruce Bradley (Lead PI; Archaeology Department, University of Exeter, UK) with some training sessions held in London, France, Denmark and the US.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) will be used to investigate neural mechanisms of observational skill learning, in relation to behavioural analyses of the underlying hierarchical structure of different tool-making technologies: these components will be led by Dietrich Stout (Anthropology Department, Emory University, USA and Honorary Research Fellow of the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, UK) using laboratory facilities at University College London.

Learning to be Human

Novice participants will undergo MRI examinations at the beginning, middle and end of the training programme, allowing a longitudinal investigation of skill-related changes in brain activity. Everybody involved in the project will be experimental subjects and learn or enhance their skills in stone tool making. This will provide the large sample that is required and will ensure the continuing participation of subjects throughout the project.

The Institute of Archaeology is involved through a PhD studentship project of which the main objectives are to develop, test and implement an experimental ‘transmission chain’ protocol for studying the acquisition through copying of archaeologically-attested craft techniques. The developed protocol will then be used to carry out transmission chain experiments with the project’s subject cohort of trained stone tool makers.

Related outputs

  • Details of related outputs will be posted here as they become available.

Leverhulme Trust logo


Project Leaders:

  • Bruce Bradley (Lead PI: University of Exeter)
  • James Steele

Project Members:

  • Dietrich Stout (Anthropology Department, Emory University, USA and Honorary Research Fellow of the UCL Institute of Archaeology)
  • Stuart Page (Project PhD student, UCL Institute of Archaeology)


Further information:

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