Institute of Archaeology


Percussive Technology in Human Evolution: A Comparative Approach

The classic conception of the first human technologies assumes that early stone tool making focused on getting cutting edges, mainly through flakes obtained from knapping. However, recently it has been acknowledged the fundamental role of percussion processes apart from knapping such as pounding and battering activities, which could have been the most relevant ones in the earliest stages of stone working. This has important evolutionary implications, as other primates such as chimpanzees sometimes use stone hammer-and-anvil combinations to crack hard-shelled nuts.

A relevant question is why the percussion processes documented in some early archaeological sites such as Olduvai Gorge are not present in similar chronological and geographical contexts. Such differences across sites in percussive technology are well-documented in chimpanzees, providing another point of comparison between the archaeological and primatological records.

Therefore, what is the functional significance of percussion processes? How common are percussive activities in the early archaeological record? Are there inter-assemblage variations due to chronological trends? Can the differences be explained in terms of technological or cultural choices by early humans? And, even more relevant in evolutionary terms; how similar are archaeological percussive tools and chimpanzee made lithics?

This Leverhulme International Network project involves a group of experts working in Plio-Pleistocene archaeology and primatology. The main objective of this network is to promote inter-assemblage comparisons by organizing hands-on workshops where network partners discuss on site, and before the actual lithics, the significance of similarities and differences between the archaeological and primatological assemblages.

Experimental replication of percussion processes (bone cracking, plant processing, etc) are being conducted to evaluate the role of different raw materials and the differential availability of food resources, and compared to the archaeological collections and the lithics made by wild chimpanzees.

Related outputs

  • An international conference on Percussive Technology in Human Evolution was held on 18 & 19 September 2014.
  • De la Torre, I., Benito-Calvo, A. Arroyo, A. Zupancich A. and Proffitt, T. (2013). Experimental protocols for the study of battered stone anvils from Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania). Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 40, pp. 313-332.
  • Haslam, M., Hernandez-Aguilar, A., Ling, V., Carvalho, S., Torre, I. de la, DeStefano, A., Du, A., Hardy, B., Harris, J., Marchant, L., Matsuzawa, T., McGrew, W., Mercader, J., Mora, R., Petraglia, M., Roche, H., Visalberghi, E. & Warren, R. (2009). Primate archaeology. Nature 460, 339-344.