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Looking at handaxes from another angle: Assessing the ergonomic and functional importance of edge form in Acheulean bifaces

Key, AJM; Proffitt, T; Stefani, E; Lycett, SJ; (2016) Looking at handaxes from another angle: Assessing the ergonomic and functional importance of edge form in Acheulean bifaces. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology , 44 (Pt A) pp. 43-55. 10.1016/j.jaa.2016.08.002. Green open access

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Abstract

Edge angle is widely considered to be a morphological attribute that influences the functional performance of lithic technologies. However, the comparative performance capabilities of handaxes that vary in terms of edge angles has never been investigated under experimental conditions. Similarly, detailed accounts of Acheulean handaxe angle variation from archaeological examples have not been reported in the literature. Consequently, it has not previously been possible to assess the extent to which Palaeolithic individuals adhered to specific edge angle ranges during handaxe production or whether resultant artifactual properties may have been in response to varying rates of utility. Here, using a substantial experimental program (n = 500 handaxes), we investigate the impact that edge angle variation has on the cutting efficiency of handaxes at a “whole tool” and “edge-point localized” level. We then examine edge angles in a temporally and geographically wide range of handaxes (n = 643) and assess the extent to which hominins were likely altering tool production choices in response to functional pressures. Our experimental results demonstrate that, up to a certain value, higher edge angles in handaxes can actually increase functional performance. Furthermore, results indicate that edges in the proximal portion of handaxes have the greatest influence over efficiency rates. Combined with examination of archaeological specimens, these results suggest that hominins actively pursued the production of more obtuse edges in the proximal (butt) portion of handaxes in order to increase ergonomic features that facilitated greater efficiency during use. Edge angle values in the proximal portion of the archaeological handaxes were, however, consistently found to be below an efficiency threshold identified at ∼70 degrees, above which, an edge’s ability to effectively be applied to cutting tasks decreases markedly. This further suggests that the proximal edges of handaxes, at least occasionally, were required as a functional working edge.

Type: Article
Title: Looking at handaxes from another angle: Assessing the ergonomic and functional importance of edge form in Acheulean bifaces
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/j.jaa.2016.08.002
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaa.2016.08.002
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Cutting Efficiency, Biface Use, Acheulean, Stone Tool Morphology, Functional Design
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology > Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10058831
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