ERC starting grant EVO-HAFT (2013-2017)

Palaeolithic stone tool hafting has been considered important for decades given its interpretative potential for understanding technological and cognitive evolutions. Unfortunately, it has proven difficult to design methods that allow researchers to gain insights into the appearance of hafting and its evolution through time. The main reason is the problematic preservation of the organic material the handles are made of. Over the years, new techniques have been developed that allow a more detailed investigation of hafting. While microscopic analyses have been applied since the nineteen-eighties for the examination of stone tool use, the suitability of this approach for examining hafting wear has been only recently demonstrated by the PI.

Based on extensive experimental work, diagnostic macro- and microscopic criteria were proposed that enable a distinction between hand-held and hafted stone tools and between different hafting modes. This achievement has opened up a whole new range of interpretative possibilities that can significantly alter insights regarding the organic tool component, stone tool morphologies, life cycles, assemblage variability, site function, settlement patterns, etc. After all, the fact that a stone tool was part of a more complex whole sheds a whole new light on their interpretation and on the associated technological expertise and intellectual capacities. It stresses the need for a large-scale and systematic investigation of hafting.

The goal of this research project is to gain insights into the appearance, variability and evolution of Palaeolithic stone tool hafting in Europe and the remaining Old World through a comprehensive functional investigation that includes the analysis of wear traces and residues, next to an elaborate experimental program. The proposed project starts from the conviction that many of the changes observed during the Palaeolithic can be understood based on functional data. Consequently, this research project will contribute significantly to our understanding of archaeological assemblages and their variability, and of past human behaviour and its evolution through time.

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