2. Stone Tool Production-Distribution Systems

The study of stone tool production-distribution systems examines the lifecycle of a stone tool by investigating the steps of raw material procurement, manufacture, use, recycling and discard, and the locations of these activities (Ericson 1982, 130; 1984, 3; Gould 1978, 818; Rovner and Lewenstein 1997, 7; Wiant and Hassen 1985, 102). Each of these steps can provide an insight into past human behaviour, as each one reflects a choice made by the stone tool producer or user. These choices may be influenced by a variety of factors, including technological, economic or social/political factors. For example, the choice of raw material used to produce a stone tool could be due to the quality of raw material or ability to extract it (technological), the availability or distance to raw material source (economic) (Blanton 1985; Wiant and Hassen 1985), the perception of value of the raw material (Bradley and Edmonds 1993) or whether the source is controlled by friends or enemies (social/political) (McBryde 1984; McBryde and Harrison 1981; Sutton and Campbell 1981). Only by understanding the complete process of raw material procurement, production, consumption and distribution, can we begin to understand the range of behaviours that may have affected the overall stone tool production-distribution system.

The different stages of a stone tool's history can also take place in a single or different locations as stone tools are moved across the landscape (Leach 1984, 116-17; Renfrew 1973, 185; Stahle and Dunn 1982, 84; Torrence 1986, 5; Perles 1992, 128; Davidson 1981, 111). Stone tools may begin life as a rough blank at the raw material source before being moved elsewhere for manufacture. They can then be moved further again for use and discard. Stone tools may also pass from the producers to other members of the society, or even further afield. The mechanisms behind this movement of tools may be for several reasons, including gift exchange, redistribution, trade or tribute.

By examining the finished tool discarded at the end of its use, only a very small picture of the tool's life history is gained, with all past activities and their locations hidden (Leach 1984, 114). Through the analysis of stone tool production-distribution systems however, which examine raw material sources, manufacturing debris and finished tools, we can understand the range of behaviours that were involved in the raw material procurement, production, consumption and distribution of the tools (Leighton 1989; Perles 1992; Torrence 1986). By analysing and comparing production-distribution systems of different goods, we can also explore how past economic systems were structured within a society and how these systems changed over time (Rathje 1975). These changes can then be used to investigate what social and political conditions may have caused transformations within the economic system.


© Internet Archaeology/Author(s) URL:
Last updated: Wed Jul 1 2009