2. Tool Design and Use

We have seen how lithics studies have been instrumental in the identification of persistent places and Mesolithic mobility. It may therefore be helpful to examine lithics-based approaches and concepts in more detail.

Tools are responses to specific tasks that must be accomplished in order to overcome environmental constraints (Odell 2003). This implies that both the tool design trajectories (and operational chains) are associated with the activities and specific performance characteristics that are required to achieve the activity. Thus there are four axes along which an assemblage might vary (see Fig. 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2: A simplified, general model of tool design (after Bleed 1986; Nelson 1991; Nelson and Lippmeir 1993; Schiffer and Skibo 1997; Odell 2003)

However, Figure 2 is too simplistic since: 1) it does not implicitly consider intended function; 2) the effect of cultural influences, such as stylistic norms, or traditional ways of making them; 3) perhaps more importantly, tools often have more than one of the qualities displayed in Figure 2 (often in varying degrees); 4) appropriate characteristics on tools are therefore difficult to establish; and 5) frequently the lithic piece only represented part of the tool as originally conceived and used (and was the last in a series of operational chains). For instance the presence of a haft (which is frequently very difficult to identify) would necessarily affect how the tool was used (Nelson 1991; Nelson and Lippmeir 1993). Despite the problems in identifying such characteristics, these qualities would have been very real to the makers, according to Odell (2003), and thus it is important to study tool design and use.

Although simplistic, Figure 2 implies that Mesolithic studies should also consider reuse patterns because some scholars (e.g. Hayden et al. 1996; Root et al. 1999) have shown that tool design could be affected by seasonal mobility and raw material factors. Similarly I have previously (Preston 1999) suggested that raw material factors (e.g. quality) and mobility patterns (e.g. distance from the raw material source) may affect formal tool morphology at Star Carr. This point will be discussed in more detail later.


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