New Experiments and a Model-Driven Approach for Interpreting Middle Stone Age Lithic Point Function Using the Edge Damage Distribution Method

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The Middle Stone Age (MSA) is associated with early evidence for symbolic material culture and complex technological innovations. However, one of the most visible aspects of MSA technologies are unretouched

The Middle Stone Age (MSA) is associated with early evidence for symbolic material culture and complex technological innovations. However, one of the most visible aspects of MSA technologies are unretouched triangular stone points that appear in the archaeological record as early as 500,000 years ago in Africa and persist throughout the MSA. How these tools were being used and discarded across a changing Pleistocene landscape can provide insight into how MSA populations prioritized technological and foraging decisions. Creating inferential links between experimental and archaeological tool use helps to establish prehistoric tool function, but is complicated by the overlaying of post-depositional damage onto behaviorally worn tools. Taphonomic damage patterning can provide insight into site formation history, but may preclude behavioral interpretations of tool function. Here, multiple experimental processes that form edge damage on unretouched lithic points from taphonomic and behavioral processes are presented. These provide experimental distributions of wear on tool edges from known processes that are then quantitatively compared to the archaeological patterning of stone point edge damage from three MSA lithic assemblages—Kathu Pan 1, Pinnacle Point Cave 13B, and Die Kelders Cave 1. By using a model-fitting approach, the results presented here provide evidence for variable MSA behavioral strategies of stone point utilization on the landscape consistent with armature tips at KP1, and cutting tools at PP13B and DK1, as well as damage contributions from post-depositional sources across assemblages. This study provides a method with which landscape-scale questions of early modern human tool-use and site-use can be addressed.