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Stone Tools and the Evolution of Human Cognition

Edited by April Nowell and Iain Davidson

Publication Year: 2010

Stone tools are the most durable and common type of archaeological remain and one of the most important sources of information about behaviors of early hominins. Stone Tools and the Evolution of Human Cognition develops methods for examining questions of cognition, demonstrating the progression of mental capabilities from early hominins to modern humans through the archaeological record. Dating as far back as 2.5-2.7 million years ago, stone tools were used in cutting up animals, woodworking, and preparing vegetable matter. Today, lithic remains give archaeologists insight into the forethought, planning, and enhanced working memory of our early ancestors. Contributors focus on multiple ways in which archaeologists can investigate the relationship between tools and the evolving human mind-including joint attention, pattern recognition, memory usage, and the emergence of language. Offering a wide range of approaches and diversity of place and time, the chapters address issues such as skill, social learning, technique, language, and cognition based on lithic technology. Stone Tools and the Evolution of Human Cognition will be of interest to Paleolithic archaeologists and paleoanthropologists interested in stone tool technology and cognitive evolution.

Published by: University Press of Colorado


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pp. vii-viii

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1: Introduction and Overview

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pp. 1-11

Stone tools are among the most distinctive features of the lives and evolution of hominins and, through them, material culture came to play an increasingly important role in the behavior of our ancestors. As a result, material culture and stone tools in particular have given archaeologists a window onto behaviors and lifeways that have long since disappeared. Although stone tools were initially ...

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2: “Grammars of Action” and Stone Flaking Design Space

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pp. 12-43

Human infants and primates use similar strategies to organize utterances and motor actions. These strategies, called “grammars of action,” are initially similar followed by an ontogenetic divergence in children that leads to a separation of complex linguistic and action grammars. Thus, more complex grammars arose after the emergence of the hominin lineage. Stone tools are by-products ...

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3: Insights on the Technical Competence of the Early Oldowan

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pp. 45-65

In recent decades there has been debate on the characterization of the earliest stone tool technology and its contribution to the interpretation on the origins of culture in our genus and its evolutionary relationships with other primates. Discussions have revolved over the technical competence shown in Oldowan sites and their comparison with assemblages made by chimpanzees. The nature of the ...

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4: Growing Up in the Middle Pleistocene

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pp. 66-81

From a life history perspective, it is possible to argue that the Middle Pleistocene was one of the most dramatic periods in human evolution. Paradoxically, the Acheulian industries that dominate the Middle Pleistocene record over large areas of Eurasia and Africa are often described as “monotonous” or “stagnant.” In this chapter we consider the local, regional, and continental levels of ...

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5: How Levallois Reduction Is Similar to, and Not Similar to, Playing Chess

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pp. 83-103

Modern cognition is more than language and symbolism. One important com-ponent of modern thinking is expertise, exemplified best in expert performances in the arts, craft production, sport, medicine, and games such as chess. Expertise is driven by a cognitive system known as long-term working memory, in which retrieval structures held in long-term memory are activated in working memory. ...

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6: On Standardization in the Paleolithic

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pp. 105-134

Questions of morphological standardization in Paleolithic stone tools have important implications for the cognitive and technological capacities of early hominins. Past treatments of the topic suffer from an inadequate definition of the concept of “standardization” and a scarcity of quantitative comparisons of morphological variation. Ranges of variation in the sizes and shapes of Middle ...

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7: Middle Stone Age Stone Tools from Klasies River Main Site and Symbolic Cognition

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pp. 135-157

Klasies River, a well-known South African occurrence, preserves Middle Stone Age archaeological material dating to between 60,000 and 120,000 years ago. This site produced a large sample of stone artifacts that, in a well-stratified and meticulously excavated context, provides a window into the technological behavior of early anatomically modern humans of the southern Cape. Four ...

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8: Possible Relations between Language and Technology in Human Evolution

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pp. 159-184

Complex tool use and language are distinguishing characteristics of the human species, yet the existence and nature of evolutionary relations between them remain controversial. Current thinking highlights three possible types of coevolutionary interaction involving shared neural substrates, shared social context, and shared reliance on general capacities. Evidence reviewed here supports the ...

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9: Stone Tools and the Evolution of Hominin and Human Cognition

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pp. 185-205

In this chapter, I summarize some previously published work on the significance of the earliest stone tools in comparison with chimpanzee tool making and use. I then put that into the context of some theorizing about human cognition and its implications for understanding the evolution of hominin and human cognition. I then conclude with an extended discussion of the standard story of changes ...

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10: Current Developments in Inferring Cognitive Capabilities from the Archaeological Traces Left by Stone Tools

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pp. 207-226

When observing or touching a stone tool made many hundreds of thousands of years ago, it is hard to imagine anyone not experiencing at least some intellectual curiosity, wonderment, and perhaps even other emotions about the nature of the minds and lives of the species that made it. For non-experts in archaeology, such as myself, dangers abound from that point forward since many of the ...


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pp. 227-228


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pp. 229-234

E-ISBN-13: 9781607320319
E-ISBN-10: 1607320312
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607320302
Print-ISBN-10: 1607320304

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 4 b&w photographs, 29 line drawings, 3 tables
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 664571206
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Stone Tools and the Evolution of Human Cognition

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Subject Headings

  • Stone implements.
  • Tools, Prehistoric.
  • Cognition and culture
  • Human behavior.
  • Human evolution.
  • Technology and civilization.
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