We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Toward a Behavioral Ecology of Lithic Technology

Cases from Paleoindian Archaeology

Todd A. Surovell

Publication Year: 2012

Modern humans and their hominid ancestors relied on chipped-stone technology for well over two million years and colonized more than 99 percent of the Earth's habitable landmass in doing so. Yet there currently exist only a handful of informal models derived from ethnographic observation, experiments, engineering, and "common sense" to explain variability in archaeological lithic assemblages. <br><br> Because the fundamental processes of making, using, and discarding stone tools are, at root, exercises in problem solving, Todd Surovell asks what conditions favor certain technological solutions. Whether asking if a biface should be made thick or thin or if a flake should be saved or discarded, Surovell seeks answers that extend beyond a case-by-case analysis. One avenue for addressing these questions theoretically is formal mathematical modeling. <br><br> Here Surovell constructs a series of models designed to link environmental variability to human decision making as it pertains to lithic technology. To test the models, Surovell uses data from the analysis of more than 40,000 artifacts from five Rocky Mountain and Northern Plains Folsom and Goshen complex archaeological sites dating to the Younger Dryas stadial (ca. 12,600-11,500 years BP). The primary result is the production of powerful new analytical tools useful to the interpretation of archaeological assemblages. <br><br>Surovell's goal is to promote modeling and explore the general issues governing technological decisions. In this light, his models can be applied to any context in which stone tools are made and used.

Published by: University of Arizona Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (32.3 KB)
p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (84.8 KB)
pp. 2-5


pdf iconDownload PDF (25.5 KB)
pp. v-7

List of Illustrations

pdf iconDownload PDF (85.1 KB)
pp. vii-xi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (39.5 KB)
pp. xiii-xv

I like math, but I’m not very good at it. To some who read this book, this statement may seem like unnecessary modesty or wholly inaccurate, but to those who are much more math savvy than I, my clumsy notation and limited abilities will be readily apparent. I like...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (31.5 KB)
pp. xvii-21

Throughout the course of this study, numerous people have shared their thoughts with me, given me advice, and generally supported my efforts. Those who have been most influential include Nicole Waguespack, Steve Kuhn, Mary Stiner, Vance...

read more

1. Toward a Behavioral Ecology of Lithic Technology

pdf iconDownload PDF (273.4 KB)
pp. 1-22

In her edited volume Time, Energy, and Stone Tools, Robin Torrence (1989b:1) wrote: “Archaeologists have been notoriously poor at producing their own theories for behavior and have depended largely on borrowing from anthropology and ecology, with, it...

read more

2. Late Pleistocene Foragers of the Northern Plains and Rocky Mountains

pdf iconDownload PDF (743.1 KB)
pp. 23-57

In this chapter I provide a cultural historical background to the study. The artifact assemblages examined for this study include 48,501 pieces from five late Pleistocene archaeological sites in Wyoming and Colorado: Agate Basin...

read more

3. Occupation Span and Residential Mobility

pdf iconDownload PDF (634.6 KB)
pp. 58-98

Consider a surface scatter of lithic artifacts, resting on bedrock, lacking diagnostics and patination. Does this assemblage represent the accumulation of a single or multiple occupations, and what was the mean length of the occupations represented? Is it even possible to answer...

read more

4. The Reoccupation Problem

pdf iconDownload PDF (265.2 KB)
pp. 99-109

Archaeologists have long recognized that single archaeological components could be composed of multiple occupations. For example, when Emil Haury (1959:27) was faced with a Clovis site containing remains of at least nine individual mammoths, he asked, “Were they...

read more

5. Stone Age Supply-Side Economics

pdf iconDownload PDF (739.3 KB)
pp. 110-141

In 1992 when Bill Clinton was elected to the office of president of the United States, the difference between federal budget revenues and expenditures equated to a $340 billion deficit (fig. 5.1). At that time, the public held just over $3 trillion in debt. During the...

read more

6. Bifaces, and So On: Modeling the Design of Tools and Toolkits

pdf iconDownload PDF (675.8 KB)
pp. 142-176

Design issues have been at the forefront of lithic studies since the emergence of the paradigm known broadly as “technological organization.” In this framework, alternative technological strategies are seen as ways of meeting tool stone needs as they play out within differing...

read more

7. On the Optimal Production of Trash

pdf iconDownload PDF (558.6 KB)
pp. 177-212

This chapter is about lithic debitage, the cigarette butts and candy wrappers of the Stone Age. By debitage, I refer to unwanted, discarded, and abandoned by-products of the manufacture of wanted things, namely tools. The category “debitage” includes angular...

read more

8. Mathematics, Lithic Technology, and Paleoindians

pdf iconDownload PDF (141.9 KB)
pp. 213-231

This study is intended foremost to be an exercise in the application of formal optimality models to the study of lithic technology. It seems hardly necessary at this juncture to reiterate the values of models to archaeological endeavors, but I do so to emphasize that rigor in model...

Appendix: Site Occupancy and Camp Area

pdf iconDownload PDF (112.2 KB)
pp. 233-235


pdf iconDownload PDF (87.2 KB)
pp. 237-239


pdf iconDownload PDF (108.6 KB)
pp. 241-266


pdf iconDownload PDF (52.3 KB)
pp. 267-273

About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (25.6 KB)
pp. 275-296

E-ISBN-13: 9780816599523
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816507382

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2012