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Prehension and Hafting Traces on Flint Tools

A Methodology

Veerle Rots

Publication Year: 2010

The capacity to mount stone tools in or on a handle is considered an important innovation in past human behaviour. The insight to assemble two different materials (organic and inorganic) into a better functioning entity indicates the presence of the required mental capacity and technological expertise. Although the identification of stone tool use based on microscopic analysis was introduced in the 1960s, distinguishing between hand-held and hafted tool use has remained a more difficult issue. This volume introduces a methodology, based on a systematic, in-depth study of prehension and hafting traces on experimental stone artefacts, which allows their recognition in archaeological assemblages. The author proposes a number of distinctive macro- and microscopic wear traits for identifying hand-held and hafted stone tools and for identifying the exact hafting arrangement. Tested hafting arrangements vary according to the articulation between stone tool and handle, and to the raw materials and fixation agents used. Tool uses include various motions and worked materials. This largely experimental investigation concludes in a blind testing of the reliability of the method itself, showing that a wider application of the designed method has the potential to contribute significantly to our understanding of technological changes and evolutions and past human behaviour.

Published by: Leuven University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4

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pp. v-vi

The research presented in this book relies on the doctoral research I performed during 1997-2002 at the Prehistoric Archaeology unit at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium) under the supervision of Pierre M. Vermeersch. I thank him sincerely for his guidance, his input and the numerous discussions I had with him. ...


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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-xiv

List of Plates

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pp. xv-xix

List of Tables (CD-rom)

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pp. xx-20


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pp. xxi-xxii

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-6

As long as prehistoric research goes back, people have been interested in what stone tools were used for. Semenov (1957, English translation 1964) was the first to deal systematically with this question and to come up with a technique that made answers conceivable. ...

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2. Research Methodology

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pp. 7-36

The turbulent background of use-wear studies necessitates an extensive discussion of the research methodology. After all, one of the main causes of scepticism and disbelief towards microscopic functional research in its initial phases was the lack of a sound methodology, ...

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3. Prehension and Hafting Traces: Dream or Reality?

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pp. 37-72

To test whether prehension and hafting traces are produced, it is sufficient to analyse the stone tool before and after it was used hand-held / hafted; when the results from the latter analysis differ from the first, the issue is proven. Two procedures are followed. In the first test, tools are drawn (not analysed) before use and it is examined whether macroscopic wear, in particular scarring, forms. ...

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4. Prehension Traces – Dominant Variable: Material Worked

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pp. 73-76

Semenov once stated: “However hard the stone, traces of rubbing by the hand were usually left on it, if the tool was used without a handle. Friction of flint against skin, particularly when dusty and covered with sandy particles, gradually polished the surface.” (Semenov 1964: 14). ...

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5. Hafting Traces – Dominant Variables I: Use Motion and Material Worked

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pp. 77-122

Several variables influence the formation of hafting traces. Dominant variables partially determine the process of hafting trace formation, while secondary variables merely cause some variations on an existing pattern. It is assumed that lack of understanding of dominant variables may result in misinterpretations, ...

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6. Hafting Traces – Dominant Variables II: Hafting Material and Hafting Arrangement

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pp. 123-172

Understanding the impact of hafting material and hafting arrangement on the formation of hafting traces is essential for any identification beyond the distinction between hand-held and hafted tools. The influence of both variables is identified and it is examined whether it proves to be independent of other predominant variables. ...

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7. Hafting Traces – Secondary Variables

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pp. 173-182

Secondary variables do not determine the formation of hafting traces; they merely cause slight variations on an existing pattern. Knowledge of their impact is nevertheless important but it will not fundamentally change interpretations, or influence their certainty level. Six secondary variables are dealt with: ...

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8. Indirect Evidence of Hafting

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pp. 183-188

Some evidence may indirectly indicate hafting. Tangs and notches are probably what come to mind right away, but their link with hafting needs to be addressed in a systematic way on an archaeological level (Rots 2002c). Other wear data may however provide proven clues for hafting; the most obvious examples are the distribution of use-wear traces over the active part and fractures. ...

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9. Blind Test

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pp. 189-196

The final blind test can be categorised as gradual in approach. All methods were used, but one after the other and more or less independently of each other. This test, as well as a more integrated one, was published (Rots et al. 2006). Tools were first analysed on a macroscopic level, next on a low power level, and finally on a high power level. ...

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10. Discussion

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pp. 197-202

The importance of functional studies which include hafting and integrate other site information (typology, technology, spatial data) lies at different levels. On an artefact level, not just use (Plisson 1982; Vaughan 1985; Symens 1986; Beyries 1987a), but also the prehensile mode can be determined, ...

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11. General Conclusions

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pp. 203-206

While prehistoric stone tool hafting has been considered important for decades, in terms of both technological and cognitive evolutions, it has been hard to design methods which allow detailed insight into the introduction of hafting and its evolution through time. The main reason is that handles were manufactured from organic materials and these are only rarely preserved. ...

Annex I: Trace Attributes

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pp. 207-212

Annex II: General Table of Experiments

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pp. 213-226


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pp. 227-238


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pp. 239-274

E-ISBN-13: 9789461660060
Print-ISBN-13: 9789058678010

Page Count: 298
Illustrations: yes
Publication Year: 2010