Assessing the function of pounding tools in the Early Stone Age: A microscopic approach to the analysis of percussive artefacts from Beds I and II, Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania)

Publication date: October 2016
Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 74
Author(s): Adrián Arroyo, Ignacio de la Torre
This study explores the function of quartzite pounding tools from Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania) using microscopic and use wear spatial distribution analysis. A selection of pounding tools from several Bed I and II assemblages excavated by Mary Leakey (1971) were studied under low magnification (<100×), and the microscopic traces developed on their surfaces are described. Experimental data and results obtained from analysis of the archaeological material are compared in order to assess activities in which pounding tools could have been involved. Results show that experimental anvils used for meat processing, nut cracking and/or bone breaking have similar wear patterns as those observed on archaeological percussive artefacts. This is the first time that a microscopic analysis is applied to Early Stone Age pounding artefacts from Olduvai Beds I and II, and this paper highlights the importance that percussive activities played during the Early Pleistocene, suggesting a wider range of activities in addition to knapping and butchering.