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Evol Anthropol. 2019 Mar;28(2):72-85. doi: 10.1002/evan.21775. Epub 2019 Mar 29.

Going big versus going small: Lithic miniaturization in hominin lithic technology.

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Department of Anthropology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.
Palaeo-Research Institute, University of Johannesburg, Auckland Park, South Africa.
Anthropology Department & Turkana Basin Institute, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York.


Lithic miniaturization was one of our Pleistocene ancestors' more pervasive stone tool production strategies and it marks a key difference between human and non-human tool use. Frequently equated with "microlith" production, lithic miniaturization is a more complex, variable, and evolutionarily consequential phenomenon involving small backed tools, bladelets, small retouched tools, flakes, and small cores. In this review, we evaluate lithic miniaturization's various technological and functional elements. We examine archeological assumptions about why prehistoric stoneworkers engaged in processes of lithic miniaturization by making small stone tools, small elongated tools, and small retouched and backed tools. We point to functional differences that motivate different aspects of lithic miniaturization and several instances where archeological systematics have possibly led archeologists to false negative findings about lithic miniaturization. Finally, we suggest productive avenues by which archeologists can move closer to understanding the complex evolutionary forces driving variability in lithic miniaturization.


behavioral variability; cutting and piercing tools; hominin technology; lithic miniaturization; projectile weaponry

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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