P314 Earlier Prehistory of Africa

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Week 6: Comparing the Oldowan with chimpanzee technology

Reference information for Oldowan Sites

Last week we started looking at variability in Oldowan site assemblages, and discussed which hominids could have been responsible for making the oldest stone tools. One of the central questions we have focused on is how the classification system, or typology, that archaeologists use influences their conclusions about the sites and the behaviors of the hominids. (Remember the Oldowan typology developed by Mary Leakey compared to the alternative typology developed by Isaac? These are described both on the CD-ROM and on the Prehistoric Puzzles website.)

To give us a comparative perspective on this question (related to your Essay 1 topic) this week we will continue by asking the question:

How do the artifacts at these early sites vary, from site to site, and what might that mean about the possible cultural variations (learned traditions) of the Oldowan tool makers?

Tasks for Tuesday's class:

A database of the chimpanzee tool use in the different study sites in Africa is available for you to search online. Chimpanzee Cultures Online (access to searchable database by Whiten et al). You can also look at the entire article online in PDF format, which was also assigned reading.

Work as a team in class today to look at this database and answer the following two questions:

  1. If you were an archaeologist, how would you classify the different types of tools that these chimps use? Design a typology for chimp material culture. Your typology can be as simple or as complex as you feel you need. You might want to consider the following variables when creating your typology:
    • types of raw materials used for chimp tools
    • functions of tools
    • technological steps used to make the tools
    • use-life of tools -- can they be re-used or used once and thrown away? If they are re-used, would the shape of the tool change with use or show any evidence of damage, etc?
    • arbitrary stylistic variations?
    • etc
  2. Apply your typology: how variable are the tool kits used by the different groups of chimpanzees?

We will discuss your typological choices and results at the end of class.

Challenge question (central to essay 1): Compare the kind of variability you see in chimpanzee material culture to the kind of variability archaeologists have detected for the Oldowan sites. How would you evaluate the strengths and potential weaknesses of our ability to interpret the meaning of the Oldowan site assemblages? To answer this question you need to evaluate what is known about the different archaeological sites, using the information from class readings, and online resouces, including:

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Last updated: 2 October, 2000
URL: http://www.indiana.edu/~origins/teach/p314/p3142000week6.html
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Copyright Jeanne Sept 2000 : do not cite without permission

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