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Durham University

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Publication details

Foulds, F.W.F. (2010). Investigating the Individual? An Experimental Approach through Lithic Refitting. Lithics: The Journal of the Lithic Studies Society 31: 6-19.

Author(s) from Durham


Recent years have seen a dramatic shift in the theoretical outlook of Palaeolithic archaeologists. As a result, the interpretive focus of archaeological investigations has begun to shift from the actions of hominin groups to the ways in which individual hominins influenced society. While some maintain that this „bottom-up‟ approach is the analytical ideal (Gamble & Gittins 2004), others have suggested that the study of individuals is a goal beyond the resolution of Palaeolithic archaeology (e.g. Clark 1992). More importantly, it has been shown that archaeologists still lack a solid methodological framework that allows theoretical assumptions to be tested and the social aspect of material culture to be fully interpret beyond „naïve reconstructionism‟ (Hopkinson & White 2005). This paper discusses the extent to which the „bottom-up‟ approach can be sustained. Focusing on the Lower Palaeolithic and using an experimental assemblage of the most prolific data set available — stone tools — coupled with the chaîne opératoire approach to lithic reduction, it demonstrates whether individual knappers can be traced through the idiosyncratic signatures they leave in their knapping sequences. The possibility of distinguishing individuals in deep Prehistory would grant new insights into hominin identity, interaction and specialisation beyond mere theoretical musings. However, as the results of this experiment show, Palaeolithic archaeologists are currently unable to accurately approach this fine-grained level of analysis, which has obvious implications for any discussion of the individual and their social relationships throughout Prehistory.