Journal of Archaeological Research

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 157-203

First online:

Ethnoarchaeology and the Organization of Lithic Technology

  • Grant S. McCallAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, Tulane University Email author 

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Although the modern production and use of stone tools is rare, ethnoarchaeological research on this subject has provided important perspectives on methodological approaches to archaeological lithic analysis. Recent ethnoarchaeological research on lithics frequently takes the form of “cautionary tales,” warning against the primacy of functional variables most commonly invoked by lithic analysts. I argue that lithic ethnoarchaeology would benefit from a comparative organizational framework for explaining variation in patterns of stone tool use that takes into account the predictability and redundancy of the location and timing of technological activities. Understanding the underlying causes of modern patterns of stone tool use, in turn, offers a framework for exploring sources of lithic technological variation in the archaeological record. I also argue that technological analytical perspectives, such as the chaîne opératoire and sequence of reduction approaches, can benefit from the insights gained through lithic ethnoarchaeological research, helping us define important analytical concepts and identify appropriate units of analysis.


Stone tools Ethnoarchaeology Organization of technology Chaîne opératoire Sequence of reduction