Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 813–851 | Cite as

Major Fallacies Surrounding Stone Artifacts and Assemblages

  • Harold L. Dibble
  • Simon J. Holdaway
  • Sam C. Lin
  • David R. Braun
  • Matthew J. Douglass
  • Radu Iovita
  • Shannon P. McPherron
  • Deborah I. Olszewski
  • Dennis Sandgathe


While lithic objects can potentially inform us about past adaptations and behaviors, it is important to develop a comprehensive understanding of all of the various processes that influence what we recover from the archaeological record. We argue here that many assumptions used by archaeologists to derive behavioral inferences through the definition, conceptualization, and interpretation of both individual stone artifact forms and groups of artifacts identified as assemblages do not fit squarely with what we have learned from both ethnographic sources and analyses of archaeological materials. We discuss this in terms of two fallacies. The first is the fallacy of the “desired end product” in stone artifact manufacture, which also includes our ability to recognize such end products. The second fallacy has to do with the notions that lithic assemblages represent simple accumulations of contemporary behaviors and the degree to which the composition of the depositional units we study reliably match the kinds of activities that took place. Although it is beyond the scope of this paper to offer a comprehensive set of new methodologies and theoretical perspectives to solve these problems, our goal here is to stress the importance of rethinking some of our most basic assumptions regarding the nature of lithic objects and how they become part of the archaeological record. Such a revision is needed if we want to be able to develop research questions that can be addressed with the data we have available to us.


Lithic studies Lithic technology Typology Replicative experiments Ethnoarchaeology Site formation 



This article represents the results of a series of meetings held by the authors beginning in 2012. The initial meeting was held at the Max Planck Institute for Human Evolution, Leipzig, and we thank Jean-Jacques Hublin for his support. Additional meetings were held in Honolulu, Hawaii and Philadelphia in 2013. Participation at these meetings was supported by the Faculty of Arts, University of Auckland; the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Columbian College of Arts and Science at George Washington University; the Kolb Foundation, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; and the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Leibniz-Forschungsinstitut für Archäologie. We thank Vera Aldeias, Paul Goldberg, Rebecca Phillipps, Marie Soressi, Alex Mackay, William Archer, Michael Chazan, George Leader, and Metin Eren for discussions related to the topics discussed here.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Harold L. Dibble
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Simon J. Holdaway
    • 4
    • 5
  • Sam C. Lin
    • 6
  • David R. Braun
    • 2
    • 7
    • 8
  • Matthew J. Douglass
    • 9
  • Radu Iovita
    • 10
  • Shannon P. McPherron
    • 2
  • Deborah I. Olszewski
    • 1
  • Dennis Sandgathe
    • 11
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human EvolutionMax Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany
  3. 3.Institute for Human Origins, School of Human Evolution and Social ChangeArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  4. 4.School of Social SciencesUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  5. 5.School of Social ScienceUniversity of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  6. 6.Centre for Archaeological Science, School of Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  7. 7.Center for the Advanced Study of Human PaleobiologyGeorge Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA
  8. 8.Department of AnthropologyGeorge Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA
  9. 9.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Nebraska—LincolnLincolnUSA
  10. 10.MONREPOS Research Centre, Römisch-Germanisches ZentralmuseumLeibniz-Forschungsinstitut für ArchäologieNeuwiedGermany
  11. 11.Department of AnthropologySimon Fraser UniversityVancouverCanada

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