Expanding the Scope of Actualistic Taphonomy in Archaeological Research

  • Karen BorrazzoEmail author
Part of the Topics in Geobiology book series (TGBI, volume 48)


This chapter presents the application of actualistic taphonomy to the study of one of the inorganic remains produced by hominins since 3 million year BP up to historical times: lithic artifacts. As rocks are among the most durable raw materials employed by modern humans and their ancestors, differential preservation has conferred a leading role in archaeological research upon lithic artifacts. Indeed, lithics—flaked artifacts in particular—are the proxy for culture or anthropic presence most commonly used by scholars all over the world. This artifact-human relationship promoted actualistic research on flintknapping in archaeology but no similar effort was devoted to assessing alternative non-cultural (i.e. taphonomic) sources for flaked stone objects. Even though actualistic studies have already shown that taphonomic processes may produce lithic pseudomorphs, this fact is only rarely considered in archaeological practice and research design. Furthermore, it is commonly assumed that human products are different enough from any natural specimen to be detected by lithic analysts. However, the current lack of knowledge on non-cultural flaking processes and their byproducts prevents their identification in the archaeological record, thus undermining the accuracy and reliability of archaeological interpretations. This paper illustrates the contribution of actualistic taphonomy to study the inorganic remains of the archaeological record and its critical role in assessing the cultural versus natural origin of lithic specimens in Fuego-Patagonia (South America). Naturalistic and experimental research on rockfall and trampling presented here suggests that the effects of these taphonomic processes result in pseudoartifacts that progressively incorporate to the regional archaeological record.


Lithic taphonomy Pseudoartifacts Middle-range research Experimental archaeology Fuego-Patagonia 



I am grateful to Sergio Martínez, Alejandra Rojas, Mariano Verde and Fernanda Cabrera for organizing the first Workshop on Actualistic Taphonomy in South America (Montevideo, October 9–11, 2017) and inviting me to participate in this volume. Analía Castro Esnal and Cecilia Perez de Micou directed fieldwork at CP and provided CP photograph. Thanks to María Laura Casanueva, Florencia Ronco, Lucía Gutiérrez, Cecilia Gutiérrez, and Esteban Ali Brouchoud who collaborated in field work. To the Roselló, Solsona, and Pérez del Barrio families for their kind and permanent support to archaeological studies. Luis Alberto Borrero encouraged and made insightful comments throughout all stages of this taphonomic study. This paper was draft as part of a postdoctoral study at Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina. This research was funded by the Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica [PICT2015-2141 “Estudios de tecnología y tafonomía lítica en el sitio Casa de Piedra (Aldea Beleiro, Sudoeste de Chubut)”] and CONICET (República Argentina).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CONICETInstituto Multidisciplinario de Historia y Ciencias Humanas (CONICET-IMHICIHU)Buenos AiresArgentina
  2. 2.Facultad de Filosofía y LetrasUniversidad de Buenos Aires (FFyL-UBA)Buenos AiresArgentina

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