Quantifying Variation in Landscape-Scale Behaviors: The Oldowan from Koobi Fora

  • David R. Braun
  • Michael J. Rogers
  • John W. Harris
  • Steven J. Walker


Studies of stone artifact morphology are beginning to rapidly increase in complexity. While these techniques provide new insights into artifact variation, it is also necessary to insure that these methods provide data that is behaviorally relevant. Here, we provide a new technique that includes three dimensional attributes to calculate platform areas to enhance the prediction of flake area from platform attributes. This data allows the calculation of more precise measures of reduction in large unifacial flake cores in Developed Oldowan assemblages (i.e., Karari Scrapers). Here, we look at measures of curation within these tool types across a landscape scale study. We apply demographic analyses of the degree to which an assemblage can be considered to be curated (i.e., the potential use life of a tool minus the actual use life of a tool). Results suggest that even though there is significant variation within a given paleogeographic setting, a higher frequency of pieces are used to their full potential in areas where raw material is predicted to have been scarce. These data suggest that hominins fulfill some aspects of a neutral model of artifact transport, yet likely make directed movements to transport tools to specific places on the ancient landscape.


Archaeological Record Neutral Model Stone Tool Stone Artifact Early Hominins 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Ammerman, A.J. and Feldman, M., 1974. On the ‘Making’ of an assemblage of stone tools. American Antiquity 39: 610–616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andrefsky, W.J., 2005. Lithics: Macroscopic Approaches to Analysis. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Binford, L.R., 1981. Bones: Ancient Men and Modern Myths. Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  4. Binford, L.R., 1979. Organization and formation processes: looking at curated technologies. Journal of Anthropological Research 35: 255–273.Google Scholar
  5. Binford, L.R., 2001. Where do research problems come from? American Antiquity 66: 669–678.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Binford, L.R., 1980. Willow smoke and dogs’ tails: hunter-gatherer settlement systems and archaeological site formation. American Antiquity 45: 4–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blumenschine, R., Masao, F.T., Tactikos, J. and Ebert, J., 2008. Effects of distance from stone source on landscape-scale variation in Oldowan artifact assemblages in the Paleo-Olduvai Basin, Tanzania. Journal of Archaeological Science 35: 76–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brantingham, P.J., 2003. A neutral model of stone raw material procurement. American Antiquity 68: 487–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brantingham, P.J., Eerkens, J., Feblot-Augustins, J., Haws, J., Shott, M., Turchin, P. and van Gijseghem, H., 2006. Measuring forager mobility. Current Anthropology 47: 435–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Braun, D.R., Harris, J. and Maina, D., 2008a. Oldowan raw material procurement and use: evidence from the Koobi Fora Formation. Archaeometry 51: 26–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Braun, D.R. and Harris, J.W.K., 2003. Technological developments in the Oldowan of Koobi Fora: Innovative techniques of artifact analysis. In Oldowan: Rather More than Smashing Stones, edited by J.M. Moreno, R.M. Torcal, and I.T. Sainz, pp. 117–144. University of Barcelona Press, BarcelonaGoogle Scholar
  12. Braun, D.R., Rogers, M.J., Harris, J.W.K. and Walker, S.J., 2008b. Landscape scale variation in hominin tool use: evidence from the Developed Oldowan. Journal of Human Evolution 55: 1053–1063.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Braun, D.R., Tactikos, J.C., Ferraro, J.V., Arnow, S.L. and Harris, J.W.K., 2008c. Oldowan reduction sequences: methodological considerations. Journal of Archaeological Science 35: 2153–2163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brown, F.H. and Feibel, C.S., 1986. Revision of lithostratigraphic nomenclature in the Koobi Fora region, Kenya. Journal of the Geological Society 143: 297–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Brumm, A., Aziz, F., Van den Bergh, G.D., Morwood, M.J., Moore, M.W., Kurniawan, I., Hobbs, D.R. and Fullagar, R., 2006. Early stone technology on Flores and its implications for Homo floresiensis. Nature 441: 624–628.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Clarkson, C., Vinicius, L., Lahr, M.M., 2006. Quantifying flake scar patterning on cores using 3D recording techniques. Journal of Archaeological Science 33: 132–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Davis, Z.J. and Shea, J.J., 1998. Quantifying lithic curation: an experimental test of Dibble and Pelcin’s original flake-tool mass predictor. Journal of Archaeological Science 25: 603–610.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. de Heinzelin, J., Clark, J.D., White, T.D., Hart, W.S., Renne, P.R., Woldegabriel, G., Beyene, Y. and Vrba, E.S., 1999. Environment and behavior of 2.5-million-year-old Bouri hominids. Science 284: 625–629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dibble, H.L., 1998. Comment on ‘Quantifying Lithic Curation, an Experimental Test of Dibble and Pelcin’s Original Flake-Tool Mass Predictor’, by Zachary J. Davis and John J. Shea. Journal of Archaeological Science 25: 611–613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dibble, H.L., 1987. Interpretation of middle Paleolithic scraper morphology. American Antiquity 52: 109–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dibble, H.L., 1995. Middle Paleolithic scraper reduction: background, clarification, and review of the evidence to date. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 2: 299–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Eren, M.I., Dominguez-Rodrigo, M., Kuhn, S.L., Adler, D.S., Le, I. and Bar-Yosef, O., 2005. Defining and measuring reduction in unifacial stone tools. Journal of Archaeological Science 32: 1190–1201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Eren, M.I. and Sampson, CG., 2009. Kuhn’s geometric index of unifacial stone tool reduction (GIUR): does it measure missing flake mass? Journal of Archaeological Science 36(6):1243–1247.Google Scholar
  24. Feibel, C.S., 1988. Paleoenvironments from the Koobi Fora Formation, Turkana Basin, Northern Kenya. Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City.Google Scholar
  25. Feibel, C.S., Brown, F.H. and McDougall, I., 1989. Stratigraphic context of fossil hominids from the Omo group deposits: northern Turkana basin, Kenya and Ethiopia. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 78: 595–622.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gowlett, J.A.J., 1986. Culture and conceptualisation: The Oldowan-Acheulian gradient. In Stone Age Prehistory: Studies in Memory of Charles McBurney, edited by G.N. Bailey and P. Callow, pp. 234–240. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  27. Harris, J.W.K., 1978. The Karari Industry, Its Place in East African Prehistory. Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  28. Harris, J.W.K. and Isaac, G.L., 1976. The Karari industry: early Pleistocene archaeological evidence from the terrain, east of Lake Turkana. Nature 262: 102–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Harris, J.W.K. and Isaac, G.L., 1997. Sites in the Upper KBS, Okote, and Chari members. In Koobi Fora Research Project Vol. 5: Plio-Pleistocene Archaeology, edited by G.L. Isaac, pp. 115–220. Clarendon Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  30. Hiscock, P. and Attenbrow, V., 2003. Early Australian implement variation: a reduction model. Journal of Archaeological Science 30: 239–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hiscock, P. and Clarkson, C., 2005. Experimental evaluation of Kuhn’s geometric index of reduction and the flat-flake problem. Journal of Archaeological Science 32: 1015–1022.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hiscock, P. and Clarkson, C., 2009. The reality of reduction experiments and the GIUR: reply to Eren and Sampson. Journal of Archaeological Science 36(7): 1576–1581.Google Scholar
  33. Kantner, J., 2008. The archaeology of regions: from discrete analytical toolkit to ubiquitous spatial perspective. Journal of Archaeological Research 16: 37–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kimura, Y., 2002. Examining time, trends in the Oldowan technology at Beds I and II, Olduvai Gorge. Journal of Human Evolution 43: 291–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kuhn, S., 1990. A geometric index of reduction for unifacial stone tools. Journal of Archaeological Science 17: 581–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Leakey, M.D., 1975. Cultural patterns in the Olduvai sequence. In After the Australopithecines: Stratigraphy, Ecology and Culture Change in the Middle Pleistocene, edited by K.W. Butzer and G.L. Isaac, pp. 477–493. Mouton, The Hague.Google Scholar
  37. Ludwig, B.V., 1999. A Technological Reassessment of East African Plio-Pleistocene Lithic Artifact Assemblages. Anthropology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick.Google Scholar
  38. Ludwig, B.V. and Harris, J.W.K., 1998. Towards a technological reassessment of East African Plio-Pleistocene lithic assemblages. In The Rise and Diversity of the Lower Paleolithic, edited by M. Petraglia and K. Paddaya, pp. 84–106. Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  39. Lycett, S.J. and von Cramon-Taubadel, N., 2008. Acheulean variability and hominin dispersals: a model-bound approach. Journal of Archaeological Science 35: 553–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lycett, S.J., von Cramon-Taubadel, N. and Foley, R., 2006. A crossbeam co-ordinate caliper for morphometric analysis of lithic nuclei: a description, test and empirical examples of application. Journal of Archaeological Science 33: 847–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. McDougall, I. and Brown, F.H., 2006. Precise Ar-40/Ar-39 geochronology for the upper Koobi Fora formation, Turkana Basin, northern Kenya. Journal of the Geological Society 163: 205–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Newcomer, M., Grace, R. and Unger-Hamilton, R., 1986. Investigating microwear polishes with blind tests. Journal of Archaeological Science 13: 203–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Odell, G.H., 1996. Economizing behavior and the concept of “Curation”. In Stone Tools: Theoretical Insights into Human Prehistory, edited by G.H. Odell, pp. 51–80. Plenum Press, New York.Google Scholar
  44. Richtsmeier, J.T., Deleon, V.B. and Lele, S.R., 2002. The promise of geometric morphometrics. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 45: 63–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rogers, M.J., 1997. A Landscape Archaeological Study at East Turkana, Kenya. Anthropology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick.Google Scholar
  46. Rogers, M.J., Harris, J.W.K. and Feibel, C.S., 1994. Changing patterns of land-use by Plio-Pleistocene Hominids in the Lake Turkana Basin. Journal of Human Evolution 27: 139–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Shott, M.J., 1996. An exegesis of the curation concept. Journal of Anthropological Research 52: 259–280.Google Scholar
  48. Shott, M.J., 1989. On tool-class use lives and the formation of archaeological assemblages. American Antiquity 54: 9–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Shott, M.J., 1998. Status and role of formation theory in contemporary archaeological practice. Journal of Archaeological Research 6: 299–329.Google Scholar
  50. Shott, M.J., 2002. Weibull estimation on use life distribution in experimental spear-point data. Lithic Technology 27: 93–109.Google Scholar
  51. Shott, M.J. and Ballenger, J.A.M., 2007. Biface reduction and the measurement of dalton curation: a southeastern United States case study. American Antiquity 72: 153–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Shott, M.J., Bradbury, A.P., Carr, P.J. and Odell, G.H., 2000. Flake size from platform attributes: predictive and empirical approaches. Journal of Archaeological Science 27: 877–894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Shott, M.J. and Sillitoe, P., 2001. The mortality of things: correlates of use life in Wola material culture using age-at-census data. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 8: 269–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Shott, M.J. and Sillitoe, P., 2004. Modeling use-life distributions in archaeology using New Guinea Wola ethnographic data. American Antiquity 69: 339–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Shott, M.J. and Sillitoe, P., 2005. Use life and curation in New Guinea experimental used flakes. Journal of Archaeological Science 32: 653–663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Shott, M.J. and Weedman, K.J., 2007. Measuring reduction in stone tools: an ethnoarchaeological study of Gamo hidescrapers from Ethiopia. Journal of Archaeological Science 34: 1016–1035.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Stout, D. and Chaminade, T., 2007. The evolutionary neuroscience of tool making. Neuropsychologia 45: 1091–1100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Stout, D., Toth, N., Schick, K. and Chaminade, T., 2008. Neural correlates of Early Stone Age toolmaking: technology, language and cognition in human evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 363: 1939–1949.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Stout, D., Toth, N., Schick, K.D., Stout, J. and Hutchins, G., 2000. Stone tool-making and brain activation: position emission tomography (PET) studies. Journal of Archaeological Science 27: 1215–1223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wilson, L., 2007. Understanding prehistoric lithic raw material selection: application of a gravity model. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 14: 388–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • David R. Braun
    • 1
  • Michael J. Rogers
  • John W. Harris
  • Steven J. Walker
  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologyUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations