Going big versus going small: Lithic miniaturization in hominin lithic technology

Justin Pargeter, John J. Shea

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    Lithic miniaturization was one of our Pleistocene ancestors' more pervasive stone tool production strategies and it marks a key difference between human and non-human tool use. Frequently equated with “microlith” production, lithic miniaturization is a more complex, variable, and evolutionarily consequential phenomenon involving small backed tools, bladelets, small retouched tools, flakes, and small cores. In this review, we evaluate lithic miniaturization's various technological and functional elements. We examine archeological assumptions about why prehistoric stoneworkers engaged in processes of lithic miniaturization by making small stone tools, small elongated tools, and small retouched and backed tools. We point to functional differences that motivate different aspects of lithic miniaturization and several instances where archeological systematics have possibly led archeologists to false negative findings about lithic miniaturization. Finally, we suggest productive avenues by which archeologists can move closer to understanding the complex evolutionary forces driving variability in lithic miniaturization.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)72-85
    Number of pages14
    JournalEvolutionary anthropology
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


    • behavioral variability
    • cutting and piercing tools
    • hominin technology
    • lithic miniaturization
    • projectile weaponry

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Anthropology

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