Shape variation in aterian tanged tools and the origins of projectile technology: A morphometric perspective on stone tool function

Radu Iovita

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Background: Recent findings suggest that the North African Middle Stone Age technocomplex known as the Aterian is both much older than previously assumed, and certainly associated with fossils exhibiting anatomically modern human morphology and behavior. The Aterian is defined by the presence of 'tanged' or 'stemmed' tools, which have been widely assumed to be among the earliest projectile weapon tips. The present study systematically investigates morphological variation in a large sample of Aterian tools to test the hypothesis that these tools were hafted and/or used as projectile weapons. Methodology/Principal Findings: Both classical morphometrics and Elliptical Fourier Analysis of tool outlines are used to show that the shape variation in the sample exhibits size-dependent patterns consistent with a reduction of the tools from the tip down, with the tang remaining intact. Additionally, the process of reduction led to increasing side-to-side asymmetries as the tools got smaller. Finally, a comparison of shape-change trajectories between Aterian tools and Late Paleolithic arrowheads from the North German site of Stellmoor reveal significant differences in terms of the amount and location of the variation. Conclusions/Significance: The patterns of size-dependent shape variation strongly support the functional hypothesis of Aterian tools as hafted knives or scrapers with alternating active edges, rather than as weapon tips. Nevertheless, the same morphological patterns are interpreted as one of the earliest evidences for a hafting modification, and for the successful combination of different raw materials (haft and stone tip) into one implement, in itself an important achievement in the evolution of hominin technologies.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article numbere29029
    JournalPloS one
    Issue number12
    StatePublished - Dec 27 2011

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
    • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
    • General


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