Weaving simple solutions to complex problems: An experimental study of skill in bipolar cobble-splitting

Hilary Duke, Justin Pargeter

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Bipolar technology has a complicated history in lithics research. Ethnography shows that this method comprises many different techniques, is multi-purpose and skill dependent. However, archaeological interpretations oscillate between bipolar technology being simple, inefficient, and independent of skill to it being a purposeful strategy deployed by experienced knappers. Here we test the role of skill in quartz cobble collection and bipolar cobble-splitting by experienced and inexperienced knappers. Our results demonstrate that cobble collection and splitting are skill dependent, requiring abstract knowledge for collection and physical skill for splitting. Experts selected significantly different cobbles than novices, and split them more reliably and efficiently. Overlap between some experts and novices suggested these participants possessed innate cobble-splitting skills. These results challenge the idea that simple technologies require little skill, and suggest that skill may influence the formation of platform and bulb attributes commonly used to identify bipolar reduction in archaeological assemblages.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)349-365
    Number of pages17
    JournalLithic Technology
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Nov 2015


    • Bipolar technology
    • Cobble-splitting
    • Experimental archaeology
    • Skill

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Archaeology
    • Anthropology
    • Archaeology


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