As a prelude to the study of tools and tool use, three terms must be defined: "archeology," "artifact," and "tool." Archeology, in a broad sense, can be defined as the search for human activity zones, the recovery and documentation of these zones, and the analyses of remains (artifacts) and their interpretation. The main purpose of the discipline is to study artifacts made and used by prehistoric populations in order to reconstruct human material culture and activity patterns and thereby elucidate the development of humans as cultural beings (0 Figure 8.1). To this end, the raw data from excavations undergo analysis and sometimes additional experimental studies on the manufacture and use of artifacts and on the processes through which sites have developed over time. Insights into the origin and formation of artifact assemblages may also be gained by examining the object behavior of living human groups under ethnoarcheology (Binford 1978) or by comparatively analyzing the material remains of recent primate activity (Mercader et al. 2002). In sum, artifacts constitute the main material basis of archeological studies. Animal and plant remains from human activity areas are also analyzed, and dealt with as artifacts if they were used by human beings, to provide information on environmental parameters that influenced human behavior. Finally, human skeletons can be subject to archeological research insofar as they either were manipulated—and therefore can be handled as a sort of artifacts—or show physical features induced by certain activities.
Artifacts and tools are overlapping but not synonymous categories. While tools and their functional use are the main focus of studies of animal behavior, archeology concentrates on the artificial aspect of manipulating objects in human
Human evolution bound to artifact development: the toy models of Australopithecus, H. habilis, H. erectus, Neanderthal, and H. sapiens sapiens (from left to right) are characterized by associated tools context. This point of view is summed up by Hahn (1993), who differentiates among natural objects, items in human context, and things which show signs of human use. Following his definition, the category "artifact" includes all material objects manipulated by humans, from a stone moved by an individual to clearly human-made pits, hearths, and stone structures. More narrowly, Hahn defines artifacts as items of stone, wood, or other materials that show at least some indicative use-wear, whether the objects are separate from or fixed to the environment. The term "tool" bears a technological meaning in archeology as a subcategory of artifacts: they are freely movable objects and were commonly modified in several operational steps, conditions which are not necessary to be accepted as an artifact. Thus an artifact blank can become a tool intentionally by modification—as in the case of stone flakes reworked into scrapers, denticulates, and burins, for example—or unintentionally by use for some functional purpose, as evidenced by use-wear and retouches on an unmodified blade.
In contrast to the archeological viewpoint, primatologist Beck (1980) defines tools not technologically by the object itself but by the functional use to which an object may be put. Tool use, he writes, is "the external employment of an unattached environmental object to alter more efficiently the form, position, or condition of another object, another organism or the user itself when the user holds or carries the tool during or just prior to use and is responsible for the proper and effective orientation of the tool'' (Beck 1980 p 10). Thus, Beck excludes clearly artificial structures, like nests, pits, or other fixed artifacts, which are quite common in animal species and are often highly complex, such as the elaborate nests of bower birds, classifying these as the material outcome of a different, nontool behavior. Ergonomist Christopher Baber (2003 p. 8) identifies a tool as "a physical object that is manipulated by users in such a manner as to both affect change in some aspect of the environment and also to represent an extension of the users themselves. The manipulation is directed toward a specific goal or purpose, and the associated activity requires a degree of control and coordination.'' Accordingly, in this functional sense, a simple form to cut out cookies is a tool but even the most sophisticated cookies themselves are not: those are mere artifacts of tool use.
The ethological definition of tool use differs from the archeological one in two ways: tool use is not restricted to human behavior and objects fall into the category of tools by their use, irrespective of the technical aspects of use-wear and modification that characterize archeologically defined tools. Thus Beck, dealing mainly with directly observed behavior, is but marginally concerned with the material evidence of use on the artifacts; and for zoologists generally, who focus on behavior and are only in passing documenting the material inventory of populations or species, the technological details are of minor interest. As a result, a major problem in Lower Paleolithic archeology, that of identifying artifacts and used objects made from durable material, is excluded from the domain of ethologists studying modern animal tool behavior. For archeologists, however, who consider the use and manufacture of objects as a characteristic human means to increase the physically limited abilities of the body in solving problems, the functional separation of tool use sensu stricto from the formation of attached or unattached artificial structures is irrelevant. Both can be subsumed under the category of artifacts to get a more complete picture of the material culture, the subject central to archeology. What sort of information artifacts do yield through archeological analyses will be discussed next.
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