Archeology is the anthropological field that studies the material cultures of former human populations. The most ancient of these populations are the subject of Paleolithic archeology, which deals with the material remains of early hunter-gatherers, from the first stone artifacts of 2.5 million years ago to artifacts documenting the initial steps toward sedentary life and agriculture at the end of the last Ice Age. Paleolithic archeology is often perceived as studying typical and rather invariant Oldowan, Acheulean, or Middle Paleolithic stone artifact assemblages that sometimes accompany human fossils. Moreover, because archeological analyses of these associated finds has remained fairly dissociated from evolutionary discussions in physical anthropology, the assumption has formed that human design, production, and use of tools stagnated during at least the first 2 million years (Myr) of their existence. In fact, however, Paleolithic artifacts are considerably more informative than this: they provide clues to early human behavior and
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attest to hominins' increasing capabilities and efforts to get beyond the physical limits of their bodies by using tools. Although tool use and manufacture do occur occasionally in the animal kingdom—ranging from the use of unmodified objects in one specific context that some species of invertebrates, insects, birds, and mammals have developed to the tools adaptive to different problem settings that primates, especially great apes, and some bird species, namely crows, tend to use—as will be described later, tools emerge as an eminently human production indeed. For modern humans, who have created an artificial world, tools are their second nature. How we got from our occasionally tool-using primate ancestors to a species that is helpless without tools can be traced only by following the development of artifact assemblages. Therefore, this chapter will focus on the potentials and limitations of interpreting artifacts and tools found in archeological contexts to illuminate this special human character.
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