Friday, September 05, 2008

The unbearable lightness of the Paleoltihic record

Whenever I read a report like this one, on the recovery of organic Neolithic artifacts including a birch bark quiver, a wooden bow and parts of leather pants (oh yeah!!), I can't help but to wonder how little we actually know about the richness of the material culture of earlier periods of prehistory.

Preservation bias has a lot to do with why so much Paleolithic archaoelogy is focused on the study of chipped stone technology. And whenever people get too carried with studying stone tools (yes, I've been told that this is possible...), I always like to dredge up this quote about the Wola of Papua-New Guinea:

"While lithics form a unique source for studying prehistory, among the Wolachert is only one among 255 types of raw material. Stone may not have been as significant to the user as it is to archaeologists... Clues to the relative importance of stone lie in a detailed understanding of the local resource base, evidence for subsistence strategies and the types of tools found." (Sillitoe and Hardy 2003:563).


Sillitoe P., and K. Hardy.2003. Living Lithics: Ethnography and archaeology in Highland Papua New Guinea. Antiquity 77, 297:555-566.

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