Social Learning Processes in Acheulean Hand-axe Production Open Access

Snyder, William (2015)

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Human cognitive evolution is an aspect of human origins research that can be better understood through the experimental replication of the technologies of long-dead human ancestors. Changes in the mechanisms that are part of social learning and the evolution of proto-language have been advocated as prerequisites for cultural accumulation and technological development, specifically with regard to the leap from Oldowan flaking technology to the creation of the first Acheulean bifaces. In this study, a novice knapper attempted to learn how to produce hand-axes under learning conditions without major social input and verbal interactions with more experienced knappers in order to evaluate whether or not it was possible for an inexperienced individual to learn how to make a hand axe under such conditions. From the hand-axes and debitage produced by the neophyte during the experiment, a selection of skill indicators (such as shape and size variables) has been evaluated for potential use in analyses in a larger follow-up study. Over the course of the 40-hour learning period, there was very little significant change in the objects produced by the subject. The main significant changes were related to attributes of the platform, showing that there was experimentation with different combinations of force application, angle of blow, and hammerstone selection. The main hypothesis generated as a result of this study is that learning bereft of a physically present teacher and linguistic input is to some degree restricted or delayed. This hypothesis, if supported by the results of future experiments, could help elucidate the evolution of the cognitive mechanisms of social learning and language in the Paleolithic, especially since these cognitive mechanisms are involved in the production of ancient stone technologies evidenced by the archaeological record; more specifically, this research could provide insights into the Oldowan-Acheulean transition and the temporal and geographic variation within the Acheulean.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Background 2

Overview of the Paleolithic 2

Review of Social Learning 4

Social Learning and Tool Use in Non-Human Primates 5

Social Learning and Skill in Contemporary Homo sapiens 10

Psychology of learning and skill 10

Ethnography 11

Filling in the gaps: social learning and skill acquisition in extinct hominins 12

Evidence of social learning in fossils and ancient artefacts 12

Experimental replication of ancient industrial complexes 14

Tool use and language: complementary or coincidental? 16

Methods 19

Hand-axe Measurements 21

Debitage and Flake Measurements 22

Qualitative Journal 24

Statistical Analyses 24

Results 25

Hand-axes 25

Hand-axe Shape 25

Hand-axe Reduction 30

Hand-axe Size 33

Hand-axe Appearance 34

Whole Flakes 37

Whole Flake Shape 37

Whole Flake Size and Platform Angle 42

Qualitative Journal 45

Perceived Difficulties 45

Discussion 48

Interpreting the Results 48

Language, Social Learning and Hand-axes 53

Experimental Replication and the Archaeological Record 56

Reflections for Future Research 58

Conclusion 60

Sources Cited 62

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