The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

An experimental analysis of butchery efficiency for Oldowan flakes based on flake size


1Anthropology Department, Rutgers University, 2Geology Department, Rutgers University

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Analysis of humanly-produced lithic flakes is an established archaeological science. Determining intentionality in flake production, however, is difficult. Without experimental understanding of flake production and utility for various tasks, archaeological flakes of varying sizes are uniformly analyzed. This research uses experimental evidence to quantitatively assess the utility of individual Oldowan flakes for meat extraction. Basalt cobbles native to Koobi Fora, Kenya were experimentally reduced using least-effort methodology. 117 flakes were produced and classified in four ascending size groups based on their effective cutting circumference, measured from one platform side to the other. The distal ends of domestic pig (Sus scrofa domesticus) femora were butchered using replicated flakes of varying size categories to assess the effect of circumference size on butchery efficiency. All femora were professionally butchered for the same meat cuts prior to experimentation; experiments, therefore, model scavenging opportunities in which only meat scraps are available. Experiments were limited to two minutes of butchery for standardization. The difference in bone weight before and after butchery was measured to quantify the amount of meat removed per experiment. Results suggest that flakes with a circumference of 12-19 cm were most effective at removing flesh (MANOVA p=0.018). Interestingly, as flakes get very large and very small, their butchery efficiency is reduced. These results imply that analytical limitations may be placed on Koobi Fora Oldowan assemblages in terms of expectations for flake utility. Further, Oldowan flakes of extreme size may be considered unintentionally produced if the intended activity for the flakes was butchery.

We would like to thank the National Science Foundation, The Leakey Foundation, the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies, and Rutgers University Bigel program for dissertation funding, in which these experiments were a part.

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