From Hafting to Retooling: Miniaturization as Tolerance Control in Paleolithic and Neolithic Blade Production

Steven L. Kuhn, Ron Shimelmitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Hafting of stone tools and the creation of composite artifacts represent major developments in the early evolution of human technologies, with implications for artifact functions, human adaptation, and cognitive capabilities. A parallel issue is that of miniaturization of stone tools, which is argued to confer certain advantages, some of which are related to hafting. Our aim in this paper is to shift the discussion of these phenomena to the issues of re-hafting or retooling. We argue that important constraints on form and production of elements in composite implements come not just from the practice of hafting, but from the practice of rejuvenating implements by replacing broken or worn elements with similar-sized pieces. We further argue that absolute dimensional variation (tolerance) is the most important factor to consider in re-hafting or retooling. In this paper, we examine the hypothesis that there was a global increase in standardization in blade production over time related to increasing emphasis on hafting and retooling. Standardization is assessed in terms of both dimensional (sd), and relative (cv) measurements. The database for the study consists of > 100 assemblages, dating from the Middle Pleistocene to the Holocene. The data set includes a wide range of technologies ranging from comparatively simple to quite complex reduction. When the entire time range is examined, there is a decrease in blade size over time, and a parallel increase in standardization as measured by both sd and cv. However, the trend in cv is driven mainly by the late appearance of pressure blade technology; if pressure-blade technologies are excluded from the sample, there is no directional change in standardization as measured by cv. These findings suggest that prior to the widespread adoption of pressure blade technologies, Paleolithic knappers could create artifacts with finer dimensional tolerances only by making them smaller. The demands of increasing dependence on composite tools with replaceable parts could in turn explain long-term trends towards decreasing size in some classes of artifact.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)678-701
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Archaeological Method and Theory
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • Composite tools
  • Neolithic
  • Paleolithic
  • Pressure blades
  • Standardization
  • Stone tools

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


Dive into the research topics of 'From Hafting to Retooling: Miniaturization as Tolerance Control in Paleolithic and Neolithic Blade Production'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this