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Cutting edge technology: understanding Palaeolithic stone tool design and use from a modern mechanical engineering perspective

Cutting edge technology: understanding Palaeolithic stone tool design and use from a modern mechanical engineering perspective


For over 3 million years, stone tools were central to the survival of hominins (fossil and modern humans). Their ability to cut, pierce and scrape materials opened new ecological niches, facilitated exploitation of novel resources, and allowed hominins to survive in hostile environments. Accordingly, there were strong pressures for stone tools to be effective, reliable, durable, and efficient. Modern cutting tools are produced according to similar principles and there is >80 years of research dedicated to designing mechanically-optimised tools and understanding the principles of cutting. However, Palaeolithic stone technologies have yet to be investigated with similar mechanical or theoretical rigour.

EDGE will integrate advanced engineering analytical techniques, principles and design theory with large-scale archaeological experiments to investigate how the morphology, microgeometry, and raw material choice of stone cutting tools influences their performance and fracture mechanics. In archaeological firsts, EDGE includes controlled cutting tests, empirical analyses of stone tool sharpness, and finite element analysis (FEA) of cutting processes. Palaeolithic artefacts will be examined to assess whether our hominin ancestors actually designed mechanically-optimised tools, or, alternatively, whether other factors (e.g. cultural variation) underlie the tool type, form and raw material variability observed across the Palaeolithic archaeological record.

The ground breaking nature of EDGE is its integration of advanced engineering techniques and principles with archaeological experiments and artefact analyses to address fundamental questions concerning early human behaviour. Results will provide a fundamental shift in how functional archaeological experiments are performed, establish fracture mechanics theory and FEA within archaeological research, and present a robust mechanically defined framework necessary for understanding artefact variation across the Palaeolithic.
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2311 Ez Leiden


Activity type

Higher or Secondary Education Establishments

EU Contribution

€ 253 052,16

Partners (1)

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Project information

Grant agreement ID: 843760


Grant agreement signed

  • Start date

    1 June 2020

  • End date

    31 May 2023

Funded under:


  • Overall budget:

    € 253 052,16

  • EU contribution

    € 253 052,16

Coordinated by: