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EVO-HAFT Report Summary

Project ID: 312283
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Belgium

Final Report Summary - EVO-HAFT (Evolution of stone tool hafting in the Palaeolithic)

Knowledge on Palaeolithic stone tool hafting is essential for improving our understanding of technological and cognitive evolutions. Mounting a stone tool in or on an organic handle is a creative and planned act with important implications for the technological expertise and intellectual capacities of the associated humans. Hafting materials are rarely preserved due to their organic nature and a functional analysis of the stone tools is the only way to comprehend this organic component of prehistoric technology. The ERC-funded project EVO-HAFT was aimed at gaining insight into the appearance, the variability and the evolution of Palaeolithic stone tool hafting in Europe and the remaining Old World through a comprehensive functional investigation that included the analysis of wear traces and residues, next to an elaborate experimental program. The project relied on the idea that hafting is a major factor to consider when trying to understand technological changes in the Palaeolithic.
The EVO-HAFT project permitted to confirm that hafting is indeed an essential variable to take into account when studying technological change. It could be demonstrated that hafting appears at least 250.000 years ago in Europe and at least 200.000 years ago in Africa. No conclusive earlier evidence could yet be identified, but future finds or the analysis of other sites may push back this date in the future. Both Neanderthals and early modern humans proved to be able to haft their stone tools and no major differences in terms of technological expertise could yet be identified. Hafting was performed in a relatively systematic way for both tools for which hafting is essential (e.g., projectiles) and other domestic tools (e.g., hide-working with scrapers) for which hafting may improve their efficiency. Site function proved to play an important role in the decision to haft a tool and hafting is also an important factor in tool maintenance. Specialised hafting techniques appeared early and it could be shown that a specific hafting mode was already anticipated upon during tool production.
Hafting wear was preserved on all assemblages from about 250.000 years ago, but a distinct difference in residue preservation could be identified between European and African assemblages following differences in soil microbial activity mainly. Residue preservation on European assemblages was poor in comparison to the studied African assemblages, but excellent preservation conditions also occasionally hampered interpretations. Residue analysis as applied up to now proved insufficiently rigorous and new analytical protocols were proposed that take into account all causes of residue deposition, such as incidental processes, tool use, hafting and various taphonomic processes. Residue analysis alone proved not to permit reliable functional inferences and it needs to be complemented with use-wear analysis following known protocols to corroborate the residue evidence and evaluate the causes of residue deposition. Existing residue extraction protocols were also shown to be insufficient for extracting all residue types and improved protocols adapted to plant and animal residues were proposed.
Projectile identification criteria were re-evaluated and improved and the project succeeded in demonstrating that also propulsion modes are identifiable based on microscopic evidence. Previous attempts, mostly based on morphometrics, were proven unreliable; they only indicate a potential suitability for a use as weapon armature instead of providing factual evidence. On the basis of use-wear analysis, a detailed study of the ballistic behaviour of each weapon type (i.e., thrusting, throwing, spear-thrower, bow) in relation with the hafting mode, and fracture dynamics, criteria could be proposed that permit the recognition of propulsion modes in archaeological contexts. The feasibility of the method was demonstrated by its successful application to an archaeological context as part of a proof-of-concept study.

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