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The Ergonomics of Stone Tool Use and Production

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Lycett, Stephen J 


The field of ergonomics studies how the human body interacts with its physical environment. Often there is a focus on hand-held tools. In the case of hominin artifacts, factors relating to ergonomics may influence their design and form, ultimately increasing effectiveness, safety, and ease of use. Although often alluded to in the literature, it is only recently that research has begun to investigate explicitly how ergonomic factors may have influenced the behavior of early humans and, in turn, the pattern of the Palaeolithic archaeological record. This chapter reviews the current understanding of how hominins (or more precisely, their anatomy) interacted with stone tools of different sizes, shapes, and types. Stone tool use and production are considered separately, because although both interact with the hominin upper limb, they invoke distinct durational and magnitudinal demands. It is demonstrated that different muscular and skeletal stresses likely influenced the design of stone tool artifacts throughout the Palaeolithic. Equally, the shape and size of stone tools can impact how the hand, and upper limb more widely, are recruited during use, and how this may have placed evolutionary demands on hominin anatomy. Accordingly, the final section of this chapter considers how over the long-term course of human evolution, lithic technology potentially interacted with both cultural evolutionary forces and biological evolutionary forces. Ultimately, the inception of stone tool technology may have played a particular role in the eventual pathway of human evolution through gene–culture co-evolution. Ergonomic issues are revealed to have likely influenced both hominin anatomy and patterns of stone tool technology through the Palaeolithic.



The Ergonomics of Stone Tool Use and Production


Ergonomics, Grip, Hand-held stone tools, Hominin artifacts, Palaeolithic

Is Part Of

The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Archaeology

Book type

Edited volume


Oxford University Press