The University of Southampton
HumanitiesPostgraduate study

ARCH6117 The Analysis and Interpretation of Palaeolithic Stone Tools

Module Overview

This is a practical module in handling and interpreting stone tools and developing behavioural interpretations to explain the patterns seen. Stone tools remain the most significant part of the Palaeolithic cultural heritage. This course provides training in their analysis, bridging the gap between the simple recognition skills received at undergraduate level and the need to confidently engage with your data at PGR level, where time constraints are always at a premium.

Aims and Objectives


The aims of this module are to:

  • Develop confidence in handling and interpreting individual stone tools
  • Interpret assemblages of stone tools in behavioural terms
  • Understand how depositional context can affect the first two aims

Knowledge and Understanding
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to demonstrate:

  • How archaeologists retrieve information from stone tools and interpret past human behaviour from this data.
  • How to engage with published data and explore the strengths and weaknesses of presented arguments and interpretations.
  • How to interpret a lithic assemblage within a research environment.

Cognitive (thinking) skills

  • Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:
  • Independently analyse and make judgements about objects (through interpreting individual artefacts and characterising assemblages
  • Demonstrate skills in assessment and evaluation (why is this such and such, and not something else)
  • Demonstrate skills in synthesising large bodies of data
  • Go into an archaeological work environment and interpret lithics from any period in a sensible and constructive manner. (Although this is about Palaeolithic stone tools, the principles are universal. You will have sufficient basic principles to adapt your knowledge confidently to any later prehistoric stone tool assemblage.)
  • Construct defences of particular decisions and lines of argument.

Practical (subject specific) skills

  • Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:
  • Develop your own methods of interrogating lithic data
  • Use other people’s methods
  • Handle subject specific tools, e.g. callipers, type lists, relevant electronic media
  • Create ‘proformas’ or electronic recording sheets for stone tools
  • Demonstrate pattern recognition as an important part of recognising trends in data and attributing significance
  • Handle stone tools as archaeological objects.

Key transferable skills

  • Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:
  • Use SPSS
  • Undertake word processing and report writing
  • Use graphical methods for understanding information
  • Use simple statistical methods for exploring data
  • Think independently and making judgments
  • Recognise patterns in data


Typically the syllabus will cover:

  • Topic
  • Introduction to course, aims and objectives. Introduction to SPSS. Subject specific research skills
  • Flakes and flake tools
  • Cores and core technology
  • Handaxes
  • Lavallios
  • Blades and blade tools
  • Overview and Pob Ogof analysis

Special Features

This module will teach you how to examine a collection of stone tools and generate information on the behaviour of the ancient hominins who made them. Because stone tools are so durable they remain one of the principal sources of data for reconstructing ancient human lifeways.

The lithic material you will be working on are part of a collection of artefacts associated with a multi-period Palaeolithic cave site in North Wales called Pob Ogof. The aim of this module is to work your way through the collection and then interpret it, the behaviour of the ancient ancestors that lived there, and the history of the cave itself. You will present your interpretation of the Pob Ogof Cave as a formal report.

Learning and Teaching

Study time allocation

Contact hours:30
Private study hours:270
Total study time: 300 hours

Teaching and learning methods

Three hours instruction per week. Teaching will take the form of a 3 hr weekly lecture which involves formal teaching as well as practical handling of artefacts to illustrate the points made in the lecture. Use of experimental and real archaeological pieces is involved.

Resources and reading list

  • Inizan, M.-L., Roche, H. and Tixier, J. (Eds.) 1992. Technology of Knapped Stone. Prehistoire de la Pierre Taillee Tome 3. CREP.
  • Lord, J. W. 1993. The Nature and Subsequent Uses of Flint. Volume 1. The Basics of Lithic Technology. John Lord.
  • Dibble. H & Debenath, A. 1994. Handbook of Palaeolithic Typology. Volume 1. The Lower and Middle Palaeolithic. University Museum Press. University of Pennsylvania.


Assessment methods

  • Practical Assessments - 60% (2 x 15%, 3 x 10%)
  • Overall Intepretation - 40%


Programmes in which this module is compulsory

MA Palaeolithic Archaeology & Human Origins

ProgrammeUCAS CodeProgramme length
MA Palaeolithic Archaeology and Human OriginsV4001 years
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