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The University of Southampton

ARCH6411 The Analysis of Palaeolithic Stone Tool Assemblages

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

Module Aims

- Develop confidence in handling and interpreting individual stone tools - Interpret assemblages of stone tools in behavioural terms

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • How archaeologists retrieve information from stone tools and interpret past human behaviour from this data
  • How to interpret a lithic assemblage within a research environment
Transferable and Generic 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
Subject Specific Practical 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
Cognitive 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.)


Typically the syllabus will cover: - 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 offers a unique opportunity to gain practical experience in the understanding and interpretation of stone tools. Although focused on Palaeolithic, the principles can be applied to any stone tool assemblage in flint from any period. The 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, at the same time using the material to reconstruct 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 in assignment 4.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

2 hours instruction per week. Teaching will take the form of a 2 hr lecture (teaching will cover 11 weeks of direct instruction, with final 1 week for feedback and Q&A session on any concerns students have re assignment 4. Teaching will be part practical part lecture based. Use of experimental and real archaeological pieces is involved.

Wider reading or practice88
Completion of assessment task40
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Dibble. H & Debenath, A. Handbook of Palaeolithic Typology. The Lower and Middle Palaeolithic. ,1 .



MethodPercentage contribution
Practical assignment 75%
Report  (1500 words) 25%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal

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