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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: August 2009

12 - Lithic Technological Organization in an Evolutionary Framework: Examples from North America's Pacific Northwest Region



The organization of lithic technology as a field of study prescribes ecological explanations for variation in the ways that people made, used, and transported stone tools. Although these models go far in providing insight into the economic rationale behind lithic production and use systems, they do not emphasize the historical and evolutionary nature of change in stone tools. The paper offers an approach to integrating ecological and evolutionary views of lithic technology. Two case studies from North America's Pacific Northwest region seek to illustrate how change in aspects of chipped stone tool retouch patterns corresponds with shifts in local subsistence tactics, despite socioeconomic stability on the higher organizational scale.


In 1994, Jan Simek gently chided archaeologists seeking to reconstruct and explain the organization of lithic technology for failing to integrate Darwinian evolutionary thinking into their models. This came at a time when evolutionary thinking in archaeology was beginning to be visible as a significant new paradigm in American archaeology (e.g., O'Brien and Lyman 2003b). Archaeologists interested in evolution have since offered methodological and theoretical advances spanning elements of material culture such as pots and projectile points (O'Brien et al. 1999) to change in entire systems or packages of cultural behavior (Spencer 1995). Yet research into the organization of lithic technology has typically remained comfortably in the realm of ecology and its search for general principles. Although this work has at times been very sophisticated (e.g., Kuhn 1994) its reliance on ecology as the explanatory framework has not yet led to a comprehensive evolutionary theory of stone tools.

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