The Chaine Operatoire Approach in Middle Paleolithic Archaeology
Van Peer, Philip
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CitationBar-Yosef, Ofer and Philip Van Peer. 2009. The Chaine Operatoire Approach in Middle Paleolithic archaeology. Current Anthropology 50(1): 103-131.
AbstractSince the pioneering days of Paleolithic archaeology in western Europe, the making of stone tools has received special attention. Numerous studies were aimed at creating systematic typologies of artifacts based on descriptions of their technical features and morphological attributes. Recently, the concept of chaine operatoire, or "operational sequence" (sometimes called "core reduction sequence"), borrowed from French social anthropologists, has been introduced into the study of Old World prehistory. Its conceptual framework is focused on the recognition of the overall technology and the practical skills of the prehistoric knapper in employing a particular technique responsible for the transformation of raw material to tools. Although the stone objects of all periods received attention, those of the Middle Paleolithic-due to issues such as the significance of lithic variability in retouched tools, the demise of the Neanderthals, or the emergence of "modern behavior"-have been at the forefront. This paper discusses the definition of chaine operatoire and its practice and demonstrates that as a system of classification, it is overformalized and provides but an illusion of reading the minds of prehistoric knappers. The need to pay more attention to the recognition of patterning in the technological information is essential if we wish to go beyond a formal type list of knapping products. We argue that an elaborate, complex typology of core reduction products and discrete chaines operatoires is an approach that impedes informed behavioral interpretations by forcing a rigid framework of "technical" definitions on the prehistoric lithic technologies.
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