Skip to main content

A Formal Approach to the Design and Assembly of Mobile Toolkits

  • Steven L. Kuhn (a1)

It is widely believed that the design of transported artifacts and toolkits employed by mobile populations is influenced by two main factors, portability and potential utility. Choices about the kinds of artifacts to carry around can be modeled as an optimization problem, in which it is beneficial to obtain the greatest potential utility for the minimum total weight. This study approaches the problem analytically, making a few simple assumptions about artifact geometry and the relations between utility and artifact size. If artifact utility is calculated as a function of potential for renewal, transported toolkits should consist entirely of relatively small finished tools. Moreover, most gains in durability or multifunctionality that require increases in overall size are outweighed by increased transport cost. Inconsistencies between these expectations and ethnographic and archaeological observations point to situations in which artifact functionality is more closely constrained by overall size or mass.


Existe una creencia generalizada que sostiene que el diseño de artefactos y conjuntos de herramientas transportados y empleados por poblaciones móbiles está influenciado por dos factores principales, portabilidad y utilidad potencial. La selección de las clases de artefactos que se transportan puede ser modelada como un problema de optimización, en el cual es provechoso obtener la mayor utilidad potencial por el menor peso total. Este estudio enfoca el problema analiticamente, y utiliza pocos supuestos simples sobre la geometría del artefacto y las relaciones entre utilidad y tamaño del artefacto. Si la utilidad del artefacto se calcula como una función del potencial de renovación, los conjuntos de herramientas transportados consisten enteramente en herramientas acabadas y de tamaño relativamente pequeño. Además, la mayoría de los beneficios en cuanto a durabilidad y funcionalidad múltiple que requieren encrementos de tamaño están limitados por el incremento en el costo de transporte. Inconsistencias entre estos supuestos y las observaciones etnográficas y arqueológicas señalan situaciones en las que la funcionalidad del artefacto está constreñida por su tamaño o masa.

Hide All
Bamforth, D. 1985 The Technological Organization of Paleoindian Small Group Bison Hunting on the Llano Estacado. Plains Anthropologist 32 : 116.
Bamforth, D. 1986 Technological Efficiency and Stone Tool Curation. American Antiquity 51 : 3850.
Bamforth, D. 1991 Technological Organization and Hunter-Gatherer Land Use : A California Example. American Antiquity 56 : 21634.
Binford, L. R. 1977 Forty-Seven Trips : A Case Study in the Character of Archaeological Formation Processes. In Stone Tools as Cultural Markers, edited by Wright, R. V. S., pp. 2436. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra.
Binford, L. R. 1979 Organization and Formation Processes : Looking at Curated Technologies. Journal of Anthropological Research 35 : 255273.
Bleed, P. 1986 The Optimal Design of Hunting Weapons. American Antiquity 51 : 737747.
Brannan, J. A. 1991 On Modeling Resource Transport Costs : Suggested Refinements. Current Anthropology 33 : 5660.
Ebert, J. I. 1979 An Ethnographical Approach to Reassessing the Meaning of Variability in Stone Tool Assemblages. In Ethnoarchaeology, edited by Kramer, C., pp. 5974. Columbia University Press, New York.
Ellis, C. J. 1989 The Explanation of Northeastern Paleoindian Lithic Procurement Patterns. In Eastern Paleoindian Lithic Resource Use, edited by Ellis, C. J. and Lothrop, J. C., pp. 139164. Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado.
Frison, G. C. 1978 Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains. Academic Press, New York.
Frison, G. C. (editor) 1974 The Casper Site : A Hell Gap Bison Kill. Academic Press, New York.
Frison, G. C, and Bradley, B. 1980 Folsom Tools and Technology at the Hanson Site, Wyoming. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.
Frison, G. C, and Stanford, D. J. 1982 The Agate Basin Site : A Record of the Paleoindian Occupation of the Northwestern High Plains. Academic Press, New York.
Geneste, J-M. 1989 Les industries de la Grotte Vaufrey : Technologie du debitage, economie et circulation de la matiere premiere. In La Grotte Vaufrey a Cenac et Saint-Julien (Dordogne). Paleoenvironnement, chronologie et activites humaines, edited by Rigaud, J-P., pp. 441519. Memoires de la Societe Prehistorique Francaise Tome XIX. Paris.
Goodyear, A. 1989 A Hypothesis for the Use of Cryptocrystalline Raw Materials Among Paleoindian Groups of North America. In Eastern Paleoindian Lithic Resource Use, edited by Ellis, C. and Lothrop, J., pp. 110. Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado.
Gould, R. 1969 Yiwara : Foragers of the Australian Desert. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Gould, R. 1980 Living Archaeology. Cambridge University Press, New York.
Gould, R. A., Koster, D. A., and Sontz, A. H. L. 1971 The Lithic Assemblage of the Western Desert Aborigines of Australia. American Antiquity 36 : 149169.
Gramly, R. M. 1990 Guide to the Paleoindian Artifacts of North America. Persimmon Press, New York.
Hitchcock, R. 1982 The Ethnoarchaeology ofSedentism : Mobility Strategies and Site Structure Among Foraging and Food Producing Groups in the Eastern Kalahari Desert, Botswana. Unpublished Ph. D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.
Hoffman, J. 1991 Folsom Land Use : Projectile Point Raw Material as a Key to Mobility. In Raw Material Economies Among Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers, edited by Montet-White, A. and Holen, S., pp. 335356. Publications in Anthropology No. 19. University of Kansas, Lawrence.
Holen, S. 1991 Bison Hunting Techniques and Lithic Acquisition Among the Pawnee : An Ethnohistoric and Archaeological Study. In Raw Material Economies Among Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers, edited by Montet-White, A. and Holen, S., pp. 399411. Publications in Anthropology No. 19. University of Kansas, Lawrence.
Jaubert, J., Lorblanchet, M., Laville, H., Slott-Moller, R., Turq, A., and Brugal, J-P. 1990 Les chasseurs d'aurochs de La Borde : Un site du Paleolithique moyen (Livernon, Lot). Documents d'Archeologie Francaise No. 27. Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, Paris.
Jefferys, W. H., and Berger, J. O. 1992 Ockham's Razor and Bayesian Analysis. American Scientist 80 : 6472.
Jones, K. T., and Madsen, D. B. 1989 Calculating the Cost of Resource Transportation : A Great Basin Example. Current Anthropology 30 : 529534.
Kelly, R. 1988 The Three Sides of a Biface. American Antiquity 53 : 717734.
Kelly, R., and Todd, L. C. 1988 Coming into the Country : Early Paleoindian Hunting and Mobility. American Antiquity 53 : 231244.
Kozlowski, J. 1991 Raw Material Procurement in the Upper Paleolithic of Central Europe. In Raw Material Economies Among Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers, edited by Montet-White, A. and Holen, S., pp. 187196. Publications in Anthropology No. 19. University of Kansas, Lawrence.
Kuhn, S. L. 1989 Hunter-Gatherer Foraging Organization and Strategies of Artifact Replacement and Discard. In Experiments In Lithic Technology, edited by Amick, D. and Mauldin, R., pp. 3347. BAR International Series 528. British Archaeological Reports, Oxford.
Kuhn, S. L. 1992 On Planning and Curated Technologies in the Middle Paleolithic. Journal of Anthropological Research 48 : 185214.
Kuhn, S. L. 1994 Mousterian Lithic Technology and Raw Material Economy : A Case Study. Princeton University Press, Princeton, in press.
Lurie, R. 1990 Lithic Technology and Mobility Strategies : The Koster Site Middle Archaic. In Time, Energy, and Stone Tools, edited by Torrence, R., pp. 4656. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Marshall, L. 1976 Sharing, Talking and Giving : Relief of Social Tensions among the !Kung. In Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers : Studies of the IKung and Their Neighbors, edited by Lee, R. and DeVore, I., pp. 349371. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Metcalfe, D., and Barlow, K. R. 1992 A Model for Exploring the Optimal Trade-ofF Between Field Processing and Transport. American Anthropologist 94 : 340356.
Nelson, M. 1991 The Study of Technological Organization. In Archaeological Method and Theory, vol. 3, edited by Fer, M. Schif, pp. 57100. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
Reher, C. 1991 Large Scale Lithic Quarries and Regional Transport Systems on the High Plains of Eastern Wyoming : Spanish Diggings Revisited. In Raw Material Economies Among Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers, edited by Montet-White, A. and Holen, S., pp. 161168. Publications in Anthropology No. 19. University of Kansas, Lawrence.
Rensink, E., Kolen, J., and Spieksma, A. 1991 Patterns of Raw Material Distribution in the Upper Pleistocene of Northwest and Central Europe. In Raw Material Economies Among Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers, edited by Montet-White, A. and Holen, S., pp. 141160. Publications in Anthropology No. 19. University of Kansas, Lawrence.
Shott, M. 1986 Settlement Mobility and Technological Organization : An Ethnographic Examination. Journal of Anthropological Research 42 : 1551.
Smyth, R. B. 1878 Aborigines of Victoria : With Notes Relating to the Habits of the Natives of other Parts of Australia and Tasmania. 2 vols. Government Printing Office, Melbourne.
Stiner, M. C, and Kuhn, S. L. 1992 Subsistence, Technology, and Adaptive Variation in Middle Paleolithic Italy. American Anthropologist 94 : 306339.
Tindale, N. B. 1965 Stone Implement Making Among the Nakako, Ngadadjara and Pitjandjara of the Great Western Desert. Records of the South Australian Museum 15 : 131164.
Thompson, D. F. 1949 Economic Structure and the Ceremonial Exchange Cycle in Arnhem Land. Mac Millan and Co., Melbourne.
Torrence, R. 1983 Time Budgeting and Hunter-Gatherer Technology. In Hunter-Gatherer Economy in Prehistory, edited by Bailey, G., pp. 1122. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
White, J. P., and Connell, J. F. O. 1982 The Prehistory of Australia, New Guinea and Sahul. Academic Press, New York.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0002-7316
  • EISSN: 2325-5064
  • URL: /core/journals/american-antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 10 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 297 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 20th January 2017 - 21st June 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.