A note on handaxe knapping products and their breakage taphonomy: an experimental view

  • Gadi Herzlinger Institute of Archaeology The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Sonia Pinsky Institute of Archaeology The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Naama Goren-Inbar Institute of Archaeology The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Keywords: taphonomy, breakage, handaxes, experimental knapping, modeling


The notion that broken artifacts provide a good indication of the taphonomic history of lithic assemblages is commonly accepted in prehistoric archaeology. High frequencies of broken artifacts are frequently viewed as an indication of the possible role of post-depositional processes such as high-energy fluvial transportation, trampling or plowing. Yet another alternative is that the breakage resulted from the knapping process itself.

In this study, the knapping byproducts of biface shaping and thinning (the final stages of handaxe production) originating in several experiments were systematically studied and their breakage frequencies and patterns were determined. The breakage patterns observed for the experimental assemblages were then used in a model designed to simulate the effect of breakage resulting from post-depositional processes, providing the breakage patterns expected for such an assemblage.

The breakage pattern and frequencies observed in the experimental assemblages and those provided by the model were then compared to an archaeological assemblage representing the production of Acheulian assemblages that include bifaces from the site of Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov (GBY), Israel. The results indicate that high breakage rates are inherent to the final stages of the Acheulian bifacial knapping process. Furthermore, they demonstrate that taphonomic (post-depositional) breakage changes the breakage pattern of the production stages in a systematic trend. Finally, the results show that the lithic assemblage of GBY presents breakage frequencies and patterns that are more similar to those of the experimental assemblages than those generated by the model. In the light of these results, it is suggested that this assemblage was not subjected to any breakage caused by post-depositional processes.


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How to Cite
Herzlinger, G., Pinsky, S., & Goren-Inbar, N. (2015). A note on handaxe knapping products and their breakage taphonomy: an experimental view. Journal of Lithic Studies, 2(1), 65-82. https://doi.org/10.2218/jls.v2i1.1295
Research Articles