Early Human Technology

Hosted by Assistant Professor of Anthropology Nicolas Zwyns.

The Early Humans Technology (EHT) reading group is a newly-formed graduate group within the Department of Anthropology under the direction of Dr. Nicolas Zwyns. The goal of the group is to examine research on a range of topics from the use of tools by animal species to technologies used during the ice age.

With a record dating back to at least 3.3 million years ago, stone technology represents a vast and crucial aspect of the evolutionary history of our species and will be one of the main focuses of this group. In addition, the group will examine the development, use, and production of nonlithic technologies, such as the use of projectiles and hafting technologies and the appearance of bone tools, as well as explore ecological models, such as those relating to raw material procurement and environmental influences on technological development and the mechanism of cultural transmission. Furthermore, the group will investigate the use of tools among animal species (e.g. non-human primates) and new developments in analytical procedures considered relevant to improve our understanding of prehistoric technologies.

Participants are mostly graduate students that will be exposed to research concerning different geologic periods and geographic regions of our planet which can hopefully provide unique perspectives and insights into their own specific research. The EHT reading group is primarily student-led, with weekly meetings to discuss different scientific papers chosen by participants on a rotating basis. It will also provide members with opportunities for peer-reviews, feedback or practice on their own publications or conference presentations. The group utilizes Socratic debate to dissect and examine the research questions, methods, and conclusions presented in the chosen paper. This method promotes critical thinking and analysis of scientific writing, and is useful for familiarizing oneself with the past and present analytical methods for their use and development in future lithic analytical research by current and future members of the group.

Open to all. For more information, contact .

Winter 2018


Fall 2017

Mondays, 10:00 - 11:00 a.m.

Young Hall 205

During the Fall 2017 quarter, the Early Human Technology reading group has met once a week to discuss papers that can be grouped in three main categories. First, we looked at experiments designed to improve the quantification of features observed on stone artifact to describe distinct tool types and tool making behaviors from the past. The papers included studies on the underlying physical laws relevant for the mechanics of stone fracture, stone tool production but also composite objects such as projectiles (and their launching devices). The second categories of papers were modelling how ancient people changed their behavior to optimize their technical efficiency over millions of years. We discussed how to measure the economic efficiency of different technology using empirical data; and how this data can be compared with the expectations of ecological and evolutionary models. The third category of papers included theoretical contributions discussing the issues of convergent evolution; when independent inventions of a singular technology are observed (e.g. pottery). These contributions were dealing with notions well known in the field of biology such as homology, or analogy, and their applications to material culture related issues. Although the examples used were picked up from the Old World Paleolithic record, these discussions had theoretical ramifications relevant to any and all technological behaviors.