Breaking the Learning Curve: Assessing Flintknapper Skill at the Epipalaeolithic Site of Kharaneh IV, Jordan
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Breaking the Learning Curve: Assessing Flintknapper Skill at the Epipalaeolithic Site of Kharaneh IV, Jordan


Learning is a fundamental aspect of the human condition. It allows us to interact within a world of socially constructed meanings and to create individual and group identities (Jarvis 2012; Lave and Wenger 1991; Wenger 1998). My research investigates knowledge transmission during the Epipalaeolithic Period at the hunter-gatherer site of Kharaneh IV (≈20,000 BP) (Maher and MacDonald 2013) and argues that stone tool production (flintknapping) can be viewed as a practice that reflects normative rules guiding the interactions of flintknapping communities in the ancient past. Evidence of the practice can shed light on an ancient habitus related to learning and participating within a community of practice (Lave and Wenger 1991; Cole 1996; Weisner 2002; Rogoff 2003; Maynard and Greenfield 2006; Joyce 2008; Wallaert 2012; Takakura 2013). The study of education in archaeology primarily focuses on ceramics as it is an additive process where each step is identifiable through microscopic analyses. While these studies have proven useful for understanding how novices learned practices in the past, in most regions ceramics only extend back to about 8,000 years BP and studies on apprenticeship and learning rarely extend past the Bronze Age (Hasaki 2012). To examine a reductive technology like flintknapping one must take a different approach than previously established ceramics studies on apprenticeship (Gosselain 2000; Wallart 2012; Hasaki 2012). The waste products, debitage, are the basis for analysis rather than the final tool form as each removal of flint during the production process preserves prior removal scars and indicates how an individual piece was removed. The knowledge of where to find raw materials, how to ‘correctly’ reduce a blade core, and what constitutes a tool is circumscribed by the community (Ortner 2001; Joyce 2008; Pea and Cole 2019). Therefore, lithic artifacts may represent normative practices of flintknapping during the Epipalaeolithic. New materials or techniques can reflect changing dynamics within a community as the establishment and continuity of traditions are reliant upon ongoing apprentice/master relationships (Lancy 1980; Lave and Wenger 1991; Wallaert-Pêtre 2001; Greenfield et al. 2003; Milne 2012; Takakura 2013). By studying how unskilled flintknapping events are spatially related to skilled flintknapping events we can begin to reveal the habitus of a community of practice. Applying Lave and Wenger’s (1991) legitimate peripheral participation to lithic artifacts and flintknapping education during the Epipalaeolithic, I pose a fundamental question: Can learning and evidence of a sociotechnological practice be used to understand the habitus constructed around flintknapping at the Epipalaeolithic hunter-gatherer site of Kharaneh IV?

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