Old stones’ song: Use-wear experiments and analysis of the Oldowan quartz and quartzite assemblage from Kanjera South (Kenya)
Evidence of Oldowan tools by ∼2.6 million years ago (Ma) may signal a major adaptive shift in hominin evolution. While tool-dependent butchery of large mammals was important by at least 2.0 Ma, the use of artifacts for tasks other than faunal processing has been difficult to diagnose. Here we report on use-wear analysis of ∼2.0 Ma quartz and quartzite artifacts from Kanjera South, Kenya. A use-wear framework that links processing of specific materials and tool motions to their resultant use-wear patterns was developed. A blind test was then carried out to assess and improve the efficacy of this experimental use-wear framework, which was then applied to the analysis of 62 Oldowan artifacts from Kanjera South. Use-wear on a total of 23 artifact edges was attributed to the processing of specific materials. Use-wear on seven edges (30%) was attributed to animal tissue processing, corroborating zooarchaeological evidence for butchery at the site. Use-wear on 16 edges (70%) was attributed to the processing of plant tissues, including wood, grit-covered plant tissues that we interpret as underground storage organs (USOs), and stems of grass or sedges. These results expand our knowledge of the suite of behaviours carried out in the vicinity of Kanjera South to include the processing of materials that would be ‘invisible’ using standard archaeological methods. Wood cutting and scraping may represent the production and/or maintenance of wooden tools. Use-wear related to USO processing extends the archaeological evidence for hominin acquisition and consumption of this resource by over 1.5 Ma. Cutting of grasses, sedges or reeds may be related to a subsistence task (e.g., grass seed harvesting, cutting out papyrus culm for consumption) and/or a non-subsistence related task (e.g., production of ‘twine,’ simple carrying devices, or bedding). These results highlight the adaptive significance of lithic technology for hominins at Kanjera.