Paleolithic Archaeology

Paleolithic Archaeology @Penn

Palaeolithic Archaeology is a vast field, studying human behavior as found in the stone tool record from ca. 3 million years ago until the beginning of the Holocene around 10,000 years ago.   The earliest stone tool technology consists of very simple core and flake technology.  Gradually, lithic technology progresses to complex bifaces, points and uniquely made tools that spread to all corners of the world.  Because of stone’s durability, lithics provide a long lasting trail of human behavior for archaeologists to investigate.  Understanding the social and cognitive changes of our ancestor ranks among the great questions in archaeology.  

One of the key economic transitions in prehistory was the development of agriculture, but the processes that led to this transformation are not yet well understood. Our own Dr. Deborah Olszewski and Jordan University's Dr. Maysoon al-Nahar are excavating sites of hunter-gatherers who lived between 25,000 to 18,000 years ago.  By gathering information about the degree to which hunter-gatherers living 10,000 years before agriculture were invested in wild cereals and other plant foods for daily sustenance, it will be possible to examine decisions about resource use that altered a mobile way of life focused on wild foods into settled villages dependent on domesticated foods. 

Our Work

Laboratory for the Study of Ancient Technology at University of Pennsylvania

Project Director: Dr. Harold Dibble

The Laboratory for the Study of Ancient Technology (LSAT) at the University of Pennsylvania was founded by Prof. Dibble in the early 2000s.  Since then our team members, past and present, have focused on the controlled knapping experiments.  In an effort to understand the relationship between variables when knapping stone tools the team has custom built a machine to mount and strike specially produced glass cores.  

This Robot-like machine is affectionately named Igor.  Using compressed air Igor has been able to produce hundreds of flakes with a consistent accuracy far beyond any human knapping. Using specially produced glass bricks allows the team to control the internal imperfections of raw material as much as possible. 

In the fall of 2017 a new, higher capability knapping robot, Super Igor, was finally ready to knap.  This hydraulic powered machine can produce up to 5,000 pounds of force with pinpoint accuracy.  Experiments using Super Igor have begun and focus on using raw materials like basalt, obsidian and flint, rather than glass.  The amount of force used to detach flakes of a certain size is of particular interest in these new experiments. 

Visiting Scholars

Current Graduate Students

  • Aylar Abdolahzahdeh (M.A. Tarbiat Modares University, Iran; Ph.D. Candidate)
  • Li Li (M.S. University of California, Davis; Ph.D. Student)

Primary Supervising Faculty from Anthropology

Dr. Harold
Dr. Deborah