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28 May 2020
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TIPZOO: a Touchscreen Interface for Palaeolithic Zooarchaeology. Towards making data entry and analysis easier, faster, and more reliable

A new software to improve standardization and quality of data in zooarchaeology

Recommended by based on reviews by Delphine Vettese and Argant Thierry

Standardization and quality of data collection are identified as challenges for the future in zooarchaeology [1]. These issues were already identified in the early 1970s when the International Council for Archaeozoology (ICAZ) recommended to “standardize measurements and data in publications”. In the recent years, there is strong recommendations by publishers and grant to follow the FAIR Principle i.e. to “improve the findability, accessibility, interoperability, and reuse of digital assets” [2]. As zooarchaeologists, we should make our methods more clear and replicable by other researchers to produce comparable datasets. In this paper the authors make a significant step in proposing a tool to replace traditional data recording softwares. The problems related to data recording are clearly identified and discussed. All the features offered by TIPZOO allow to standardize the data, to reduce the errors when entering the data, to save time with auto-filling entries. The coding system used in TIPZOO is based on variables taken from the most used and updated literature in zooarchaeology. Its connections with various R packages allow to directly export the data and to transform the raw data to produce summary tables, graphs and basic statistics. Finally, the advantage of this tool is that it can be improved, debugged, or implemented at any time. TIPZOO provides a standardized system to compile and share large and consistent datasets that will allow comparison among assemblages at a large scale, and for this reason, I have recommended the work for PCI Archaeology.


[1] Steele, T.E. (2015). The contributions of animal bones from archaeological sites: the past and future of zooarchaeology. J. Archaeol. Sci. 56, 168–176. doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2015.02.036

TIPZOO: a Touchscreen Interface for Palaeolithic Zooarchaeology. Towards making data entry and analysis easier, faster, and more reliableEmmanuel Discamps<p>Zooarchaeological studies of fossil bone collections are often conducted using simple spreadsheet programs for data recording and analysis. After quickly summarizing the limitations of such an approach, we present a new software solution, TIPZO...Spatial analysis, Taphonomy, ZooarchaeologyFlorent Rivals2020-04-16 13:27:00 View
05 Jun 2023
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SEAHORS: Spatial Exploration of ArcHaeological Objects in R Shiny

Analyzing piece-plotted artifacts just got simpler: A good solution to the wrong problem?

Recommended by based on reviews by Frédéric Santos, Jacqueline Meier and Maayan Lev

Paleolithic archaeologists habitually measure 3-coordinate data for artifacts in their excavations. This was first done manually, and in the last three decades it is usually performed by a total station and associated hardware. While the field recording procedure is quite straightforward, visualizing and analyzing the data are not, often requiring specialized proprietary software or coding expertise. Here, Royer and colleagues (2023) present the SEAHORS application, an elegant solution for the post-excavation analysis of artifact coordinate data that seems to be instantly useful for numerous archaeologists. SEAHORS allows one to import and organize field data (Cartesian coordinates and point description), which often comes in a variety of formats, and to create various density and distribution plots. It is specifically adapted to the needs of archaeologists, is free and accessible, and much simpler to use than many commercial programs. The authors further demonstrate the use of the application in the post-excavation analysis of the Cassenade Paleolithic site (see also Discamps et al., 2019). 

While in no way detracting from my appreciation of Royer et al.’s (2023) work, I would like to play the devil’s advocate by asking whether, in the majority of cases, field recording of artifacts in three coordinates is warranted. Royer et al. (2023) regard piece plotting as “…indispensable to propose reliable spatial planimetrical and stratigraphical interpretations” but this assertion does not hold in all (or most) cases, where careful stratigraphic excavation employing thin volumetric units would do just as well.

Moreover, piece-plotting has some serious drawbacks. The recording often slows excavations considerably, beyond what is needed for carefully exposing and documenting the artifacts in their contexts, resulting in smaller horizontal and vertical exposures (e.g., Gilead, 2002). This typically hinders a fuller stratigraphic and contextual understanding of the excavated levels and features. Even worse, the method almost always creates a biased sample of “coordinated artifacts”, in which the most important items for understanding spatial patterns and site-formation processes – the small ones – are underrepresented. Some projects run the danger of treating the coordinated artifacts as bearing more significance than the sieve-recovered items, preferentially studying the former with no real justification. Finally, the coordinated items often go unassigned to a volumetric unit, effectively disconnecting them from other types of data found in the same depositional contexts.  

The advantages of piece-plotting may, in some cases, offset the disadvantages. But what I find missing in the general discourse (certainly not in the recommended preprint) is the “theory” behind the seemingly technical act of 3-coordinate recording (Yeshurun, 2022). Being in effect a form of sampling, this practice needs a rethink about where and how to be applied; what depositional contexts justify it, and what the goals are. These questions should determine if all “visible” artifacts are plotted, or just an explicitly defined sample of them (e.g., elongated items above a certain length threshold, which should be more reliable for fabric analysis), or whether the circumstances do not actually justify it. In the latter case, researchers sometimes opt for using “virtual coordinates” within in each spatial unit (typically 0.5x0.5 m), essentially replicating the data that is generated by “real” coordinates and integrating the sieve-recovered items as well. In either case, Royer et al.’s (2023) solution for plotting and visualizing labeled points within intra-site space would indeed be an important addition to the archaeologists’ tool kits.


References cited 

Discamps, E., Bachellerie, F., Baillet, M. and Sitzia, L. (2019). The use of spatial taphonomy for interpreting Pleistocene palimpsests: an interdisciplinary approach to the Châtelperronian and carnivore occupations at Cassenade (Dordogne, France). Paleoanthropology 2019, 362–388.

Gilead, I. (2002). Too many notes? Virtual recording of artifacts provenance. In: Niccolucci, F. (Ed.). Virtual Archaeology: Proceedings of the VAST Euroconference, Arezzo 24–25 November 2000. BAR International Series 1075, Archaeopress, Oxford, pp. 41–44.

Royer, A., Discamps, E., Plutniak, S. and Thomas, M. (2023). SEAHORS: Spatial Exploration of ArcHaeological Objects in R Shiny Zenodo, 7957154, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Archaeology.

Yeshurun, R. (2022). Intra-site analysis of repeatedly occupied camps: Sacrificing “resolution” to get the story. In: Clark A.E., Gingerich J.A.M. (Eds.). Intrasite Spatial Analysis of Mobile and Semisedentary Peoples: Analytical Approaches to Reconstructing Occupation History. University of Utah Press, pp. 27–35. 


SEAHORS: Spatial Exploration of ArcHaeological Objects in R ShinyROYER, Aurélien, DISCAMPS, Emmanuel, PLUTNIAK, Sébastien, THOMAS, Marc<p>This paper presents SEAHORS, an R shiny application available as an R package, dedicated to the intra-site spatial analysis of piece-plotted archaeological remains. This open-source script generates 2D and 3D scatter and density plots for archa...Computational archaeology, Spatial analysis, Theoretical archaeologyReuven Yeshurun2023-02-24 16:01:44 View
01 Dec 2021
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A closer look at an eroded dune landscape: first functional insights into the Federmessergruppen site of Lommel-Maatheide

Potential of a large-scale functional analysis to reconstructing past human activities at the Final Palaeolithic site of Lommel-Maatheide

Recommended by and based on reviews by Gabriele Luigi Francesco Berruti and Ana Abrunhosa

The paper “A closer look at an eroded dune landscape: first functional insights into the Federmessergruppen site of Lommel-Maatheide” [1] focuses on the final Palaeolithic (Federmesser) site of Lommel-Maatheide. Federmesser sites from northern Belgium such as Lommel-Maatheide, Meer and Rekem, show evidence for dense human occupation of specific areas located on top of Tardiglacial dunes nearby water bodies [2]. Preserved spatial distribution of finds at the sites suggest different activity areas and the presence of habitat structures [2]. However, because of the low organic preservation at the sites, functional analyses of lithic assemblages have the potential to significantly contribute to the spatial organisation of activities at these sites. This study by Tomasso et al. [1], represents an excellent example of a large-scale integrated approach to the study of lithic industries. The article undoubtedly demonstrates the potential of the proposed methodology and the reliability of the results obtained.

The article explores two different aspects (linked and excellently interconnected here): the possibility to apply use wear, residue and fracture analyses, on lithic assemblages affected by taphonomical alterations and to study lithic assemblages from dune landscapes. 

The study allows to answer differentiated questions: what is the influence of taphonomical alterations on use wear analysis? How do excavation methods impact the formation of use wear and the preservation of residues? Can we recognize distinct domestic activities? The article also provides an interesting hypothesis about hunting activities and propulsion methods.

The applied methodology is effectively interdisciplinary and innovative. It demonstrates how a truly integrated and articulated approach can represent the turning point for going beyond a mainly descriptive dimension to move towards a real understanding of the sites.

Studies dedicated to the analysis of the propulsion mode are not very frequent, but they are surely very important to better understand human behaviour [3]. Here, the methodology developed for the evaluation of the propulsion mode represent an important starting point for the definition of a new approach. Morphological and morphometrical analysis are integrated to the evaluation of the mechanical stress, to fracture delineations and to the hafting system (the latter defined on experimental basis).

This article therefore underlines the potential of combining different approaches to functional analysis associated with a ‘tailored’ reference collection and applying them to a high number of artefacts for reconstructing past human activities involving materials that are otherwise not preserved in these contexts. 

[1] Tomasso, S., Cnuts, D., Coppe, J., Geerts, F., Gils, M.V., Bie, M.D., Rots, V. (2021). A closer look at an eroded dune landscape: first functional insights into the Federmessergruppen site of Lommel-Maatheide., ver 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Archaeology.

[2] De Bie, M., Van Gils, M. (2006). Les habitats des groupes à Federmesser (aziliens) dans le Nord de la Belgique. Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, 103, 781–790.

[3] Coppe, J., Lepers, C., Clarenne, V., Delaunois, E., Pirlot, M. and Rots V. (2019). Ballistic Study Tackles Kinetic Energy Values of Palaeolithic Weaponry. Archaeometry, (61)4, 933-956.

A closer look at an eroded dune landscape: first functional insights into the Federmessergruppen site of Lommel-Maatheide Sonja Tomasso, Dries Cnuts, Justin Coppe, Marijn Van Gils, Ferdi Geerts, Marc De Bie, Veerle Rots<p>The vast Federmessergruppen site of Lommel-Maatheide, which is located in the Campine region (Northern Belgium), revealed the presence of numerous Final Palaeolithic concentrations situated on a large Late Glacial sand ridge on the northern edg...Environmental archaeology, Landscape archaeology, Lithic technology, Traceology, Upper PalaeolithicMarta Arzarello2021-09-14 17:04:38 View
01 Dec 2022
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Surface texture analysis in Toothfrax and MountainsMap® SSFA module: Different software packages, different results?

An important comparison of software for Scale Sensitive Fractal Analysis : are ancient and new results compatible?

Recommended by and based on reviews by Antony Borel and 2 anonymous reviewers

The community of archaeologists, bioanthropologist and paleontologists relying on tools use-wear and dental microwear has grown in the recent years, mainly driven by the spread of confocal microscopes in the laboratories. If the diversity of microscopes is quite high, the main software used for 3D surface texture data analysis are mostly different versions of the same Mountains Map core. In addition to this software, since the beginning of 3D surface texture analysis in dental microwear, surface sensitive fractal analysis (SSFA) initially developed for industrial research (Brown & Savary, 1991) have been performed in our disciplines with the Sfrax/Toothfrax software for two decades (Ungar et al., 2003). This software being discontinued, these calculations have been integrated to the new versions of Mountains Map, with multi-core computing, full integration in the software and an update of the calculation itself.

New research based on these standard parameters of surface texture analysis will be, from now on, mainly calculated with this new add-on of Mountains Map, and will be directly compared with the important literature based on the previous software. The question addressed by Calandra et al. (2022), gathering several prominent researchers in this domain including the Mountains Map developer F. Blateyron, is key for the future research: can we directly compare SSFA results from both software?

Thanks to a Bayesian approach to this question, and comparing results calculated with both software on three different datasets (two on dental microwear, one on lithic raw materials), the authors show that the two software gives statistically different results for all surface texture parameters tested in the paper. Nevertheless, applying the new calculation to the datasets, they also show that the results published in original studies with these datasets would have been similar. Authors also claim that in the future, researchers will need to re-calculate the fractal parameters of previously published 3D surfaces and cannot simply integrate ancient and new data together.

We also want to emphasize the openness of the work published here. All datasets have been published online and will be probably very useful for future methodological works. Authors also published their code for statistical comparison of datasets, and proposed a fully reproducible article that allowed the reviewers to check the content of the paper, which can also make this article of high interest for student training.

This article is therefore a very important methodological work for the community, as noted by all three reviewers. It will certainly support the current transition between the two software packages and it is necessary that all surface texture specialists take these results and the recommendation of authors into account: calculate again data from ancient measurements, and share the 3D surface measurements on open access repositories to secure their access in the future.


Brown CA, and Savary G (1991) Describing ground surface texture using contact profilometry and fractal analysis. Wear, 141, 211–226.

Calandra I, Bob K, Merceron G, Blateyron F, Hildebrandt A, Schulz-Kornas E, Souron A, and Winkler DE (2022) Surface texture analysis in Toothfrax and MountainsMap® SSFA module: Different software packages, different results? Zenodo, 7219877, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Archaeology.

Ungar PS, Brown CA, Bergstrom TS, and Walker A (2003) Quantification of dental microwear by tandem scanning confocal microscopy and scale-sensitive fractal analyses. Scanning: The Journal of Scanning Microscopies, 25, 185–193.

Surface texture analysis in Toothfrax and MountainsMap® SSFA module: Different software packages, different results?Ivan CALANDRA, Konstantin BOB, Gildas MERCERON, François BLATEYRON, Andreas HILDEBRANDT, Ellen SCHULZ-KORNAS, Antoine SOURON, Daniela E. WINKLER<p>The scale-sensitive fractal analysis (SSFA) of dental microwear textures is traditionally performed using the software Toothfrax. SSFA has been recently integrated to the software MountainsMap® as an optional module. Meanwhile, Toothfrax suppor...Computational archaeology, Palaeontology, TraceologyAlain QueffelecAnonymous, John Charles Willman, Antony Borel2022-07-07 09:58:50 View
20 Dec 2020
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For our world without sound. The opportunistic debitage in the Italian context: a methodological evaluation of the lithic assemblages of Pirro Nord, Cà Belvedere di Montepoggiolo, Ciota Ciara cave and Riparo Tagliente.

Investigating the opportunistic debitage – an experimental approach

Recommended by based on reviews by David Hérisson and 1 anonymous reviewer

The paper “For our world without sound. The opportunistic debitage in the Italian context: a methodological evaluation of the lithic assemblages of Pirro Nord, Cà Belvedere di Montepoggiolo, Ciota Ciara cave and Riparo Tagliente” [1] submitted by M. Carpentieri and M. Arzarello is a welcome addition to a growing number of studies focusing on flaking methods showing little to no core preparation, e.g., [2–4]. These flaking methods are often overlooked or seen as ‘simple’, which, in a Middle Palaeolithic context, sometimes leads to a dichotomy of Levallois vs. non-Levallois debitage (e.g., see discussion in [2]).

The authors address this topic by first providing a definition for ‘opportunistic debitage’, derived from the definition of the ‘Alternating Surfaces Debitage System’ (SSDA, [5]). At the core of the definition is the adaptation to the characteristics (e.g., natural convexities and quality) of the raw material. This is one main challenge in studying this type of debitage in a consistent way, as the opportunistic debitage leads to a wide range of core and flake morphologies, which have sometimes been interpreted as resulting from different technical behaviours, but which the authors argue are part of a same ‘methodological substratum’ [1].

This article aims to further characterise the ‘opportunistic debitage’. The study relies on four archaeological assemblages from Italy, ranging from the Lower to the Upper Pleistocene, in which the opportunistic debitage has been recognised. Based on the characteristics associated with the occurrence of the opportunistic debitage in these assemblages, an experimental replication of the opportunistic debitage using the same raw materials found at these sites was conducted, with the aim to gain new insights into the method. Results show that experimental flakes and cores are comparable to the ones identified as resulting from the opportunistic debitage in the archaeological assemblage, and further highlight the high versatility of the opportunistic method.

One outcome of the experimental replication is that a higher flake productivity is noted in the opportunistic centripetal debitage, along with the occurrence of 'predetermined-like' products (such as déjeté points). This brings the authors to formulate the hypothesis that the opportunistic debitage may have had a role in the process that will eventually lead to the development of Levallois and Discoid technologies. How this articulates with for example current discussions on the origins of Levallois technologies (e.g., [6–8]) is an interesting research avenue. This study also touches upon the question of how the implementation of one knapping method may be influenced by the broader technological knowledge of the knapper(s) (e.g., in a context where Levallois methods were common vs a context where they were not). It makes the case for a renewed attention in lithic studies for flaking methods usually considered as less behaviourally significant.

[1] Carpentieri M, Arzarello M. 2020. For our world without sound. The opportunistic debitage in the Italian context: a methodological evaluation of the lithic assemblages of Pirro Nord, Cà Belvedere di Montepoggiolo, Ciota Ciara cave and Riparo Tagliente. OSF Preprints, doi:10.31219/

[2] Bourguignon L, Delagnes A, Meignen L. 2005. Systèmes de production lithique, gestion des outillages et territoires au Paléolithique moyen : où se trouve la complexité ? Editions APDCA, Antibes, pp. 75–86. Available:

[3] Arzarello M, De Weyer L, Peretto C. 2016. The first European peopling and the Italian case: Peculiarities and “opportunism.” Quaternary International, 393: 41–50. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.11.005

[4] Vaquero M, Romagnoli F. 2018. Searching for Lazy People: the Significance of Expedient Behavior in the Interpretation of Paleolithic Assemblages. J Archaeol Method Theory, 25: 334–367. doi:10.1007/s10816-017-9339-x

[5] Forestier H. 1993. Le Clactonien : mise en application d’une nouvelle méthode de débitage s’inscrivant dans la variabilité des systèmes de production lithique du Paléolithique ancien. Paléo, 5: 53–82. doi:10.3406/pal.1993.1104

[6] Moncel M-H, Ashton N, Arzarello M, Fontana F, Lamotte A, Scott B, et al. 2020. Early Levallois core technology between Marine Isotope Stage 12 and 9 in Western Europe. Journal of Human Evolution, 139: 102735. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2019.102735

[7] White M, Ashton N, Scott B. 2010. The emergence, diversity and significance of the Mode 3 (prepared core) technologies. Elsevier. In: Ashton N, Lewis SG, Stringer CB, editors. The ancient human occupation of Britain. Elsevier. Amsterdam, pp. 53–66.

[8] White M, Ashton N. 2003. Lower Palaeolithic Core Technology and the Origins of the Levallois Method in North‐Western Europe. Current Anthropology, 44: 598–609. doi:10.1086/377653

For our world without sound. The opportunistic debitage in the Italian context: a methodological evaluation of the lithic assemblages of Pirro Nord, Cà Belvedere di Montepoggiolo, Ciota Ciara cave and Riparo Tagliente.Marco Carpentieri, Marta Arzarello<p>The opportunistic debitage, originally adapted from Forestier’s S.S.D.A. definition, is characterized by a strong adaptability to local raw material morphology and its physical characteristics and it is oriented towards flake production. Its mo...Ancient Palaeolithic, Lithic technology, Middle PalaeolithicAlice Leplongeon2020-07-23 14:26:04 View
02 Nov 2020
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Probabilistic Modelling using Monte Carlo Simulation for Incorporating Uncertainty in Least Cost Path Results: a Roman Road Case Study

A probabilistic method for Least Cost Path calculation.

Recommended by based on reviews by Georges Abou Diwan and 1 anonymous reviewer

The paper entitled “Probabilistic Modelling using Monte Carlo Simulation for Incorporating Uncertainty in Least Cost Path Results: a Roman Road Case Study” [1] submitted by J. Lewis presents an innovative approach to applying Least Cost Path (LCP) analysis to incorporate uncertainty of the Digital Elevation Model used as the topographic surface on which the path is calculated.

The proposition of using Monte Carlo simulations to produce numerous LCP, each with a slightly different DEM included in the error range of the model, allows one to strengthen the method by proposing a probabilistic LCP rather than a single and arbitrary one which does not take into account the uncertainty of the topographic reconstruction. This new method is integrated in the R package leastcostpath [2].

The author tests the method using a Roman road built along a ridge in Cumbria, England. The integration of the uncertainty of the DEM, thanks to Monte Carlo simulations, shows that two paths could have the same probability to be the real LCP. One of them is indeed the path that the Roman road took. In particular, it is one of two possibilities of LCP in the south to north direction.

This new probabilistic method therefore strengthens the reconstruction of past pathways, while also allowing new hypotheses to be tested, and, in this case study, to suggest that the northern part of the Roman road’s location was selected to help the northward movements.

[1] Lewis, J., 2020. Probabilistic Modelling using Monte Carlo Simulation for Incorporating Uncertainty in Least Cost Path Results: a Roman Road Case Study. SocArXiv, mxas2, ver 17 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Archaeology, 10.31235/

[2] Lewis, J., 2020. leastcostpath: Modelling Pathways and Movement Potential Within a Landscape. R package. Version 1.7.4.

Probabilistic Modelling using Monte Carlo Simulation for Incorporating Uncertainty in Least Cost Path Results: a Roman Road Case StudyJoseph Lewis<p>The movement of past peoples in the landscape has been studied extensively through the use of Least Cost Path (LCP) analysis. Although methodological issues of applying LCP analysis in Archaeology have frequently been discussed, the effect of v...Spatial analysisOtis Crandell Adam Green, Georges Abou Diwan2020-08-05 12:10:46 View
20 Jun 2020
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Investigating relationships between technological variability and ecology in the Middle Gravettian (ca. 32-28 ka cal. BP) in France.

Understanding Palaeolithic adaptations through niche modelling - the case of the French Middle Gravettian

Recommended by based on reviews by Andreas Maier and João Marreiros

The paper entitled “Investigating relationships between technological variability and ecology in the Middle Gravettian (ca. 32-28 ky cal. BP) in France” [1] submitted by A. Vignoles and colleagues offers a robust and interesting new analysis of the niche differences between the Rayssian and Noaillian facies of the Middle Gravettian in France.

Understanding technological variability in the Palaeolithic is a long-standing challenge. Previous debates have vacillated between strong, quasi-ethnic culture-historical interpretations rooted in the traditional European school and extreme functional stances that would see artefact forms and their frequencies with assemblages conditioned by site function. While both positions have their merits, many empirical and conceptual caveats haunt them equally [see 2]. In this new study Vignoles and colleagues, so-called eco-cultural niche modelling is applied in an attempt to explore whether, and if so, which environmental background factors may have conditioned the emergence and persistence of two sub-cultural categories (facies) within the Middle Gravettian: the Rayssian and the Noaillian. These are are defined through, respectively, a specific knapping method and the presence of a specific burin type, and the occurrence of these seems divided by the Garonne River. Eco-cultural niche modelling has emerged as an archaeological application of distribution models widely employed in ecology, including palaeoecology, to understand organismal niche envelopes [3]. They constitute powerful tools for using the spatial and chronological information inherent in the archaeological record to up-scale interpretations of human-environment relations beyond individual site stratigraphies or dating series. Another important feature of such models is that their performance can, as Vignoles et al. also show, be formally evaluated and replicated. Following on from earlier applications of such techniques [e.g. 4], the authors here present an interesting study that uses very specific archaeological indicators – namely the Raysse method and the Noaillian burin – as defining features for the units (communities, traditions) whose adaptations they investigate. While broad tool types have previously been used as cultural taxonomic indicators in niche modelling studies [5], the present study is ambitious in its attempt to understand variability at a relatively small spatial scale. This mirrors equally interesting attempts of doing so in later prehistoric contexts [6].

Applications of niche modelling that use analytical units defined through archaeological characteristics (technology, typology) are opening up exciting new opportunities for pinning down precisely which environmental or climatic features these cultural components reference, if any. The study by Vignoles et al. makes a good case. At the same time, this approach also acutely raises questions of cultural taxonomy, of how we define our units of analysis and what they might mean [7]. It remains unclear to whether we can define such units on the basis of very different technological traits if the aim is to then use them as taxonomically equivalent in subsequent analyses. There is also a risk that these facies become reified as traditions of sub-cultures – then often further equated with specific people – through an overly normative view of their constituent technological elements. In addition, studies of adaptation in principle need to be conscious of the so-called ‘Galton’s Problem’, where the historical relatedness of the analytical units in question need to be taken into account in seeking salient correlations between cultural and environmental features [8]. In pushing forward eco-cultural niche modelling, the study by Vignoles et al. thus takes us some way forward in understanding the potentially adaptive variability within the Gravettian; future work should consider more strongly the specific historical relatedness amongst the cultural taxa under study and follow more theory-driven definition thereof. Such definition would also allow the post-analysis interpretations of eco-cultural niche modelling to be more explicit. Without doubt, the Gravettian as a whole – including, for instance, phenomena such as the Maisierian [9] – would benefit from additional and extended applications of this method. Similarly, other periods of the Palaeolithic also characterized by such variability (e.g. the Magdalenian and Final Palaeolithic) offer additional cases moving forward.


[1] Vignoles, A. et al. (2020). Investigating relationships between technological variability and ecology in 1 the Middle Gravettian (ca. 32-28 ky cal. BP) in France. PCI Archaeology. 10.31219/

[2] Dibble, H.L., Holdaway, S.J., Lin, S.C., Braun, D.R., Douglass, M.J., Iovita, R., McPherron, S.P., Olszewski, D.I., Sandgathe, D., 2017. Major Fallacies Surrounding Stone Artifacts and Assemblages. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 24, 813–851. 10.1007/s10816-016-9297-8

[3] Svenning, J.-C., Fløjgaard, C., Marske, K.A., Nógues-Bravo, D., Normand, S., 2011. Applications of species distribution modeling to paleobiology. Quaternary Science Reviews 30, 2930–2947. 10.1016/j.quascirev.2011.06.012

[4] Banks, W.E., d’Errico, F., Dibble, H.L., Krishtalka, L., West, D., Olszewski, D.I., Townsend Petersen, A., Anderson, D.G., Gillam, J.C., Montet-White, A., Crucifix, M., Marean, C.W., Sánchez-Goñi, M.F., Wolfarth, B., Vanhaeren, M., 2006. Eco-Cultural Niche Modeling: New Tools for Reconstructing the Geography and Ecology of Past Human Populations. PaleoAnthropology 2006, 68–83.

[5] Banks, W.E., Zilhão, J., d’Errico, F., Kageyama, M., Sima, A., Ronchitelli, A., 2009. Investigating links between ecology and bifacial tool types in Western Europe during the Last Glacial Maximum. Journal of Archaeological Science 36, 2853–2867. 10.1016/j.jas.2009.09.014

[6] Whitford, B.R., 2019. Characterizing the cultural evolutionary process from eco-cultural niche models: niche construction during the Neolithic of the Struma River Valley (c. 6200–4900 BC). Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 11, 2181–2200. 10.1007/s12520-018-0667-x

[7] Reynolds, N., Riede, F., 2019. House of cards: cultural taxonomy and the study of the European Upper Palaeolithic. Antiquity 93, 1350–1358. 10.15184/aqy.2019.49

[8] Mace, R., Pagel, M.D., 1994. The Comparative Method in Anthropology. Current Anthropology 35, 549–564. 10.1086/204317

[9] Pesesse, D., 2017. Is it still appropriate to talk about the Gravettian? Data from lithic industries in Western Europe. Quartär 64, 107–128. 10.7485/QU64_5

Investigating relationships between technological variability and ecology in the Middle Gravettian (ca. 32-28 ka cal. BP) in France.Anaïs Vignoles, William E. Banks, Laurent Klaric, Masa Kageyama, Marlon E. Cobos, Daniel Romero-Alvarez<p>The French Middle Gravettian represents an interesting case study for attempting to identify mechanisms behind the typo-technological variability observed in the archaeological record. Associated with the relatively cold and dry environments of...Europe, Lithic technology, Paleoenvironment, Peopling, Upper PalaeolithicFelix Riede2020-03-23 12:16:20 View
16 May 2022
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Wood technology: a Glossary and Code for analysis of archaeological wood from stone tool cultures

Open glossary for wood technologies

Recommended by based on reviews by Paloma Vidal-Matutano, Oriol López-Bultó, Eva Francesca Martellotta and Laura Caruso Fermé

Wood is a widely available and versatile material, so it is not surprising that it has been a key resource throughout human history. However, it is more vulnerable to decomposition than other materials, and its direct use is only rarely recorded in prehistoric sites. Despite this, there are exceptions (e.g., [1-5] [6] and references therein), and indirect evidence of its use has been attested through use-wear analyses, residue analyses (e.g., [7]) and imprints on the ground (e.g., [8]). One interesting finding of note is that the technology required to make, for example, wooden spears was quite complex [9], leading some authors to propose that this type of tool production represented a cognitive leap for Pleistocene hominids [10]. Other researchers, however, have proposed that the production process for wooden tools could have been much easier than is currently thought [11]. Be that as it may, in recent years researchers have begun to approach wood remains systematically, developing analyses of natural and anthropogenic damage, often with the help of experimental reference samples.

In this work, the authors elaborate a comprehensive glossary as a first step towards the understanding of the use of wood for technological purposes in different times and places, as there is still a general gap in the established nomenclature. Thus, this glossary is a synthesis and standardisation of analytical terms for early wood technologies that includes clear definitions and descriptions of traces from stone tool-using cultures, to avoid confusion in ongoing and future studies of wood tools. For this, the authors have carried out a detailed search of the current literature to select appropriate terms associated with additional readings that provide a wide, state-of-the-art description of the field of wood technology.

An interesting point is that the glossary has been organised within a chaîne opératoire framework divided into categories including general terms and natural traces, and then complemented by an appendix of images. It is important to define the natural traces –understanding these as alterations caused by natural processes–because they can mask those modifications produced by other agents affecting both unmodified and modified wood before, during or after its human use.

In short, the work carried out by Milks et al. [6] is an excellent and complete assessment and vital to the technological approach to wooden artifacts from archaeological contexts and establishing a common point for a standardised nomenclature. One of its particular strengths is that the glossary is a preprint that will remain open during the coming years, so that other researchers can continue to make suggestions and refinements to improve the definitions, terms and citations within it.

[1] Oakley, K., Andrews, P., Keeley, L., Clark, J. (1977). A reappraisal of the Clacton spearpoint. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 43, 13-30.

[2] Thieme, H. (1997). Lower Palaeolithic hunting spears from Germany. Nature 385, 807-810.

[3] Schoch, W.H., Bigga, G., Böhner, U., Richter, P., Terberger, T. (2015). New insights on the wooden weapons from the Paleolithic site of Schöningen. Journal of Human Evolution 89, 214-225.

[4] Aranguren, B., Revedin, A., Amico, N., Cavulli, F., Giachi, G., Grimaldi, S. et al. (2018). Wooden tools and fire technology in the early Neanderthal site of Poggetti Vecchi (Italy). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 115, 2054-2059.

[5] Rios-Garaizar, J., López-Bultó, O., Iriarte, E., Pérez-Garrido, C., Piqué, R., Aranburu, A., et al. (2018). A Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from Aranbaltza III, Spain. PLoS ONE 13(3): e0195044.

[6] Milks, A. G., Lehmann, J., Böhner, U., Leder, D., Koddenberg, T., Sietz, M., Vogel, M., Terberger, T. (2022). Wood technology: a Glossary and Code for analysis of archaeological wood from stone tool cultures. Peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Archaeology

[7] Nugent, S. (2006). Applying use-wear and residue analyses to digging sticks. Mem Qld Mus Cult Herit Ser 4, 89-105.

[8] Allué, E., Cabanes, D., Solé, A., Sala, R. (2012). Hearth Functioning and Forest Resource Exploitation Based on the Archeobotanical Assemblage from Level J, in: i Roura E. (Ed.), High Resolution Archaeology and Neanderthal Behavior: Time and Space in Level J of Abric Romaní (Capellades, Spain). Springer Netherlands, Dordrecht, pp. 373-385.

[9] Ennos, A.R., Chan, T.L. (2016). "Fire hardening" spear wood does slightly harden it, but makes it much weaker and more brittle. Biology Letters 12.

[10] Haidle, M.N. (2009). How to think a simple spear?, in: de Beaune S.A., Coolidge F.L., Wynn T. (Eds.), Cognitive Archaeology and Human Evolution. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 57-73.

[11] Garofoli, D. (2015). A Radical Embodied Approach to Lower Palaeolithic Spear-making. Journal of Mind and Behavior 36, 1-26.

Wood technology: a Glossary and Code for analysis of archaeological wood from stone tool culturesAnnemieke Milks, Jens Lehmann, Utz Böhner, Dirk Leder, Tim Koddenberg, Michael Sietz, Matthias Vogel, Thomas Terberger<p>The analysis of wood technologies created by stone tool-using cultures remains underdeveloped relative to the study of lithic and bone technologies. In recent years archaeologists have begun to approach wood assemblages systematically, developi...Ancient Palaeolithic, Archaeobotany, Mesolithic, Middle Palaeolithic, Neolithic, Raw materials, Taphonomy, Traceology, Upper PalaeolithicRuth Blasco2021-12-01 12:18:53 View
11 Jan 2022
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Tektite geoarchaeology in mainland Southeast Asia

Tektites as chronological markers: after careful geoarchaeological validation only!

Recommended by and based on reviews by Sheila Mishra, Toshihiro Tada, Mike Morley and 1 anonymous reviewer

Tektites, a naturally occurring glass produced by major cosmic impacts and ejected at long distances, are known from five impacts worldwide [1]. The presence of this impact-generated glass, which can be dated in the same way as a volcanic rock, has been used to date archaeological sites in several regions of the world. This paper by Marwick and colleagues [2] reviews and adds new data on the use and misuse of this specific material as a chronological marker in Australia, East and Southeast Asia, where an impact dated to 0.78 Ma created and widely distributed tektites. This material, found in archaeological excavations in China, Laos, Thaïland, Australia, Borneo, and Vietnam, has been used to date layers containing lithic artifacts, sometimes creating a strong debate about the antiquity of the occupation and lithic production in certain regions.

The review of existing data shows that geomorphological data and stratigraphic integrity can be questioned at many sites that have yielded tektites. The new data provided by this paper for five archaeological sites located in Vietnam confirm that many deposits containing tektites are indeed lag deposits and that these artifacts, thus in secondary position, cannot be considered to date the layer. This study also emphasizes the general lack of other dating methods that would allow comparison with the tektite age. In the Vietnamese archaeological sites presented here, discrepancies between methods, and the presence of historical artifacts, confirm that the layers do not share similar age with the cosmic impact that created the tektites.

Based on this review and these new results, and following previous propositions [3], Marwick and colleagues conclude that, if tektites can be used as chronological markers, one has to prove that they are in situ. They propose that geomorphological assessment of the archaeological layer as primary deposit must first be attained, in addition to several parameters of the tektites themselves (shape, size distribution, chemical composition). Large error can be made by using only tektites to date an archaeological layer, and this material should not be used solely due to risks of high overestimation of the age of the archaeological production. 

[1] Rochette, P., Beck, P., Bizzarro, M., Braucher, R., Cornec, J., Debaille, V., Devouard, B., Gattacceca, J., Jourdan, F., Moustard, F., Moynier, F., Nomade, S., Reynard, B. (2021). Impact glasses from Belize represent tektites from the Pleistocene Pantasma impact crater in Nicaragua. Communications Earth & Environment, 2(1), 1–8,

[2] Marwick, B., Son, P. T., Brewer, R., Wang, L.-Y. (2022). Tektite geoarchaeology in mainland Southeast Asia. SocArXiv, 93fpa, ver. 6 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Archaeology,

[3] Tada, T., Tada, R., Chansom, P., Songtham, W., Carling, P. A., Tajika, E. (2020). In Situ Occurrence of Muong Nong-Type Australasian Tektite Fragments from the Quaternary Deposits near Huai Om, Northeastern Thailand. Progress in Earth and Planetary Science 7(1), 1–15,

Tektite geoarchaeology in mainland Southeast AsiaBen Marwick, Son Thanh Pham, Rachel Brewer, Li-Ying Wang<p>Tektites formed by an extraterrestrial impact event in Southeast Asia at 0.78 Ma have been found in geological contexts and archaeological sites throughout Australia, East and Southeast Asia. At some archaeological sites, especially in Bose Bas...Asia, GeoarchaeologyAlain Queffelec2021-08-14 18:04:18 View
14 Nov 2022
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Raphana of the Decapolis and its successor Arpha - The search for an eminent Greco-Roman City

Cross-comparison of classical sources, explorer and scientific reports and maps in the search of an ancient city: The example of Raphana of the Decapolis

Recommended by based on reviews by Rocco Palermo and Francesca Mazzilli

Establishing the precise location of ancient cities constitutes a challenging task that requires the implementation of multi-disciplinary approaches. In his manuscript entitled “Raphana of the Decapolis and its successor Arpha: The search of an eminent Greco-Roman city”, Kleb (2022) proposes a convincing argument building on in-depth research of classical literary sources, literature review of explorer accounts and scientific publications from the 19th and 20th century as well as analysis of old and new maps, aerial photographs, and satellite images. This research report clearly emphasizes the importance of undertaking systematic interdisciplinary work on the topic to mitigate the uncertainties associated with the identification of Raphana, the Decapolis city first mentioned by Pliny the Elder.

The Decapolis refers to a group of ten cities of Hellenistic traditions located on the eastern borders of the Roman Empire. This group of cities plays an important role in research that aims to contextualize the Judaean and Galilean history and to investigate urban centers in which different local and Greco-Roman influences met (Lichtenberger, 2021). While the location of most of the Decapolis cities is known and is (or was) subjected to systematic archaeological investigations (e.g., Eisenberg and Kowalewska, 2022; Makhadmeh et al., 2020; Shiyab et al., 2019), the location of others remain speculative. This is the case of Raphana for which the precise location remains difficult to establish owing in part to numerous name changes, limited information on the city structure, architecture, and size, etc.

The research presented by Kleb (2022) has some merits, which is emphasized here, although the report is presented in an unusual format compared to traditional scientific articles, i.e., introduction, research background, methodology, results, and discussion. First, the extensive review of classical works allows the reader to gain a historical perspective on the change of names from Raepta/Raphana to Arpha/Arefa. The author argues these different names likely refer to a single location. Second, the author combs through an impressive literature from the 19th and 20th century and emphasize how some assumptions by explorers who visited the region were introduced in the scientific literature and remained unchallenged. Finally, the author gathers a remarkable quantity of old and new maps of the Golan, el-Ledja and Hauran regions and compare them with multiple lines of evidence to hypothesize that the location of Raphana may lie near Ar-Rafi’ah, also known as Bir Qassab, in the Ard el Fanah plain, a conclusion that now requires to be tested through fieldwork investigations.


Kleb, J. (2022) Raphana of the Decapolis and its successor Arpha - The search for an eminent Greco-Roman City. Figshare, 20550021, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Archaeology.

Eisenberg, M. and Kowalewska, A. (2022). Funerary podia of Hippos of the Decapolis and the phenomenon in the Roman world. J. Roman Archaeol. 35, 107–138.

Lichtenberger, A. (2021). The Decapolis, in: A Companion to the Hellenistic and Roman Near East. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, pp. 213–222.

Makhadmeh, A., Al-Badarneh, M., Rawashdeh, A. and Al-Shorman, A. (2020). Evaluating the carrying capacity at the archaeological site of Jerash (Gerasa) using mathematical GIS modeling. Egypt. J. Remote Sens. Space Sci. 23, 159–165.

Shiyab, A., Al-Shorman, A., Turshan, N., Tarboush, M., Alawneh, F. and Rahabneh, A. (2019). Investigation of late Roman pottery from Gadara of the Decapolis, Jordan using multi-methodic approach. J. Archaeol. Sci. Rep. 25, 100–115.

Raphana of the Decapolis and its successor Arpha - The search for an eminent Greco-Roman CityJens Kleb<p style="text-align: justify;">This research paper presents a detailed analysis of ancient literature and archaeological and geographical research until the present day for an important ancient location in the southern part of Syria. This one had...Landscape archaeology, Mediterranean, Spatial analysis, Theoretical archaeologyLuc Doyon2021-12-30 13:54:32 View