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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
14 Sep 2020
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A way to break bones? The weight of intuitiveness

Breaking bones: Nature or Culture?

Recommended by and based on reviews by Terry O'Connor, Alan Outram and 1 anonymous reviewer

The nature of breaking long bones for obtaining marrow is important in Paleolithic archaeology, due to its widespread, almost universal, character. Provided that hammer-stone percussion marks can be correctly identified using experimental datasets (e.g., [1]), the anatomical location and count of the marks may be taken to reflect recurrent “cultural” traditions in the Paleolithic [2]. Were MP humans breaking bones intuitively or did they abide by a strict “protocol”, and, if the latter, was this protocol optimized for marrow retrieval or geared towards another, less obvious goal?
The new preprint by Vettese and colleagues [3] took a novel approach to this question, by conducting an experiment which involved novice butchers, relying on nothing but their intuition, and recording the way in which they broke marrow-rich bones. Some variability was noted in the “intuitive” patterns; indeed, future studies replicating this experiment and adding more variables such as more experienced butchers and non-bovid bones are warranted. Similarities in the means by which novice butchers break bones was also observed, and especially telling is the strong effect of anatomical features in most bones, except for the femur.

This paper provides a baseline for location analyses of percussion marks. Their dataset may therefore be regarded as a null hypothesis according to which the archaeological data could be tested. If Paleolithic patterns of percussion marks differ from Vettese et al.’s [3] “intuitive” patterns, then the null hypothesis is disproved and one can argue in favor of a learned pattern. The latter can be a result of ”culture”, as Vettese et al. [3] phrase it, in the sense of nonrandom action that draws on transmitted knowledge. Such comparisons bear a great potential for understanding the degree of technological behavior in the Paleolithic by factoring out the “natural” constraints of bone breakage patterns. Vettese et al. [3: fig. 14] started this discourse by comparing their experimental dataset to some Middle and Upper Paleolithic faunas; we are confident that many other studies will follow.


[1]Pickering, T.R., Egeland, C.P., 2006. Experimental patterns of hammerstone percussion damage on bones: Implications for inferences of carcass processing by humans. J. Archaeol. Sci. 33, 459–469.

[2]Blasco, R., Rosell, J., Domínguez-Rodrigo, M., Lozano, S., Pastó, I., Riba, D., Vaquero, M., Peris, J.F., Arsuaga, J.L., de Castro, J.M.B., Carbonell, E., 2013. Learning by Heart: Cultural Patterns in the Faunal Processing Sequence during the Middle Pleistocene. PLoS One 8, e55863.

[3]Vettese, D., Stavrova, T., Borel, A., Marin, J., Moncel, M.-H., Arzarello, M., Daujeard, C. (2020) A way to break bones? The weight of intuitiveness. BioRxiv, 011320, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Archaeology.

A way to break bones? The weight of intuitivenessDelphine Vettese, Trajanka Stavrova, Antony Borel, Juan Marin, Marie-Hélène Moncel, Marta Arzarello, Camille Daujeard<p>During the Middle Paleolithic period, bone marrow extraction was an essential source of fat nutrients for hunter-gatherers especially throughout cold and dry seasons. This is attested by the recurrent findings of percussion marks in osteologica...Archaeometry, Bioarchaeology, Spatial analysis, Taphonomy, ZooarchaeologyBeatrice Demarchi2020-04-01 11:52:05 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
19 Jun 2020
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Platforms of Palaeolithic knappers reveal complex linguistic abilities

The means of complexity in a lithic reduction sequence

Recommended by based on reviews by Antony Borel and 1 anonymous reviewer

The paper entitled “Platforms of Palaeolithic knappers reveal complex linguistic abilities” [1] submitted by C. Gaucherel and C. Noûs represents an interesting reflection about the possibilities to detect the human cognitive abilities in relation to the lithic production.

The definition and the study of human cognitive abilities during the Lower Palaeolithic it has always been a complex field of investigation. The relation between the technical skills (lithic production) and the emergence of the linguistic abilities is not easy to investigate due to the difficulty of finding objective data to refer to. The proposition, made by C. Gaucherel and C. Noûs, of a formal grammar of knapping as a method to study the syntactical organisation of the reduction sequences, constitute a new and theoretical useful approach.

In order to effectively and precisely define the gestures linked to a specific reduction sequence, for example that of the handaxes shaping, a very large number of variables should be taken into consideration (morphology and quality of the raw material, experience of the knapper, context, percussion technique, forecast of use of the handaxe, etc.). But since a simplification, that brings more elements than the classic one [2,3] is needed, the “action grammar approach” can be a good instrument to detect the common element in a shaping reduction sequence. Furthermore, one of the advantages of the proposed methodology lies in the fact that the definition of the different STs (Stone Technology) can be done according to the technological specific characteristics to be studied and to the type of instrument produced.

The deconstruction of knapping sequences could help to detect the degree of complexity of the different steps of the reduction sequences also thanks to the identification of the sub-actions types. The increasing/decreasing of complexity is a very complicate concept in lithic technology. Since at the base of the lithic production there are two basic concepts (angle between the striking platform and the debitage surface - convexity of the debitage/façonnage surface) which are simply declined in an increasingly complex way, it is not easy to define uniquely in what exactly consists the increase in complexity. The approach proposed in the paper “Platforms of Palaeolithic knappers reveal complex linguistic abilities” can help to have new evidences, according to the identification of the required cognitive abilities.

The proposed example of formal grammar still needs to be confirmed on archaeological collections, but it is probable that a practical application will allow to further develop the methodology and possibly to highlight additional possibilities of the approach.


[1] Gaucherel, C. and Noûs C. (2020). Platforms of Palaeolithic knappers reveal complex linguistic abilities. Paleorxiv, wn5za, ver. 6 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Archaeology. doi: 10.31233/
[2] Inizian, M. L., Reduron, M., Roche, H. and Tixier, J. (1995). Technologie de la pierre taillée. Préhistoire de la Pierre Taillée 4, Cercle de Recherches et d'Etudes Préhistoriques d'Antibes, Meudon.
[3] Tixier, J., Inizian, M. L. and Roche, H. (1980). Terminologie et technologie. Préhistoire de la pierre taillée 1, Cercle de Recherches et d'Etudes Préhistoriques d'Antibes, Meudon.

Platforms of Palaeolithic knappers reveal complex linguistic abilitiesCédric Gaucherel and Camille Noûs<p>Recent studies in cognitive neurosciences have postulated a possible link between manual praxis such as tool-making and human languages. If confirmed, such a link opens significant avenues towards the study of the evolution of natural languages...Africa, Ancient Palaeolithic, Lithic technology, Theoretical archaeologyMarta Arzarello2020-04-30 14:18:26 View
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 ORCID_LOGO 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