Learning by Doing: Investigating Skill Through Techno-Functional Study of Recycled Lithic Items from Qesem Cave (Israel)

Ella Assaf*, Stella Nunziante-Cesaro, Avi Gopher, Flavia Venditti*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In this study, we discuss learning aspects related to the production of prehistoric stone tools and their use as a holistic process, with a case study from the late Lower Paleolithic Levant—recycled items from the site of Qesem Cave (420–200,000 bp), Israel. Qesem Cave is a central and well-studied Acheuleo-Yabrudian site. Among the set of distinct behaviors documented in this site, the use of small flakes systematically produced from old-discarded flakes (i.e., lithic recycling) stands out. We will present an exploratory techno-functional study of the recycled items from the Amudian context of the southern area of the cave. Previous observations highlighted some unique features characterizing the lithic assemblages of this area, including the possibility that inexperienced knappers in the process of learning had been practicing there. The results of new functional and residue analyses of lithic recycling products in the same area indicate the prevalence of cutting activities performed on soft and soft-medium animal and vegetal resources by recycled items. On this group of tools, microwear diverged from traces recorded from the study of the same categories of implements in other parts of the cave. We discuss the possibility that in the southern area, activities involving inexperienced individuals practicing both the knapping of recycled items and their use were carried out, in the framework of the learning process. The techno-functional approach presented here may serve as an additional means of identifying less skilled individuals, as well as learning and knowledge transmission processes in the prehistoric lithic record.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-102
Number of pages39
JournalJournal of Archaeological Method and Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2023


FundersFunder number
Wenner-Gren Foundation
Leakey Foundation
Deutsche ForschungsgemeinschaftUT 41/4-1
German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development
Dan David Prize
Israel Science Foundation
Ministero degli Affari Esteri e della Cooperazione Internazionale


    • Learning
    • Lithic recycling
    • Lower Paleolithic
    • Skill
    • Techno-functional analysis


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