Towards an Understanding of Hafting: The Macro- and Microscopic Evidence

By Rots, Veerle | Antiquity, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Towards an Understanding of Hafting: The Macro- and Microscopic Evidence


Rots, Veerle, Antiquity


Introduction

The study of grasping, gripping or handling is the key to understanding how stone tools were used. But the hand itself leaves few traces, and hafts made of organic material rarely survive. This necessitates a search for other means to assess hafting, and wear-traces form its most likely indicator. Practically no hafting experiments have ever been undertaken on a systematic basis, but the friction between a tool and its haft may lead to detectable patterns of wear (e.g. Odell 1980, 1981). The frequent observation of traces away from the active edge (e.g. Keeley 1980; Anderson-Gerfaud 1981) and the interpretation of experimental hafting traces as traces of use in blind tests (e.g. Unrath et al. 1986) confirm that this assumption is not mere speculation. Thus, the problem is not situated on the level of hafting trace formation, but on the level of their interpretation. Most analysts did not know how to interpret hafting traces since they did not know what to look for and what the importance of a particular observation was.

Impact of halting on a tool's life cycle

A haft increases the force that may be exerted during work and it enhances the efficiency or precision of the work. It allows the production of composite tools with sizes and shapes of cutting edges unobtainable with hand-held implements. For some tools, hafting is a prerequisite for use (e.g. projectiles). Hafting can have an impact at several stages during the life cycle of a tool. Schiffer (1972) distinguished five processes: procurement, manufacture, use, maintenance, and discard, to which Gould (1978: 823) added hafting. Based on Gould's case-specific flow model, we can discuss our own, more comprehensive model for halted stone tools (Figure 1). We largely focus on the impact of a haft, as the life cycle of stone tools has been frequently discussed elsewhere (e.g. Schiffer 1972; Gould 1978).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

In the procurement stage, tool hafting implies the availability of organic material suitable for producing hafts and other hafting materials that may be required to fix the tool in or onto a haft. Hafting thus places more demands on the procurement stage, since more materials are needed. Once identified, these data can be confronted with ecological data of a specific period and place, and with specialised knowledge related to material qualities.

The manufacture of a haft--in contrast to stone tools (except for ground stone tools)--demands a high time and energy investment (e.g. Petrequin & Petrequin 1993). The fact that this investment is made signifies that a haft is considered to hold major advantages on the level of use. For some functions (e.g. projectiles), it is of course a necessity. The production costs of a Haft--measured in time and energy invested--depend on the raw material and haft type chosen. Long bones for instance, can readily be transformed into a haft for tanged tools, thanks to the presence of a hole, while wood can easily be worked into a juxtaposed haft (i.e. the stone tool is mounted next to the handle and fixed with e.g. bindings). Hafting research allows an investigation of the relation between haft type and raw material used, as well as whether specific raw materials were preferred above others even though they demanded higher production costs. Furthermore, the manufacturing process of a stone tool might be influenced by the intention to haft it, implying an adaptation of tool morphology--its design--in order to fit a certain haft. As Keeley (1982: 801) states, hafted tools may be smaller, thinner, narrower and more extensively retouched than their hand-held counterparts, making it easier to assign them to "classic" morpho-typological categories. They are also more likely to show special features, such as tangs, notches, etc. It was often suggested that tool standardisation may be linked to hafting (e.g. Chase 1991), but this is far more difficult to establish without the aid of sound macro- or microscopic evidence.

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