Middle Palaeolithic toolstone procurement behaviors at Lusakert Cave 1, Hrazdan valley, Armenia

Ellery Frahm, Joshua M. Feinberg, Beverly A. Schmidt-Magee, Keith N. Wilkinson, Boris Gasparyan, Benik Yeritsyan, Daniel S. Adler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Strategies employed by Middle Palaeolithic hominins to acquire lithic raw materials often play key roles in assessing their movements through the landscape, relationships with neighboring groups, and cognitive abilities. It has been argued that a dependence on local resources is a widespread characteristic of the Middle Palaeolithic, but how such behaviors were manifested on the landscape remains unclear. Does an abundance of local toolstone reflect frequent encounters with different outcrops while foraging, or was a particular outcrop favored and preferentially quarried? This study examines such behaviors at a finer geospatial scale than is usually possible, allowing us to investigate hominin movements through the landscape surrounding Lusakert Cave 1 in Armenia. Using our newly developed approach to obsidian magnetic characterization, we test a series of hypotheses regarding the locations where hominins procured toolstone from a volcanic complex adjacent to the site. Our goal is to establish whether the cave's occupants procured local obsidian from preferred outcrops or quarries, secondary deposits of obsidian nodules along a river, or a variety of exposures as encountered while moving through the river valley or across the wider volcanic landscape during the course of foraging activities. As we demonstrate here, it is not the case that one particular outcrop or deposit attracted the cave occupants during the studied time intervals. Nor did they acquire obsidian at random across the landscape. Instead, our analyses support the hypothesis that these hominins collected obsidian from outcrops and exposures throughout the adjacent river valley, reflecting the spatial scale of their day-to-day foraging activities. The coincidence of such behaviors within the resource-rich river valley suggests efficient exploitation of a diverse biome during a time interval immediately preceding the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic "transition," the nature and timing of which has yet to be determined for the region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-92
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are indebted to numerous colleagues for their contributions. We thank Pavel Avetisyan, Director of the Institute for Archaeology and Ethnography, National Academy of Sciences, Republic of Armenia, without whose continued support this research would not be possible. We recognize the generous financial support provided to Adler for the HGPP by the Norian Armenian Programs Committee ( University of Connecticut , 2008–2015), two Large Faculty Grants (University of Connecticut, 2008 and 2012), and the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation (2010, 2011). The LKT1 excavations were directed by Adler and Yeritsyan, with labor provided by undergraduates in the University of Connecticut's Field School in Armenian Prehistory, directed by Adler, and graduate students in the Old World Archaeology Program. Schmidt-Magee's research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation ( SBE-DDIG #1234125 ) and the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus . Some of the obsidian specimens were collected with Khachatur Meliksetian and Sergei Karapetian, Institute of Geological Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, Republic of Armenia. Frahm's work was supported, in part, by the University of Sheffield's Department of Archaeology; the NARNIA ( New Archaeological Research Network for Integrating Approaches to Ancient Material Studies ) Project, a Marie Curie network funded by the European Union and FP7 (Grant Agreement # 265010 ); and by the Department of Earth Sciences, Institute for Rock Magnetism, the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance's Alexander Dubcek Fund and Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota . Gilbert Tostevin offered helpful comments regarding interpretation of our results. We received invaluable help from Mike Jackson and Peter Sølheid at the Institute for Rock Magnetism. Additional research assistance was provided by Liev Frahm, and Michelle J. Muth, who was supported by the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates program ( EAR-1062775 ) and the University of Minnesota's Earth Sciences Summer Internship program. The pXRF analyzer is part of the research infrastructure of the University of Minnesota's Wilford Laboratory of North American Archaeology, directed by Katherine Hayes. A JHE editor and three anonymous reviewers provided comments that helped to us to clarify the manuscript. This is IRM contribution #1505.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd.

Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Lithic raw material procurement
  • Obsidian sourcing
  • Palaeolithic archaeology
  • Provisioning strategies
  • Rock magnetic characterization
  • Southern Caucasus


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