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Keywords:

  • extension;
  • flexion;
  • kinematics;
  • mechanical work;
  • stone tool production

Abstract

Past studies have hypothesized that aspects of hominin upper limb morphology are linked to the ability to produce stone tools. However, we lack the data on upper limb motions needed to evaluate the biomechanical context of stone tool production. This study seeks to better understand the biomechanics of stone tool-making by investigating upper limb joint kinematics, focusing on the role of the wrist joint, during simple flake production. We test the hypotheses, based on studies of other upper limb activities (e.g., throwing), that upper limb movements will occur in a proximal-to-distal sequence, culminating in rapid wrist flexion just prior to strike. Data were captured from four amateur knappers during simple flake production using a VICON motion analysis system (50 Hz). Results show that subjects utilized a proximal-to-distal joint sequence and disassociated the shoulder joint from the elbow and wrist joints, suggesting a shared strategy employed in other contexts (e.g., throwing) to increase target accuracy. The knapping strategy included moving the wrist into peak extension (subject peak grand mean = 47.3°) at the beginning of the downswing phase, which facilitated rapid wrist flexion and accelerated the hammerstone toward the nodule. This sequence resulted in the production of significantly more mechanical work, and therefore greater strike forces, than would otherwise be produced. Together these results represent a strategy for increasing knapping efficiency in Homo sapiens and point to aspects of skeletal anatomy that might be examined to assess potential knapping ability and efficiency in fossil hominin taxa. Am J Phys Anthropol 143:134-145, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.