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Cost of motor skill adaptation to new craft traits: Experiments with expert potters facing unfamiliar vessel shapes and wheels

Abstract : This work aims to improve understanding of the conditions favoring adoption of new craft traits. We investigated the cost of motor skill adaptation in asking seven expert potters to produce familiar vs. unfamiliar shapes and using a familiar vs. unfamiliar wheel. The gestural patterns of the potters (i.e. the succession of their hand positions) were videotaped for quantitative analysis. Results showed that the hand positions varied mostly according to the shape being thrown, whether that shape was familiar or not. Additionally, all potters transferred a major part of their hand positions repertoire from the familiar shapes to the unfamiliar ones. Hence, expert potters produce novel shapes through individual learning which constitutes a low cost of adaptation. In archaeological contexts where ceramic production was distributed among multiple expert potters, new vessel shapes could easily have been adopted because the individual cost was low. On the other hand, we hypothesize that low-skilled potters (e.g. potters specializing in small vessels) would not have achieved such adoption without opportunities for social learning. As for the unfamiliar wheels, results indicated that their use did not influence the hand positions but involved new postures that may be difficult to adopt, this merits further studies.
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Enora Gandon, Valentine Roux. Cost of motor skill adaptation to new craft traits: Experiments with expert potters facing unfamiliar vessel shapes and wheels. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Elsevier, 2019, 53, pp.229-239. ⟨10.1016/j.jaa.2019.01.004⟩. ⟨hal-02958050⟩

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