Over the last four decades, the study of stone tool residues has developed into a valuable method for obtaining high-resolution and unique data on different aspects of human behaviour during the Late Pleistocene. The increased application of residue analysis on Late Pleistocene assemblages has allowed new insights into several aspects of human evolution by contributing to diet reconstruction and to an improved understanding of the use and production of stone tools as well as the development of hafting technologies. Although residue analysis is now becoming well-integrated into the study of Late Pleistocene technology, there are still issues related to the identification and interpretation of stone tool residues. The factors that affect their preservation are also not yet fully understood. The majority of stone tool residues lack distinctive visual characteristics, which means that only a limited number of them can be identified reliably by visual observation alone. Several existing biochemical techniques, such as FTIR, Raman and GCMS, are currently being explored to partly overcome this problem. Another major issue concerns the processes of residue deposition as the accumulation of residues on stone tools can be the result of many cultural and non-cultural processes. It remains currently unclear which processes lead to residue deposition and how these different processes can be told apart from each other on the basis of residue characteristics. It also remains largely unknown which processes are responsible for the removal of stone tool residues, and, consequently, under which conditions stone tool residues are most likely to survive.
Here, the potential of stone tool residues for reconstructing Late Pleistocene behaviour is explored drawing from both experimental and archaeological research. Large-scale, systematic experimental research conducted in recent years has shed light on the processes of residue deposition and removal. The subsequent application of residue analysis on a wide range of Late Pleistocene assemblages from African and European sites has yielded significant insights into the preservation of archaeological residues and helped improve the techniques for identifying and interpreting them. A critical summary of the most important findings of these studies is used to discuss the possible future ways forward.