Less than two decades ago, archaeologists considered lithic debitage, the flakes and debris left from the manufacture of stone tools, little more than uninformative waste. Since then, fieldworkers have increasingly recognized that stone flakes can provide information both singly and in aggregate.
Many methods are now available for analyzing lithic debitage, yet no single method is entirely reliable as a vehicle to meaningful interpretation of past behavior. Part of the problem lies in the disparity between tightly controlled experimental conditions and the difficulty of sorting individual sequences out of the masses of stone found in many archaeological sites. Contributors to this volume seek to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the more widespread and competing analytical forms while arguing for the use of multiple lines of evidence. As the title indicates, their primary focus is on mass analysis of aggregates rather than individual flakes. Thus several chapters also address problems of subdividing aggregates to better deal with the “mixed assemblages” generated by multiple factors over time.
Making arrowheads, blades, and other stone tools was once a survival skill and is still a craft practiced by thousands of flintknappers around the world. In the United States, knappers gather at regional “knap-ins” to socialize, exchange ideas and material, buy and sell both equipment and knapped art, and make stone tools in the company of others. In between these gatherings, the knapping community stays connected through newsletters and the Internet. In this book, avid knapper and professional anthropologist John Whittaker offers an insider’s view of the knapping community. He explores why stone tools attract modern people and what making them means to those who pursue this art. He describes how new members are incorporated into the knapping community, how novices learn the techniques of knapping and find their roles within the group, how the community is structured, and how ethics, rules, and beliefs about knapping are developed and transmitted. He also explains how the practice of knapping relates to professional archaeology, the trade in modern replicas of stone tools, and the forgery of artifacts. Whittaker’s book thus documents a fascinating subculture of American life and introduces the wider public to an ancient and still rewarding craft.
Lithic analysis in North America traditionally has focused on bifacially retouched pieces, or bifaces. Angela Close contends that such an approach has ignored cores and debitage to the detriment of analysis.
At English Camp on San Juan Island, Washington, an earlier excavation (1950) kept the bifaces and discarded everything else, unstudied. Typically, the bifaces themselves have been used as type-fossils, allowing assignment of occupation to a chronological phase but serving little other purpose. North American lithic analysis has seen a move away from this approach and toward other aspects of lithic assemblages, yet the emphasis is still on the genesis of bifaces.
In this volume, Close uses a fine-grained study to critique American approaches to lithic analysis. Her approach is based on chaîne opératoire analysis, which applied here attempts to trace the life-histories of all artifacts in an assemblage from raw material procurement to discard and entry into the archaeological record. This approach is aimed explicitly at the people behind the artifacts.
Close’s final and likely controversial analysis is that women did a great deal of the tool manufacture at this particular site.
Flintknapping is an ancient craft enjoying a resurgence of interest among both amateur and professional students of prehistoric cultures. In this new guide, John C. Whittaker offers the most detailed handbook on flintknapping currently available and the only one written from the archaeological perspective of interpreting stone tools as well as making them.
Flintknapping contains detailed, practical information on making stone tools. Whittaker starts at the beginner level and progresses to discussion of a wide range of techniques. He includes information on necessary tools and materials, as well as step-by-step instructions for making several basic stone tool types. Numerous diagrams allow the reader to visualize the flintknapping process, and drawings of many stone tools illustrate the discussions and serve as models for beginning knappers.
Written for a wide amateur and professional audience, Flintknapping will be essential for practicing knappers as well as for teachers of the history of technology, experimental archaeology, and stone tool analysis.
William Andrefsky University of Utah Press, 2003 Library of Congress GN799.T6L56 2001 | Dewey Decimal 930.1028
Debitage, the by-product flakes and chips from stone tool production, is the most abundant artifact type in prehistoric archaeological sites. For much of the period in which archaeology has employed scientific methodology, debitage has been discarded or ignored as debris. Now archaeologists have begun to recognize its potential to provide information about the kinds of tools produced and the characteristics of the technology being employed. Debitage can even provide clues regarding human organizational systems such as settlement mobility and site functions.
This volume brings together some of the most recent research on debitage analysis and interpretation. It presents stone tool production experiments and offers detailed archaeological investigations for interpreting variability at the individual and collective levels. Although there are a number of volumes that focus on general analysis of lithic artifacts, this is the first volume to address debitage and should be of use to a wide range of archaeological researchers.
The Lives of Stone Tools gives voice to the Indigenous Gamo lithic practitioners of southern Ethiopia. For the Gamo, their stone tools are alive, and their work in flintknapping is interwoven with status, skill, and the life histories of their stone tools.
Anthropologist Kathryn Weedman Arthur offers insights from her more than twenty years working with the Gamo. She deftly addresses historical and present-day experiences and practices, privileging the Gamo’s perspectives. Providing a rich, detailed look into the world of lithic technology, Arthur urges us to follow her into a world that recognizes Indigenous theories of material culture as valid alternatives to academic theories. In so doing, she subverts long-held Western perspectives concerning gender, skill, and lifeless status of inorganic matter.
The book offers the perspectives that, contrary to long-held Western views, stone tools are living beings with a life course, and lithic technology is a reproductive process that should ideally include both male and female participation. Only individuals of particular lineages knowledgeable in the lives of stones may work with stone technology. Knappers acquire skill and status through incremental guided instruction corresponding to their own phases of maturation. The tools’ lives parallel those of their knappers from birth (procurement), circumcision (knapping), maturation (use), seclusion (storage), and death (discardment).
Given current expectations that the Gamo’s lithic technology may disappear with the next generation, The Lives of Stone Tools is a work of vital importance and possibly one of the last contemporaneous books about a population that engages with the craft daily.
Any overview of prehispanic society in the Americas would identify its obsidian core-blade production as a unique and highly inventive technology. Normally termed prismatic blades, these long, parallel-sided flakes are among the sharpest cutting tools ever produced by humans. Their standardized form permitted interchangeable use, and such blades became the cutting tool of choice throughout Mesoamerica between 600–800 B.C. Because considerable production skill is required, increased demand may have stimulated the appearance of craft specialists who played an integral role in Mesoamerican society. Some investigators have argued that control over obsidian also had a significant effect on the development and organization of chiefdom and state-level societies.
While researchers have long recognized the potential of obsidian studies, recent work has focused primarily on compositional analysis to reconstruct trade and distribution networks. Study of blade production has received much less attention, and many aspects of this highly evolved craft are still lost.
This volume seeks to identify current research questions in Mesoamerican lithic technology and to demonstrate that replication studies coupled with experimental research design are valuable analytical approaches to such questions.