Lithic Use-wear Analysis

As the graduate student in the Experimental Archaeology class, I lectured and ran two labs on the analysis of lithics through patterns of use, or micro-wear analysis. In the lecture, I spoke of the current timeline we have of the development of stone or lithic technology. Starting with the Olduwan Industrial Complex some 2.7 to 2.9 million years ago, we see the use of simple stone choppers, hammers, and anvils that were used by Australopithecus through Homo Heidelbergensis in central Africa. Moving through the Acheluian, I talked of the Levalois technique and the Solutrean assemblages.

Micro-wear analysis looks at the patterns of wear on the edge of lithic artifacts and attempts to explain them through experimental archaeological analogy. We know that through use, the “business” end of a blade or artifact will become worn over time. By looking at the evidence on the artifact–in our case the striations created by motion–we can compare that to data from experiments that have been carried out. Longitudinal motion creates striations parallel to the edge and they are evident from cutting or sawing. Transverse motion creates stiations perpendicular to the edge and are from scrapping. Rotary motion creates round striations and wear and is created from drilling.

I set up experiments where students would scrape, saw, cut, and burrow into different materials, then we later looked under the microscope at the edges to determine if we could see striations that correlated to the motions that should have created them. We butchered the back legs of a deer and discovered that flint blades are very, very sharp and only a small one is capable of quickly butchering an entire leg rather quickly. We discovered that the harder the material, the harder we had to press on the blade to do work, and subsequently the associated striations were deeper and more defined.

We also tried to see if grass cutting left a sheen or polish on the blade by cutting green grass using over 1,000 stokes. While the chlorophyll stained the flint, no discernible polish was recognizable. I found that the students responded positively to this experiment because of their willingness to participate, the retention of information from the previous lecture, and the understanding of the scientific reasoning behind the experiments.

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Published in: on February 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

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