Lithic Raw Materials in Prehistory: Sourcing, Network Distribution and Use

Posted on January 27, 2017


It has be a while since we have had videos from a EAA2016 session. Here is a session for all you lithics loving folks:

Session Details

Author – Bonsall, Clive, School of Edinburgh University, History, Classics, and Archaeology,
Edinburgh, United Kingdom (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Gurova, Maria, National Institute of Archaeology with Museum,
Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia, Bulgaria
Co-author(s) – Allard, Pierre, Préhistoire et Technologie,
Maison de l’Archéologie et de l’Ethnologie, Paris, France

In prehistory raw materials played an important role in subsistence and in the spiritual aspects of everyday life. Different rocks (particularly siliceous ones) and minerals were subjected to random or strategic procurement for chipped stone industries in general, as well as for specialized toolkits and individual prestigious or symbolic items, among other things. There is convincing evidence of preferential use of some raw materials for specific production, e.g. Grand Pressigny flint for daggers, Ludogorie flint for superblades, Balkan flint for diagnostic Karanovo I retouched blades, and Alpine jadeitite for polished axes. The distinction between deliberate and opportunistic raw material exploitation is readily perceivable within chipped-stone assemblages from different contexts. Apart from strategies for local raw material acquisition and use, sophisticated networks of long-distance distribution are attested on regional and supra-regional scales. Examples of such networks include: Mediterranean versus Carpathian obsidian; Grand Pressigny, Banat and Balkan flint; jadeitite, nephrite etc.
This session calls for contributions that focus on the following research issues: i) raw material sourcing and supply in prehistory (from simple nodule collecting from secondary placer deposits to shaft and mining techniques); ii) distribution systems and organization (evidence of recognizable networks); iii) raw materials for peculiar uses (in relation to knapping and manufacturing properties).

Obsidian Use on Islands Big and Small: Sicily and others in the Central Mediterranean

Author – Tykot, Robert, University of South Florida, Odessa, United States of America (Presenting author)

Starting in the Early Neolithic (ca. 6000 BC) obsidian from four island sources was acquired and distributed over great distances in the Central Mediterranean. In recent years, non-destructive analytical instruments, including portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometers (pXRF), have been used to determine the specific geological sources of thousands of obsidian artefacts from many sites throughout this region. Obsidian from the Aeolian island of Lipari was widely used in Sicily, Malta, peninsular Italy, and as far north as France and across the Adriatic Sea in Croatia. Obsidian from Pantelleria was regularly used on Malta and other islands south of Sicily, and to some extent in Tunisia, Sicily, and the island of Ustica to the north. Small amounts of obsidian from sources on Sardinia and Palmarola made their way to southern Italy. Prior studies of the obsidian sources show multiple outcrops for each, with differences in visual and physical features (e.g. colour, phenocrysts, translucency, brittleness) as well as in quantity, size, and accessibility. Importantly, pXRF analysis can distinguish between these subsources, including Gabellotto and Canneto Dentro on Lipari, and Balata dei Turchi and Lago di Venere on Pantelleria. Consideration of these variables is critical in the understanding of obsidian access and selection, distribution, and use, and may be integrated with our knowledge of the availability and transportation of other material culture items (e.g. flint, greenstone, ceramics, animals, secondary products). The large number of artefacts from many Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites now tested provides the opportunity to assess socioeconomic changes over time, and variation based on location and lithic production methods, typology, and usage. Obsidian distribution patterns also provide better understanding of open water transport capabilities and directions, with Pantelleria 100 km from southwest Sicily, Lipari 30 km from the northeast coast of Sicily, and many obsidian artefacts transported several hundred km further along the coasts of the Tyrrhennian, Ionian, and Adriatic Seas.

Provenancing Archaeological Obsidian from Bulgaria

Author – Bonsall, Clive, Edinburgh University, Edinburgh, United Kingdom (Presenting author);
Co-author – Gurova, Maria, National Archaeological Institute with Museum – BAS, Sofia, Bulgaria;
Co-author – Ganetsovski, Georgi, Regional Historical Museum, Vratsa, Bulgaria;
Co-author – Elenski, Nedko, Archaeological Museum, Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria;
Co-author – Ivanov, Georgi, National Archaeological Institute with Museum – BAS, Sofia, Bulgaria;
Co-author – Slavchev, Vladimir, Archaeological Museum, Varna, Bulgaria

Use of obsidian is documented in a small number of Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites in Bulgaria. With no known geological sources in the eastern Balkans, the obsidian must have been obtained from areas further afield. Establishing the provenance of archaeological obsidian can provide insights into social and economic contacts among regions and clues to the nature of those contacts. We report the first results of non-destructive XRF analyses of obsidian artefacts from Bulgarian prehistoric sites and comparisons with geological sources in Anatolia, the Aegean, the central Mediterranean and Carpathians. Our findings have an important bearing on lithic raw material exchange systems in the Balkans from the Early Neolithic onwards.

Texture and function. The multiple uses of Greywacke among northwest Iberian prehistoric groups

Author – Gaspar, Rita, Porto, Portugal (Presenting author);
Co-author – Ferreira, João, Porto, Portugal

It is a known fact that the available lithic resources in inland Portugal are quite distinct from the ones in coastal Mesozoic sedimentary basins. This is reflected in lithic assemblages where quartz is clearly dominant while exogenous rocks such as flints and cherts are residual and have specific roles in the raw material economy. Work undertaken recently in the Sabor valley, northeast Portugal, brought to light several prehistoric assemblages (from Palaeolithic to Bronze Age) where a huge range of local and regional rocks were exploited. Dozens of different raw materials were identified and such diversity led to the creation of a regional raw materials reference collection, now in the Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Porto. Although several varieties of quartz dominate the assemblages, other local high silica content rocks were selected by prehistoric communities such as hydrothermal silicifications, opal, jaspers, lydite, rhyolite, mafic granulite, and greywacke among others. These had a crucial role in the economy of those human groups. Among all lithologies greywacke represents an important part since it was applied in several uses throughout times. It presents not only decent knapping aptitude but also a good thermal conductivity. With easy access it was used not only on dwelling structures (hearths, post holes, floors), portable art (engraved slabs), anvils, but also on knapped stone assemblages as blanks or tools. It was also applied in daily tasks. In this paper will be presented the multiple uses of greywacke from Palaeolithic to Bronze Age, in a specific region and its significance for each human group.

Differences in the raw material preferences in Polgár-Csoszhalom, northeast Hungary

Author – Faragó, Norbert, Eötvös Lor nd University, Budapest, Hungary (Presenting author)

Chipped stones played an important role in the sustenance of human life not just in the Palaeolithic, but in the Neolithic period also. The raw material preferences and choices became more indicative as more complex settlements and societies emerged. Chipped stones in different contexts teach us to take into consideration the many aspects of the prehistoric worldview. The case of the Late Neolithic site Polg r-Csőszhalom reflects well these combined phenomena, where two different habitation units (tell and horizontal settlement), two different geographical regions (Central Europe and the Balkans), two different scenes of life (ritual and profane) met and mixed with each other. Although these categories were more plastic and permeable for the prehistoric people, it is worth trying to investigate separately the several situations, where chipped stones played their role. Through these analyses it became clear that, generally, the local raw material is more related to the part of the settlement presumed to be related to daily, while the tell is more oriented toward to distant sources. In other situations the stone itself became a medium and bears a significance, no matter which type it is made of. In some cases, the raw material choice and the technology used may have been forced by practical reasons, without any other motives behind it.

Lithic procurement as a social phenomenon in the Stone and Bronze Age in southern Norway Author – Astrid, Nyland, Oslo, Norway (Presenting author)

Quarrying and other types of direct lithic raw material procurement can be perceived as a total social phenomenon. Based on analyses of 21 extraction sites, I have undertaken a chaîne opératoire analysis of the practices involved in direct lithic procurement in the Stone, Bronze and Early Iron Ages in southern Norway. My method is one of contextualisation and comparison of material found at quarries and related workshops and settlement sites, estimations of scale and duration of quarrying, and, to some degree, the rock’s distribution. With this, I demonstrate and interpret spatial and temporal variation in procurement practices. That is, some practices involved in lithic procurement were common cross-regionally, while others defined regions and/or time periods. In some situations, it seems to have mattered more how, from whom or where, you obtained your rock, than the type or the quality of the rock itself. Suggesting also an index of the intensity of quarrying, the different modes of lithic procurements demonstrate the variations of the role the various lithic extraction sites must have played in the prehistoric societies. Some extraction sites even became nodal points in the landscape, entangled in social and symbolic structures. Thus, when contextualised, quarry studies have the potential to provide insight into developing social relations and social-political strategies.

Double cache – single core: a case of long distance (85 km) stone tool refits from southern Norway

Author – Nielsen, Svein, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway (Presenting author)

Along the coastal strip of southernmost Norway, a large number of lithic artefacts associated with the Corded Ware Culture (i.e. the Single Grave Culture and the Swedish-Norwegian Battle Axe Culture) have been collected by amateur archaeologists during the last century. However, the scientific data (e.g. archaeological and palaeobotanical) from the period (2800–2350 cal BC) all indicate a continuation of a foraging lifestyle in the very same region. For some time, this picture has represented a paradox in Norwegian Neolithic research. How are we to interpret the occurrence of these foreign objects? In order to shed light on this question, two assemblages of long-blades, representing all long-blade deposits in Norway, were subject to technological analysis. Though the blade assemblages were initially found 85 km apart (straight line distance), both technological and refitting analyses provided positive evidence that all blades had been reduced from the same core, and thus probably by a single craftsman. These findings are discussed in terms of long distance trade and observed behavioural differences between southern Scandinavian farming communities and the foraging culture of southernmost Norway.

Production, distribution and use of Final Neolithic flint axes in western Poland

Author – Pyżewicz, Katarzyna, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poznań, Poland (Presenting author);
Co-author – Grużdź, Witold, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Institute of Archaeology, Warsaw, Poland

The paper presents selected issues related to the manufacture, distribution and function of the Final Neolithic axes in western Poland. The main subject of our study is flint axes associated with the Funnel Beaker Culture, Globular Amphora Culture, and Corded Ware Culture. For the research presented in this paper, we combined raw material analysis with morphometric, morphologic, micro-wear and experimental methods. We carried out studies on the types of raw materials from which the flint axes were made. The data obtained were compared to the sources from local outcrops, and two important centres of axe production associated with the lithics from southeast Poland and “Scandinavian flint”. Based on these results, we created models of chaîne opératoire relating to the production and use of the flint axes made from different types of raw material. Additionally, we investigated the character of the distribution route – whether craftsmen manufactured the lithic axes only near to the prehistoric flint mines and their goods were imported to the other territories, or they journeyed as specialists who distributed and repaired the flint axes.

Banded flint from Central Poland – new discoveries, new questions

Author – Szubski, Michał, University of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski in Warsaw, Warszawa, Poland (Presenting author);

Co-author – Budziszewski, Janusz, University of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski in Warsaw, Warszawa, Poland;
Co-author – Grużdź, Witold, University of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski in Warsaw, Warszawa, Poland;
Co-author – Jakubczak, Michał, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland;
Co-author – Radziszewska, Katarzyna, University of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski in Warsaw, Warszawa, Poland

Prehistoric banded flint mines were discovered on the northeast margin of the Świętokrzyskie Mountains nearly a hundred years ago. Since then, they have been attracting the attention of several generations of Polish archaeologists. A special place in these studies was taken by a large and well-preserved mining field “Krzemionki”. Intensive research on prehistoric banded flints exploitation conducted in the last quarter of the twentieth century was summarized during the VIIth International Flint Symposium. In recent years, one has returned to the research of flint mining using new technical possibilities. Geological survey showed the location of many kilometres of outcrops of banded flint in the southwest margin of the Świętokrzyskie Mountains. However, there is no evidence of its use in prehistoric times. Survey also located sporadic occurrences of secondary accumulations of banded flint in glacial deposits in southern Poland (near Cracow). Airborne Laser Scanning (ALS) make it possible to analyze in great detail the entire course of banded flint outcrops from the NE margin of the Świętokrzyskie Mountains. This resulted in the discovery of yet another prehistoric point of exploitation. Also allowed to create detailed maps of all known prehistoric mining sites. These plans revealed a previously unknown method of exploitation and also changed our ideas about the size and state of preservation of most sites. Verification surface survey of prehistoric banded flint mines resulted in the discovery of materials that show in new light the problem of access to resources and how they were used in the final Neolithic and Bronze Age.

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