Tell Us About Your Rocks!: An Exchange of Ideas and Lithic Raw Materials

Thursday, May 3, 2018 - 10:30am to 4:30pm
Somerset Grey
Many archaeologically recovered lithic materials tend to be erroneously categorized during the cataloguing process.  These decisions often occur due to limited comparative collections, misunderstanding of regional geological formations, and only well-known types being published in the literature.  Furthermore, some archaeological rocks and minerals look very similar superficially, and without geochemical testing, can be misidentified.  Since the range and variability of lithic raw materials is not well known to many individuals, it can be difficult to properly identify them if tools are made from either a local or distant source.  In order to gain a better understanding of the range and variability of lithic raw materials, this session will provide an opportunity for attendees to do an informal presentation about their region, bring local materials to display, discuss, and exchange, as well as participate in a flintknapping workshop.  Attendees are encouraged to bring labeled specimens for exchange, unidentified stone artifacts for some opinions on material type, and flintknapping kits.
  • Clarence Surette, Lakehead University
10:30 AM: Lost in Fissility: A Soft Rock Story
  • Tiziana Gallo - University of Toronto
Fissile stones used in the manufacture of ground stone tools are the subject of terminological confusions and generalisations. From mudstone to shale, slate and schist, relatively fissile and low hardness stone tools are often given a generic name that is more culture specific than it is petrographically accurate. In addition to limiting the identification of potential raw material sources and exchange networks, this impedes our ability to perceive the technological aspects of such tools’ respective chaînes opératoires, and consequently, of people’s interactions with these various fissile materials. Given their widespread distribution, I propose that a better characterization of distinct types of fissilities in sedimentary and metamorphic stones is key in understanding these raw materials’ unique affordances. This is of particular interest in the case of ground stone tools, as most of their debitage products’ attributes do not conform to those typically observed in chipped stones assemblages. The importance of documenting such variability is supported by a case study from the Middle to Late Archaic Baie Sainte-Marguerite site, which borders the Saguenay Fjord in Quebec. A petrographic characterisation of the site’s mudstone and slate assemblages allowed a better-informed reconstitution of very different manufacturing strategies, debitage attributes and end products, as well as different life histories.
10:50 AM: Lithic materials in archaeological sites from central and northern Alberta
  • Todd Kristensen - Archaeological Survey of Alberta
I review some common and poorly known local and exotic raw materials used to make pre-contact stone tools in central and northern Alberta including Beaver River Sandstone, nephrite (jade), Tertiary Hills Clinker, Grizzly Ridge Opal, Peace River Chert, Knife River Flint, petrified wood, quartzite varieties, porcellanite, obsidian, and others. I present photographic libraries (macroscopic and microscopic), summaries of spatial distributions, specimens for observation, reviews of geochemical and mineralogical work to date, and synopses of significance in Alberta’s archaeological record. More accurate identifications will improve understandingd of pre-contact social networks, migration routes, and patterns of exchange across the boreal forest and subarctic region of western Canada. I conclude with an explanation of, and invitation to join, the ongoing Alberta Lithic Reference Project.
11:10 AM: Neolithic Industry of Long Obsidian Blades: The Case of Aknashen-Khatunarkh (Armenia, Early Sixth Millenium)
  • Jacques Chabot - Laboratoire de recherche sur la pierre taillée/Laboratoires d’archéologie de l’université Laval, Quebec City
Aknashen (formerly called Khatunarkh) is a small Neolithic village of the Ararat Valley located 25 kilometres away from Yerevan (capital of Armenia) and 5 km southwest of Echmiadzin (Vagharshapat). Aknashen is also located only 6 km from another Neolithic village that is contemporary named Aratashen, a site for which we recently published a technological study of the obsidian industry. Excavations have been taking place each year since 2004 at Aknashen. Concerning the lithic material, we identified two main chaînes opératoires on obsidian, which is an abundant raw material in this region: 1) one concerns expedient tools made on flakes; and 2) the other one is related to regular blades. After a brief account of the different obsidian sources used by the inhabitants of Aknashen, our presentation will focus on new research results on the technology of the blade industry obtained by three knapping techniques: standing up pressure with a crutch; pressure with a lever; and indirect percussion. A systematic study of this material makes it possible to recognize the techniques used, but also to observe the great level of know-how of the specialists who carried out this work. However, since the identification of this high level of skill is important to discover from a pure technological point of view, the recognition of pressure with a lever can also constitute an excellent cultural marker. Therefore, it can help to characterize Neolithic cultures that are involved with this technique, document exchanges (trade networks) and possible movements of population or contacts between them, as well as transmission of knowledge.