Tuesday, October 16, 2007

New insights on raw material use

At the moment, I'm wrapping my head around two papers about patterns of raw material procurement and use in archaeological assemblages.

In the first, Jelmer Eerkens et al. (2007 - available as a pdf on Eerkens' web page) use obsidian characterization to demonstrate how different components of a lithic assemblage (i.e., small flakes vs. large flakes vs. formal tools) can yield different and complementary patterns of raw material use and how focusing on small flakes can inform us of broader behavioral patterns of the people responsible for depositing the assemblage, even if larger pieces are missing, either through curation or looting. I'll have a bit more to post on this paper soon, but it's a very demonstration of why archaeologists need to pay attention to all the pieces in their assemblage if they wish to accurately depict prehistoric life.

The second paper, by Lucy Wilson, I've just started reading, so I'll have to post more about it later, but its starting point is quite thought-provoking and, in spite of its conceptual simplicity, has not previously been used before in lithic analysis, to the best of my knowledge. Wilson uses 'gravity modeling' (similar to that used in economics and other social sciences) to predict how attractive given sources of raw material would have been to foragers in their vicinity and to extrapolate from this a baseline of how prevalent they should theoretically be in lithic assemblages found at a given point on the landscape. This, in turn, allows us to tease apart the influence of the natural abundance and flaking properties of given materials from that of 'other' factors leading to raw material source selection, thus potentially paving the way for a discussion of 'social' factors linked to the use of various lithotypes. This one sounds quite good, so check again soon for a more detailed post on this one.


Eerkens, Jelmer W., J.R. Ferguson, M.D. Glascock, C.E. Skinner, and S.A. Waechter. 2007. Reduction strategies and geochemical characterization of lithic assemblages: a comparison of three case studies from western North America. American Antiquity 72:585-597.

Wilson, L. 2007 (in press). Understanding Prehistoric Lithic Raw Material Selection: Application of a Gravity Model. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 14. DOI: 10.1007/s10816-007-9042-4.

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