Lithics Limited

By Ramos-Millan, Antonio | Antiquity, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Lithics Limited


Ramos-Millan, Antonio, Antiquity


These books belong to the same disciplinary tradition of lithic studies and have complementary values. However, they represent different categories of book. The specialized subject of the book edited by Baena Preysler only appears summarized in the manual by Andrefsky.

The Cambridge manual's orientation is left implicit. However, it is rooted in functional and behavioural inference more than in culture-historical knowledge supported by traditional typologies (Preface and chapter 4). Andrefsky offers a manual of processual lithic studies. Its anthropological allusions (mobility and sedentism, artefact use-life, risk minimizing, time optimization, etc.) have a clearly functionalist, materialist and ecological slant (following Binfordian theories). Positivist principles are scattered throughout the book: data free of theory lend themselves to an objective interpretation, multiple lines of evidence provide the foundation for more solid interpretations, non-quantified generalizations are insubstantial, etc.

Yet this manual is not representative of processual lithic studies. Absent is an integrated vision of the artefacts in a cultural system. The treatment does not go beyond descriptive empiricism. Nor does it cover corresponding topics such as supply systems, source exploitation (mines and quarries), exchange systems, etc., which relate to other socio-economic issues (surplus, specialization, social rank, etc.). In this sense, the processes and contexts of the artefacts are not, for Andrefsky, defined according to cultural dimensions, but rather in reference to the material phenomena themselves: production as the material process of manufacture, context as material circumstances (e.g. raw material availability). Hence the effect of these processes and contexts is also material: the morphological dynamism of the artefacts (chapter 2). Thus the artefacts are only weakly related to their systemic context, and the analytical approach is not problem-oriented. Developed reference to central processual issues is absent, particularly in the analytical triad of source determination, reconstruction of the manufacturing process and functional study of artefacts. In addition, the macroscopic resolution that the author imposes on the analysis is a limitation for modern lithic studies, since it fails to take advantage of either the scientific applications provided by processual archaeology or its multi-phased analytical programmes (micro- and other techniques in addition to macro-). For these reasons, we find only a brief (although up-to-date) review of use-wear analysis, and the book instructs us in neither petro-archaeological analysis for provenance studies, nor technological analysis for reconstructing manufacturing processes.

The title of chapter 3, 'Lithic raw materials', accurately reflects its content, given that, more than a provenance study with its own theoretical problems (supply systems, resource exploitation) and methodological means (geo- and petro-archaeology), only the lithic resources are classified. In terms of petro-archaeological analysis, it is wrong to assign an occasional role to microscopic as opposed to macroscopic petrography and chemical analysis. Moreover, the background of petrological classification offered in this book raises confusion that limits the scope of its correct petrogenic orientation. Thus, for example, in the case of chert, a major lithic raw material, the term does not denote quartz but, rather, refers generically to the whole group of neogenetic siliceous rocks, regardless of their quartz- or opal-based composition. Nor is opal the amorphous mineral of quartz, but of silica. In these stones, the cortex is not a product of weathering (patina) but is a surface of diagenetic origin between the siliceous (nodular and bedded cherts) and their host rocks.

Finally, the technological analysis performed in the core of the book (chapters 5-7) is a descriptive archaeology suited to current technological typology. …

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