Understanding Stone Tools and Archaeological Sites

By Brian P. Kooyman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
General Lithic Types

3.1
Introduction
There were many types of lithic material available to people in the past for making tools. The choices made were based on what was locally available, what might feasibly be acquired via trade and contact with other people, the type of tools being manufactured, and how suitable each material type was for the tool in question. The lithic materials used demonstrate the many pragmatic and cultural choices made by people. As a result, identifying the material used provides insight into human culture and decision making. Accurate identification is also necessary so that comparisons can be made from one site to another. Such comparisons allow broader patterns of lithic material use and trade to be defined.The raw materials used to manufacture lithic tools in the past are classified as either minerals or rocks by geologists. A-mineral can be defined as a naturally occurring inorganic compound with a characteristic internal structure determined by a regular arrangement of the atoms and/or ions within it, with a chemical composition and physical properties that are either fixed or that vary within a definite range. A rock is generally defined as a naturally formed aggregate composed of grains of one or more minerals in varying proportions (although there are a few exceptions to this definition [ Plummer and McGeary 1991:26]). Most rocks are composed of two or more minerals ( Monroe and Wicander 1995:27), but mono-mineralic rocks such as dunite and pyroxenites ( Bell and Wright 1985:110) do exist. All minerals, and so all rocks, are composed of elements, such as iron, silica, and sodium.Rocks are formed through various geological processes and are subdivided into broad types based on their mode of formation:
1. Igneous: formed from molten material (magma).
2. Sedimentary: re-cemented particles of older rocks that have been broken down by weathering.
3. Metamorphic: rocks that are altered by temperature, pressure or chemical environment; can be formed from igneous, sedimentary or other metamorphic rocks.

The rock cycle (e.g., Plummer and McGeary 1991:44; Monroe and Wicander 1995:12-14) illustrates the relationships between the three basic types of rock. Magma is molten rock in the Earth's interior. Igneous rocks are formed when portions of that magma cool and crystallize into solid compounds. This cooling process is slow if the magma cools within Earth's crust, and the rocks formed are referred to as intrusive igneous rocks. If the magma reaches the surface of the Earth and cools, the cooling occurs much more rapidly, and the resulting rocks are referred to as extrusive igneous rocks.

Through various processes, igneous rocks become exposed to environmental agents and are subjected to weathering. Weathering results in the breakdown of portions of the igneous

-25-

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