Understanding Stone Tools and Archaeological Sites

By Brian P. Kooyman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Lithic Usewear
and Residue Analysis

11.1
Introduction
Usewear and residue analysis are the two methods that have been employed to try to obtain an objective assessment of prehistoric stone tool use.There are three main varieties of usewear analysis:
1. Microchipping: examines the small scars left from flakes that have been knocked off the edge of a tool during use.
2. Micropolish: contact with work material produces a polish on a stone tool just as polishes develop on various surfaces from contact (e.g., polishing glass for windows, gem stones for jewelry, etc.).
3. Striations: contact with the worked material and small fragments of debris results in scratches, striations, on the tool surface.

Residue analysis employs various techniques to analyze the remains of worked material that adhere to the stone tool surface after use. Methods vary from microscopically identifying fragments of plant and animal remains (cells, etc.) left intact on the tool edge, to various chemical and immunological methods (chromatography, electrophoresis, chemical reaction, antigen/antibody reactions) that test the chemical and biochemical properties of the residues rather than their undamaged physical biological structure.

All of these methods of analysis have been criticized for being inaccurate and subjective (e.g., Eisele et al. 1995; Fiedel 1996; Newcomer et al. 1986). They have been seen as particularly problematic because even though modern experiments using stone tools to complete tasks, such as hide scraping, can be used to derive diagnostic analytical criteria, there is always a question about whether or not traces are contaminated, altered, or removed in the archaeological sediment environment and whether the experiments are appropriate analogues for past tool use. Various alternative or modified approaches have been proposed or tested (e.g., Newcomer et al. 1986) and workers in the field have often suggested that multiple approaches are valid or that a combination of approaches is most likely to yield comprehensive and accurate results (e.g., Newman et al. 1997; Odell 1994; Vaughan 1981). Having worked with both polish and microchipping analysis (e.g., Kooyman 1985), as well as residue analysis (e.g., Kooyman et al. 1992), I would certainly agree with those who recognize (e.g., Odell 1994:72) that each method has strengths and weaknesses and that a multifaceted approach is best.


11.2
Historical Development

An examination of the history of the development of usewear and residue analysis, including an examination of the most recent debates, is important since this area of research has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of stone tool use if it provides a truly objective assessment of use tasks.

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