Lithic technology

Lithic technology includes a broad array of techniques and styles in archaeology, which are used to produce usable tools from various types of stone. The earliest stone tools were recovered from modern Ethiopia and were dated to between two-million and three-million years old. The archaeological record of lithic technology is divided into three major time periods: the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age), Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age), and Neolithic (New Stone Age). Not all cultures in all parts of the world exhibit the same pattern of lithic technological development, and stone tool technology continues to be used to this day, but these three time periods represent the span of the archaeological record when lithic technology was paramount. By analysing modern stone tool usage within an ethnoarchaeological context insight into the breadth of factors influencing lithic technologies in general may be studied.[1] See: Stone tool. For example, for the Gamo of Southern Ethiopia, political, environmental, and social factors influence the patterns of technology variation in different subgroups of the Gamo culture; through understanding the relationship between these different factors in a modern context, archaeologists can better understand the ways that these factors could have shaped the technological variation that is present in the archaeological record.[2]

Raw materials

Some types of raw materials are:

These raw materials all have common characteristics which make them ideal for stone tool production. To make a stone material ideal for tool production, it must be non-crystalline or glassy, which allows for conchoidal fracturing. These characteristics allow the person forming the stone ("flintknapper") to control the reduction precisely in order to make a wide variety of tools.

There are numerous factors as to why some raw materials would be chosen over others and can result in the use of low quality materials. A few examples of such factors include the availability of materials, the proximity to materials, and the quality of materials. To help understand this, archaeologists have applied models of risk management to stone artifacts. Theories have suggested that in times of high risk, more effort will be put into acquiring high quality material that is more reliable and can be maintained over longer periods of time. In times of low risk, lower quality materials may be acquired from closer sources.[3] However, Mackay and Marwick (2011) found that this pattern does not always hold true in their application of this theory to the South African Pleistocene record.[4] They then used computer simulations to understand why the relationship between the time put into producing technology and subsistence acquisition would produce the patterns they saw. Mackay and Marwick found that when less time was put into acquiring material for and producing technology, that extra time increased the chances of encounters and thus increases the chances of acquiring more resources in a shorter period of time. This demonstrates that raw material choice is not always straightforward, nor are high quality materials always sought out.[5]


Stone tools are manufactured using a process known as lithic reduction. The technique used is dependent upon the level of detail required for the desired tool. The technique with the least detail is conducted using a hammerstone, in which a hard rock (often sandstone) is struck against the raw material in order to chip off large flakes, and begin to shape the stone. Using a hammerstone produces what is known as a preform, which is the core of the tool in need of more detailed refinements. The next technique allows for an increased level of detail; using a soft hammer (often made of wood or bone), one can chip away flakes of material with more precision. The most precise technique is known as pressure flaking. This technique involves pressing small flakes off rather than by means of percussion. Bone and antlers are often used as punches in order to create a very precisely detailed tool. Another technique, known as indirect percussion, combines the use of a punch and a hammer in order to apply pressure to a precise area of the stone. For the most part, stone cores can only be used to a certain extent before they become exhausted cores. As such, it is typically the flakes, or debitage, that are the basis for stone tools. The flakes are shaped using the lithic reduction techniques, allowing for creation of various tools such as arrowheads and handaxes.

Two stone characteristics will determine whether one is able to chip away big enough flakes to make tools out of: whether the stone is of a cryptocrystalline structure, and how conchoidally the stone fractures. A cryptocrystalline stone is one that is made up of minute crystals that can only be seen with a microscope. Conchoidal fractures are described as smooth, curved breaks from the base stone. Stones that have both of these characteristics allow for flakes that are big and sharp enough for a variety of tools to be made. Obsidian is a great example of a material that is perfect for making tools with, as it is both cryptocrystalline and it fractures conchoidally. Many early Middle Eastern and American civilizations used obsidian as a basis for tools as its internal structure made it easier to chip away than most of the other stones in the area.

During an experiment conducted by Dibble and Whittaker, they found that even the angle hit at the exterior platform would produce different flake types. The exterior platform angle is an angle formed by hitting the intersection of the platform surface and the exterior of the core. When hitting the core at a low exterior platform angle, a feather termination is produced. When the exterior platform angle is hit near a mid-range to low angle, a hinge termination is produced. The highest exterior platforms produce the overshoots. The desired termination, however, is generally the feather termination due to its sharp edge.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Weedman, Kathryn (2006). "An ethnoarchaeological study of hafting and stone tool diversity among the Gamo of Ethiopia". Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. 13: 198–238. JSTOR 20177539.
  2. ^ Weedman, Kathryn (2006). "An ethnoarchaeological study of hafting and stone tool diversity among the Gamo of Ethiopia". Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. 13: 198–238. JSTOR 20177539.
  3. ^ Torrence, Robin (1989). Time, Energy, and Stone Tools. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 57–66.
  4. ^ Mackay, Alex; Marwick, Ben (2011). "Costs and benefits in technological decision making under variable conditions: examples from the late Pleistocene in southern Africa". Keeping your Edge: Recent Approaches to the Organisation of Stone Artefact Technology.
  5. ^ Driscoll, Killian (2010). Understanding quartz technology in early prehistoric Ireland.
  6. ^ Dibble, Harold; Whittaker, John (1981). "New Experimental Evidence on the Relation Between Percussion Flaking and Flake Variation" (PDF). Journal of Archaeological Science. 8: 283–296. doi:10.1016/0305-4403(81)90004-2. Retrieved 27 July 2017.

Debitage is all the material produced during the process of lithic reduction and the production of chipped stone tools. This assemblage includes, but is not limited to, different kinds of lithic flakes and lithic blades, shatter and production debris, and production rejects.

Don Crabtree

Don Crabtree (June 8, 1912 – November 16, 1980) was a flintknapper and pioneering experimental archaeologist.

Known as the “Dean of American flintknappers” he was mostly self-educated, however he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by the University of Idaho. His 1972 publication An Introduction to Flintworking still serves as one of the primary terminology sources for students of lithic technology. Crabtree is well known for “Crabtree’s Law”, which states that “the greater the degree of final finishing applied to a stone artifact, whether by flaking, grinding, and/or polishing, the harder it is to conclude the lithic reduction process which produced the stone artifact.” Through practical experimentation and study of archaeological finds (both completed tools and the chips of stone left by their production) Crabtree learned to produce replicas of a variety of different ancient flint and obsidian blades.


In archaeology, a hammerstone is a hard cobble used to strike off lithic flakes from a lump of tool stone during the process of lithic reduction. The hammerstone is a rather universal stone tool which appeared early in most regions of the world including Europe, India and North America. This technology was of major importance to prehistoric cultures before the age of metalworking.

Helwan retouch

The Helwan Retouch was a bifacial microlithic flint-tool fabrication technology characteristic of the Early Natufian culture in the Levant, a region in the Eastern Mediterranean (12,500 BP – 11,000 BP) such as the Harifian culture. The decline of the Helwan Retouch was largely replaced by the "backing" technique and coincided with the emergence of microburin methods, which involved snapping bladelets on an anvil. Natufian lithic technology throughout the usage of the Helwan Retouch was dominated by lunate-shaped lithics, such as picks and axes and especially sickles (which were predominantly—at least 80% of the time—used for harvesting wild cereals).

Homo ergaster

Homo ergaster , also Homo erectus ergaster or African Homo erectus is an extinct chronospecies of the genus Homo that lived in eastern and southern Africa during the early Pleistocene, between about 1.9 million and 1.4 million years ago.

Originally proposed as a separate species, H. ergaster is now mostly considered either an early form, or an African variety, of H. erectus.The binomial name was published in 1975 by Groves and Mazák. The specific epithet, "ergaster", is derived from the Ancient Greek ἐργαστήρ ergastḗr - "workman", in reference to the advanced lithic technology developed by the species, thereby introducing the Acheulean industry.

KNM-ER 2598, a "H. erectus-like" occipital bone stands as the earliest evidence for H. erectus in Africa at approximately 1.9 million years ago (contemporary with Homo rudolfensis).

There is a fossil gap between 1.9 and 1.6 million years ago, KNM-ER 3733 is the oldest known H. ergaster skull dated to about 1.6 million years ago.

Its survival past 1.4 million years ago is uncertain, again due to a fossil gap, the next available African fossils allowing reliable morphological analysis are those of Homo rhodesiensis (African H. heidelbergensis), at 0.6 million years ago.

Howiesons Poort

Howiesons Poort (also called HP) is a lithic technology cultural period in the Middle Stone Age in Africa named after the Howieson’s Poort Shelter archeological site near Grahamstown in South Africa. Research published in 2008 showed it lasted around 5,000 years between roughly 65,800 BP and 59,500 BP.Humans of this period as in the earlier Stillbay cultural period showed signs of having used symbolism and having engaged in the cultural exchange of gifts.Howiesons Poort culture is characterized by tools that seemingly anticipate many of the characteristics, 'Running ahead of time', of those found in the Upper Palaeolithic period that started 25,000 years later around 40,000 BP. Howiesons Poort culture has been described as “both ‘modern’ and ‘non-modern’”.

Later Stone Age

The Later Stone Age (LSA) is a period in African prehistory that follows the Middle Stone Age.

The Later Stone Age is associated with the advent of modern human behavior in Africa, although definitions of this concept and means of studying it are up for debate. The transition from the Middle Stone Age to the Later Stone Age is thought to have occurred first in eastern Africa between 50,000 and 39,000 years ago. It is also thought that Later Stone Age peoples and/or their technologies spread out of Africa over the next several thousand years.The terms "Early Stone Age", "Middle Stone Age" and "Later Stone Age" in the context of African archaeology are not to be confused with the terms Lower Paleolithic, Middle Paleolithic, and Upper Paleolithic.

They were introduced in the 1920s, as it became clear that the existing chronological system of Upper, Middle, and Lower Paleolithic was not a suitable correlate to the prehistoric past in Africa. Some scholars, however, continue to view these two chronologies as parallel, arguing that they both represent the development of behavioral modernity.


Lithic may refer to:

Relating to stone tools

Lithic analysis, the analysis of stone tools and other chipped stone artifacts

Lithic technology, the array of techniques to produce tools from stone

Lithic reduction, the process of removing flakes from a stone to make a tool

Lithic flake, the portion of a rock removed to make a tool

Lithic core, the part of a stone which has had flakes removed from it

Lithic stage, the North American prehistoric period before 10,000 years ago

Lithic fragment (geology), pieces of rock, eroded to sand size, and now sand grains in a sedimentary rock

Lithic sandstone, sandstone with a significant component of (above) lithic fragments

Lithic analysis

In archaeology, lithic analysis is the analysis of stone tools and other chipped stone artifacts using basic scientific techniques. At its most basic level, lithic analyses involve an analysis of the artifact’s morphology, the measurement of various physical attributes, and examining other visible features (such as noting the presence or absence of cortex, for example).

The term 'lithic analysis' can technically refer to the study of any anthropogenic (human-created) stone, but in its usual sense it is applied to archaeological material that was produced through lithic reduction (knapping) or ground stone. A thorough understanding of the lithic reduction and ground stone processes, in combination with the use of statistics, can allow the analyst to draw conclusions concerning the type of lithic manufacturing techniques used at a prehistoric archaeological site. For example, they can make certain equation between each the factors of flake to predict original shape. These data can then be used to draw an understanding of socioeconomic and cultural organization.

The term knapped is synonymous with "chipped" or "struck", but is preferred by some analysts because it signifies intentionality and process. Ground stone generally refers to any tool made by a combination of flaking, pecking, pounding, grinding, drilling, and incising, and includes things such as mortars/metates, pestles (or manos), grinding slabs, hammerstones, grooved and perforated stones, axes, etc., which appear in all human cultures in some form. Among the tool types analyzed are projectile points, bifaces, unifaces, ground stone artifacts, and lithic reduction by-products (debitage) such as flakes and cores.

Lithic core

In archaeology, a lithic core is a distinctive artifact that results from the practice of lithic reduction. In this sense, a core is the scarred nucleus resulting from the detachment of one or more flakes from a lump of source material or tool stone, usually by using a hard hammer percussor such as a hammerstone. The core is marked with the negative scars of these flakes. The surface area of the core which received the blows necessary for detaching the flakes is referred to as the striking platform. The core may be discarded or shaped further into a core tool, such as can be seen in some types of handaxe.

The purpose of lithic reduction may be to rough out a blank for later refinement into a projectile point, knife, or other stone tool, or it may be performed in order to obtain sharp flakes, from which a variety of simple tools can be made. Generally, the presence of a core is indicative of the latter process, since the former process usually leaves no core. Because the morphology of cores will influence the shape of flakes, by studying the core surface morphology, we might be able to know more information about the dimensional flake attribute, including their length and thickness. Cores may be subdivided into specific types by a lithic analyst. Type frequencies, as well as the general types of materials at an archaeological site, can give the lithic analyst a better understanding of the lithic reduction processes occurring at that site.

Lithic Cores may be multidirectional, conical, cylindrical, biconical, or bifacial. A multidirectional core is the product of any random rock, from which flakes were taken based on the geometry of the rock in any pattern until no further flakes could be removed. Often, multidirectional cores are used in this way until no obvious platforms are present, and then are reduced through bipolar reduction, until the core itself is too small to produce useful flakes. Conical cores have a definite pattern. One flake was removed from a narrow end of the tool stone, and this was then used as the platform to take flakes off in a unifacial fashion all around the edge of the rock. The end result is a cone-like shape. Cylindrical lithic cores are made in a similar fashion, but there is a platform on both ends of the toolstone, with flakes going up and down the side of the cylinder from either direction.

Biconical cores have several platforms around the edge of the stone, with flakes taken alternately from either side, resulting in what looks like a pair of cones stuck together at the bases.Bifacial cores are similar to biconical cores, except that instead of forming a pair of cones, the flakes are taken off in such a way that the core itself grows thinner, without the edges shrinking much. Bifacial cores are usually further reduced into trade bifaces, biface blanks, or bifacial tools. Bifacial cores have been recognized as a technology allowing for efficient material usage(specifically in the creation of edge scrapers) and for their suitability for highly mobile hunter gatherer groups in need of tools made of high quality lithic materials.

Lithic flake

In archaeology, a lithic flake is a "portion of rock removed from an objective piece by percussion or pressure," and may also be referred to as a chip or spall, or collectively as debitage. The objective piece, or the rock being reduced by the removal of flakes, is known as a core. Once the proper tool stone has been selected, a percussor or pressure flaker (e.g., an antler tine) is used to direct a sharp blow, or apply sufficient force, respectively, to the surface of the stone, often on the edge of the piece. The energy of this blow propagates through the material, often (but not always) producing a Hertzian cone of force which causes the rock to fracture in a controllable fashion. Since cores are often struck on an edge with a suitable angle (x<90°) for flake propagation, the result is that only a portion of the Hertzian cone is created. The process continues as the flintknapper detaches the desired number of flakes from the core, which is marked with the negative scars of these removals. The surface area of the core which received the blows necessary for detaching the flakes is referred to as the striking platform.

Microblade technology

Microblade technology is a period of technological development marked by the creation and use of small stone blades, which are produced by chipping silica-rich stones like chert, quartz, or obsidian. Blades are a specialized type of lithic flake that are at least twice as long as they are wide. An alternate method of defining blades focuses on production features, including parallel lateral edges and dorsal scars, a lack of cortex, a prepared platform with a broad angle, and a proximal bulb of percussion. Microblades are generally less than 50 mm long in their finished state.

Middle Stone Age

The Middle Stone Age (or MSA) was a period of African prehistory between the Early Stone Age and the Later Stone Age. It is generally considered to have begun around 280,000 years ago and ended around 50–25,000 years ago. The beginnings of particular MSA stone tools have their origins as far back as 550–500,000 years ago and as such some researchers consider this to be the beginnings of the MSA. The MSA is often mistakenly understood to be synonymous with the Middle Paleolithic of Europe, especially due to their roughly contemporaneous time span, however, the Middle Paleolithic of Europe represents an entirely different hominin population, Homo neanderthalensis, than the MSA of Africa, which did not have Neanderthal populations. Additionally, current archaeological research in Africa has yielded much evidence to suggest that modern human behavior and cognition was beginning to develop much earlier in Africa during the MSA than it was in Europe during the Middle Paleolithic. The MSA is associated with both anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) as well as archaic Homo sapiens, sometimes referred to as Homo helmei. Early physical evidence comes from the Gademotta Formation in Ethiopia, the Kapthurin Formation in Kenya and Kathu Pan in South Africa.


The Neolithic ( (listen), also known as the "New Stone Age"), the final division of the Stone Age, began about 12,000 years ago when the first development of farming appeared in the Epipalaeolithic Near East, and later in other parts of the world.

The division lasted until the transitional period of the Chalcolithic from about 6,500 years ago (4500 BC), marked by the development of metallurgy, leading up to the Bronze Age and Iron Age. In Northern Europe, the Neolithic lasted until about 1700 BC, while in China it extended until 1200 BC. Other parts of the world (including the New World) remained broadly in the Neolithic stage of development, although this term may not be used, until European contact.

The Neolithic comprises a progression of behavioral and cultural characteristics and changes, including the use of wild and domestic crops and of domesticated animals.The term Neolithic derives from the Greek νέος néos, "new" and λίθος líthos, "stone", literally meaning "New Stone Age". The term was coined by Sir John Lubbock in 1865 as a refinement of the three-age system.

Outline of prehistoric technology

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to prehistoric technology.

Prehistoric technology – technology that predates recorded history. History is the study of the past using written records; it is also the record itself. Anything prior to the first written accounts of history is prehistoric (meaning "before history"), including earlier technologies. About 2.5 million years before writing was developed, technology began with the earliest hominids who used stone tools, which they may have used to start fires, hunt, cut food, and bury their dead.


In archeology, a racloir, also known as racloirs sur talon (French for scraper on the platform), is a certain type of flint tool made by prehistoric peoples.

It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.

St. Croix River Access Site

The St. Croix River Access Site (Smithsonian trinomial 21WA49) is a prehistoric Native American archaeological site on the St. Croix River in Stillwater Township, Minnesota, United States. It consists of a habitation site with a large quantity of stone tool artifacts, occupied from roughly 800 to 1700 CE. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 for having local significance in the theme of archaeology. It was nominated for its scientific potential to illuminate Late Woodland period cultural relationships, lithic technology, and resource use.The St. Croix River Access Site was discovered during an archaeological field survey for the Minnesota Department of Transportation in 1983. 21 excavation units were dug, which showed that the center of the site had been destroyed by industrial activity in the 1930s but that archaeological deposits to either side remained intact. 100 ceramic sherds were found. These were identified with four different cultural complexes—the Kathio–Clam River, St. Croix, Sandy Lake, and Madison—indicating that the site had been occupied by different cultures over the span of the Late Woodland Period. Fire-cracked rocks suggested a hearth. Most significant, though, were pieces of animal bone and 886 stone tool fragments and lithic flakes. The lopsided ratio of lithic artifacts to ceramics suggests that groups utilized the site temporarily for a specific purpose, such as for bone or hide processing.

Stone tool

A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool made either partially or entirely out of stone. Although stone tool-dependent societies and cultures still exist today, most stone tools are associated with prehistoric (particularly Stone Age) cultures that have become extinct. Archaeologists often study such prehistoric societies, and refer to the study of stone tools as lithic analysis. Ethnoarchaeology has been a valuable research field in order to further the understanding and cultural implications of stone tool use and manufacture.Stone has been used to make a wide variety of different tools throughout history, including arrow heads, spearpoints and querns. Stone tools may be made of either ground stone or chipped stone, and a person who creates tools out of the latter is known as a flintknapper.

Chipped stone tools are made from cryptocrystalline materials such as chert or flint, radiolarite, chalcedony, obsidian, basalt, and quartzite via a process known as lithic reduction. One simple form of reduction is to strike stone flakes from a nucleus (core) of material using a hammerstone or similar hard hammer fabricator. If the goal of the reduction strategy is to produce flakes, the remnant lithic core may be discarded once it has become too small to use. In some strategies, however, a flintknapper reduces the core to a rough unifacial or bifacial preform, which is further reduced using soft hammer flaking techniques or by pressure flaking the edges.

More complex forms of reduction include the production of highly standardized blades, which can then be fashioned into a variety of tools such as scrapers, knives, sickles and microliths. In general terms, chipped stone tools are nearly ubiquitous in all pre-metal-using societies because they are easily manufactured, the tool stone is usually plentiful, and they are easy to transport and sharpen.

Tool stone

In archaeology, a tool stone is a type of stone that is used to manufacture stone tools,

or stones used as the raw material for tools.Generally speaking, tools that require a sharp edge are made using cryptocrystalline materials that fracture in an easily controlled conchoidal manner.

Cryptocrystalline tool stones include flint and chert, which are fine-grained sedimentary materials; rhyolite and felsite, which are igneous flowstones; and obsidian, a form of natural glass created by igneous processes. These materials fracture in a predictable fashion, and are easily resharpened. For more information on this subject, see lithic reduction.

Large-grained materials, such as basalt, granite, and sandstone, may also be used as tool stones, but for a very different purpose: they are ideal for ground stone artifacts. Whereas cryptocrystalline materials are most useful for killing and processing animals, large-grained materials are usually used for processing plant matter. Their rough faces often make excellent surfaces for grinding plant seeds. With much effort, some large-grained stones may be ground down into awls, adzes, and axes.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.