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Lithic analysis: use-wear, experimental work and cultural choice

Dr Linda Hurcombe

Stone tools are the most enduring artefacts. Archaeological lithic assemblages have been studied to reveal the technology and sequence of working, as well as the end result - the desired artefact. The purpose of stone tools has been more enigmatic. Traces of the damage and wear caused during use can be seen microscopically. These use-wear traces can sometimes be interpreted to reveal the use-action or the use-material of a tool. The technique of functional analysis developed for stone tools forms the basis for the study of the sharper but more brittle obsidian tool edges. Dr Linda Hurcombe's Obsidian Use Wear Analysis: Theory, Experiments and Results (Sheffield Academic Press) reports the results of an extensive experimental programme. Obsidian tools were made and used on a variety of materials. The results showed that obsidian functional analysis is possible although the worn areas do not show as a 'polish' against a duller natural background as they do for flint, but as texturally altered surfaces on an already bright, shiny natural surface. This difference also means that residues from the use-material show up clearly. In many cases the selection of a tool type for a task is a matter of practical effectiveness and cultural choice.

Hurcombe, L. 1988 `Some criticisms and suggestions in response to Newcomer et al. 1986' Journal of Archaeological Science 15:1-13.

Hurcombe, L. 1992 'L'analyse des traces d'usure sur l'obsidienne'. L'Anthropologie 96, no.1 p. 179-185.

Hurcombe, L. 1992 'New contributions to the study of the function of Sardinian obsidian artefacts'. in R.H.Tycot and T.K. Andrews (eds.) Sardinia in the Mediterranean: A Footprint in the Sea. Studies in Sardinian Archaeology presented to Miriam S. Balmuth. Monographs in Mediterranean Archaeology 3. Sheffield Academic Press: Sheffield. 83-97.

Hurcombe, L. 1998 ( with P. Phillips) 'Chronology and artefact function at the Grotta Filiestru, Sardinia: choices and functions' in M.Balmuth and R.Tykot (eds) Sardinian and Aegean Chronology: Towards the Resolution of Relative and Absolute Dating in the Mediterranean. Studies in Sardinian Archaeology 5. Oxford: Oxbow p. 93-102. (isbn 1900188821)

Hurcombe, L. 1994 (published 1998) 'Plant-working and craft activities as a potential source of microwear variation'. Helinium 34(2):201-209.

Hurcombe, L. 2001 Microwear on flint tools, (p. 143-146) in D. G. Buckley, J.D.Hedges and N. Brown ‘Excavations at Springfield Cursus, Essex’. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 67: 101-162.

Hurcombe, L. and L. Williams 2002 ‘Fish skin as a prehistoric material’ Bulletin of Primitive Technology 23:39-41.

Hurcombe, L. in press "Looking for prehistoric basketry and cordage using inorganic remains: the evidence from stone tools", in L.Longo and N.Skakun (eds) “Prehistoric Technology” 40 years later: Functional Studies and the Russian Legacy. Oxford: BAR IS.