Lithics and Landscape Archaeology

Authored by: Chris Clarkson

Handbook of Landscape Archaeology

Print publication date:  December  2008
Online publication date:  June  2016

Print ISBN: 9781598742947
eBook ISBN: 9781315427737
Adobe ISBN: 9781315427720


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Stone is a reductive medium. When broken by heat, percussion, or pressure, the parent rock is inexorably altered, and visible and durable reminders of that activity are typically left behind in the form of flakes, cores, discarded implements, and other fragments. By this means, lithic residues come to mark places with histories of human visitation, association, activity, and memory that implore us to read the landscape as humanly inhabited and experienced in the past. Because the stone suited to this intentional shaping of tools and objects of trade or display derives from sources that are sometimes distinctive, unevenly distributed, and of varying quality, it provides us with a record of material transport and selection that is vital to connecting places, choices, and material residues to past human movements and people’s technological and social concerns. We also cannot downplay the important functional role that stone artifacts played in enabling people to make a living from the landscape—and hence the constraints on design, efficiency, and organization of production, use, and maintenance that lend lithic assemblages much of their character. These same artifacts also likely held meanings to past artisans beyond their mundane history or potentiality for use as tools, and the ethnography of Aboriginal Australia, for instance, provides many illustrations of the social, mythical, and genealogical meanings that inhere in particular stone outcrops, distinctive colors, and various artifact forms (Cane 1992; Gould 1968; Gould and Saggers 1985; Harrison 2002; Jones and White 1988; Paton 1994; Taçon 1991; Thomson 1949). Patterns of association between distinctive and nondistinctive lithic objects with significant or unique features of the natural or built environment can also point to the existence of symbolic or ritual connections to places in past societies.

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