Keynote Abstracts

Dr Carolyn Graves-Brown

Lustre, flint and arsenical copper in Dynastic Egypt

I here suggest that in the Early Dynastic period flint was ideologically important at least partly because of its lustrous qualities. During later periods, metal, and particularly arsenical copper took over this role. Archaeological evidence shows that in Early Dynastic Egypt pale flint and rock crystal were frequently selected for both grave goods and jewellery and that the lustre of flint was enhanced by polishing. By lustre I mean the scintillating qualities of whiteness and shininess. However, this emphasis on flint’s lustrous qualities decreases dramatically around 2600 B.C., the end of the third Dynasty. Not only does flint cease to be used in graves, but archaeological evidence for its ritual use declines, and often that ritual use is related to its aesthetics. At the same time, arsenical copper, which is lighter coloured than pure copper, takes the place of flint in graves. It seems flint was literally outshone.

Dr Osamu Maeda

Technological failure in lithic production: a case of flint heat treatment

In this paper I will discuss some technological and cultural aspects of the practice of heat treatment of flint nodules at the Neolithic site of Hasankeyf Höyük in southeastern Turkey. Heat treatment is a lithic production technique in which raw material is heated by controlled fire in order to alter its physical property and improve its flaking quality. The archaeological and ethnographical evidence of heat treatment is known from all over the world and it is not an unusual technique in production of lithic tools. However, what is interesting in the case of Hasankeyf Höyük is that there are many flint artefacts which were apparently over heated and not suitable for use, suggesting that the practice of heat treatment frequently ended in a failure. On the other hand, the experimental studies which I conducted, using an electrical furnace and a bonfire, have shown that once the appropriate know-how of heating time and temperature is learnt, it does not necessarily require high technical skill to carry out heat treatment. It is thus more likely that the people at this site were not very keen on improving the success rate of heat treatment even when they could easily have done so. It suggests that technological failure was not something that they needed to overcome but was something positively accepted as a part of the routine practice of lithic production.

Dr Karen Wright

Cultural Lithospheres and Materials Ethnoscience:
Geology, Raw Materials and Intersections Between Different Lithic Technologies

Archaeological studies of artefacts are hampered by old categories of analysis. A remarkable but unjustifiable conservatism prevails in the archaeology of artefact studies, resulting in a situation that divides up material assemblages according to outdated notions. These notions may be preventing us from seeing prehistoric craft production as clearly as we might. Examples include the distinction between chipped stone technology and ground stone technology, an old distinction that has some usefulness but also presents problems. Another example concerns typological categorization of stone artefacts that prioritizes functional interpretation (or assumptions about function) before raw materials and techniques of manufacture. This paper considers whether an approach based on raw materials and technology permits us to investigate (1) ancient cultural perceptions of rocks, minerals and geology in landscapes (cultural lithospheres); and (2) ancient cultural perceptions of raw material properties (materials ethnoscience). It may be more useful to think in terms of the intersections of, and complementarity between, different types of lithic technologies. Case studies from the Near Eastern Neolithic are discussed: (1) early stone bead production; (2) production of art; and (3) the so-called “food processing” tools.

Dr Aimée Little

The special treatment of tools in graves: a microscopic perspective

We think about stone tools being made and deposited in ritual ways, but rarely do we consider the possibility that the tools themselves may have received special treatment. In this talk I will focus on the microscopic techniques of microwear and residue analyses: it is the combination and application of these methods that allows us rare insights into the otherwise invisible choices people made regarding the ritual use and treatment of tools. I will argue that whilst lithic technology studies are fundamental, microwear analysis should be seen as equally so. It is at the micro-level that information on past the function of a tool can provide contradictory evidence to what, as technologists, we assume based on tool form alone. More recently, microwear research on grave assemblages has shown that grave goods were treated in specific ways, revealing exceptional insights into mortuary practices and hunter-gatherer belief systems. To illustrate this point I will focus on results of microwear analysis of an Early Mesolithic axe found in a cremation burial at Hermitage, Co. Limerick, Ireland.