Lithic means stone and in archaeological terms it is applied to any stone that has been modified in any way whatsoever by humans. Lithic analysis, therefore, is the study of those stones, usually stone tools, using scientific approaches. The branch within archaeology that undertakes the scientific analysis of archaeological materials is called archaeometry.
The work of the lithic analyst or stone tool expert involves measuring the physical properties of the tool and will include categorising the type of tool, listing its characteristics and noting wear and usage marks.
A Multi-Disciplined Science
The analyst must be thoroughly trained in stone tool production techniques to be able to draw valid conclusions about the lithic artefact.
Much information can be gathered from the study of lithic materials. For example, the sources of raw materials to make the tools, can tell how stone was procured and perhaps even the trading patterns of cultures without raw stone. The nature of the materials and the finished products help reveal their technological knowledge, skill base and common learning. Artefacts that can be dated often provide insights to more accurately amend the chronological record.
In order to conduct good research in the alcove of archaeometry, experts must be able to draw on the diversity of many of the earth sciences and allied disciplines.
Techniques for dating lithic tools vary from the simple observation of the known existence of a civilisation at the artefact's discovery level, through to sophisticated thermo luminescence methods. Radiocarbon dating is widely applied to tools with organic attachments such as wooden handles or rope bindings but C14 methods are not reliable when items have been water saturated.
Location and Procurement
Studies to reveal the source of raw stone materials have been at the head of modern archaeological research. Its importance lies in discovering the extent to which stone tooled people travelled to appropriate their basic implement needs. This may, in turn, permit the re-discovery of new sources of raw materials for use today. Methods used to compare artefacts with geological locations include using x-rays, scanning electron microscopes, thin section sampling and electron analysis.
Wear and Usage
Most stone tools display recognisable evidence of wear and use. This should not be confused with the intentional chipping or breaking applied to the stone in order to make it a tool. For example, a flint knife will have been chipped deliberately along its length to form a cutting edge, but it may also show signs of fine polishing from its continued use. This scrutiny is called microwear analysis. Its potential for identifying past human subsistence and handcraft activity is a valuable window into earlier periods. By elucidation and measuring the occurrence of microwear polish and identifying polishes on different raw materials, the tool expert is helped to create a working picture of the daily lives of former cultures.
Heat Treated Stone
Lithic researchers are always interested in whether stone tools were tempered or shaped purposely by fire. High temperatures can change the structures within stone. Lithic analysis laboratories apply various techniques such as magnetic susceptibility and thermo-remanent magnetism to reveal a rock's history.
Thermo-remanent magnetism is a measurement system that deals with the remanent magnetism in the magnetic materials found in stone that has been heated to very high temperatures such as in a brick kiln. High heat changes the stone to have a magnetic field directionally more like that of the earth. Upon cooling the magnetic field will become locked. This process is only useful on objects that have not been moved, such as fire hearths or brick ovens.
More precise identification of burning or deliberate thermal treatment of lithic artefacts can be obtained by thermo-luminescence. The primary purpose of this technique is to date the heating incident.
Getting to Know the Old Tool Maker
The archaeometrist has a varied array of techniques suitable for solving the problems of analysing raw stone materials and artefacts. Understanding the interplay between raw material procurement, heat treatment methods and artefact production and use can enhance our understanding of the skills of the forgotten stone worker.
Does anyone out there have any idea of who might be the premier Archeometrist in the Pacific Northwest. I have recently found some artifacts (confirmed by the Burke in Seattle) and was told they are tools and flakes. I agree there are tools and flakes among them but what I see as arrow and spear points they do not. I am almost certainly convinced that they are in fact an as yet to be documented point technology and most certainly older than any recognized in this particular cut of the world. Any help would be greatly appreciated!
Ry1 - 8-Apr-17 @ 5:43 PM
Hello. Today whilst I was out in the fields waking my dog I found a stone that I kept because I thought it looked unusual. At first I thought I was some kind of fossil as the markings on it look like some kind of flower/ starfish almost. However, when I took it home to show my father, he believes that someone has in fact carved the markings onto the stone and even parts of the outer stone. Is there anyone I can send photos to have a look at to find out more information? Thanks!
Alice - 24-Mar-17 @ 9:33 PM
Hi there not sure if anyone can help me but today I found a stone in a load of pea shingle that was round and looked like a kind of cog I'm totally mythed at what it could be. Someone please help me identify what it is ! I can email photos if you can give me an email address . Many thanks
Guy - 23-Feb-17 @ 7:43 PM
Zen - Your Question:
Hi thereYour site is a great resource! Thanks for creating. I am a 35 year old man from County Antrim in N. Ireland. A while back, while walking along the shore I found a piece of flint that I thought looked "worked". I found this really fascinating and have been bitten by "the bug". I always keep an eye out when I am there with my Son. I know it is likely that none of my finds so far are in fact worked, but thought someone might be good enough to have a look at some pictures for me? Any feedback or advice appreciated!Regards, Jonathan
We can't do this for your Jonathan sorry but it's definitely worth taking them along to a local museum etc
ArchaeologyExpert - 9-Jan-17 @ 11:57 AM
Your site is a great resource! Thanks for creating.I am a 35 year old man from County Antrim in N. Ireland. A while back, while walking along the shore I found a piece of flint that I thought looked "worked". I found this really fascinating and have been bitten by "the bug". I always keep an eye out when I am there with my Son. I know it is likely that none of my finds so far arein fact worked, but thought someone might be good enough to have a look at some pictures for me? Any feedback or advice appreciated!
Zen - 7-Jan-17 @ 10:37 AM
Almost a year later and I'm still finding artifacts on the property I purchased. This entire property was a cove or coral reef that was covered by volcanic ash. The sea floor fossils are still upright in the ground and match one specific place I keep circling back to while researching and that is the Jurassic coast. Some of the stone tools have fossilized coral over the percussion markings which means they were made before whatever event covered this sea floor. There's also reptile carvings, animals carvings, and Neanderthal tools all matching Chauvet Cave and other areas found in France. Everything that I've found here and by everything, I'm talking hundreds of artifacts, all point to this part of the world.And I'm in Ohio... I guess no one is willing accept this. The Baltic amber I have found must be coincidence as well as the dinosaur tracks, oviraptor egg and fossil footprints.
Xpertneeded - 17-Dec-16 @ 5:18 AM
I recently found a flint artifact in the Dordogne area of France that I've been told is a hand ax, either Paleolithic or Neolithic. Can you direct me to someone who is knowledgeable in that area so that they might give me more information about my find?
SarahP - 2-Sep-16 @ 7:58 PM
Hello to whomever reads this and thank you for reading - I have been looking at the history of my local area and knew the road the runs along my house was at least 500 years old, however I also knew a quarry used to be located off of this road, so see a lot of Flint and other rocks (Chalk is mined locally). Anyway I was out walking and noticed (within a trench created by a vehicle) some Flint that may have been worked/knapped.. At this point I knew nothing about technique and the 'bulb of percussion' or 'shockwave effect', however have since found something I believe to have been worked as it has a aerated edge. I have since returned to the site and noticed a few stones laying quite close to the top of the soil, 1 of which has an ammonite in (I believe it's sandstone). I have also, very delicately and with only use of a paint brush, found a no. Of other 'things' (still yet to be researched) however was wondering who I should contact as this could be a site of significant history (however as a non aerchiological laymen) I'm not sure who, can you help?
I can send photos of whatever you need.
Appreciate your help greatly
TimHerts - 25-Aug-16 @ 1:50 PM
I found stone tools on my property. More than I can research at once and need an expert. These aren't the typical flint made, they match acheulean and mousterian. Really cool stuff
Xpertneeded - 11-Apr-16 @ 7:41 PM
A research group of Stoney Brook Univ found - what they call - the oldest stone tools at Lomekwi 3 site. The reported dating techniques (Nature 21 may 2015) date the site. How can they possibly know the tools are produced in the same period?
(being a philosopher I am ignorant in this matter)
Thanks for any clarification.
Boris - 31-May-15 @ 9:01 AM
Hi, I've recently been searching for artifacts in a field near Cayuga lake, NY.I found a broken knife blade / spear point and what I believe to be a couple different "smoothing" tools. One is a smaller rock that has a groove very much shaped for an arrow worn into it and then 2 "chipped" spots with 2 straight lines that are grooved that looks like they were sharpening grooves, They both look like 2 in 1 tools and would like some help identifying them. Thank you!
Kletus - 25-Apr-15 @ 10:27 PM
orn - Anglo-Saxon & Medieval Pottery Specialist
My son recently found a completely intact pottery bowl in the river bank of a river in Scotland, near his home.
To me, a keen enthusiast on history and artefacts, it looks of significant age enough to warrant further investigation. though I may be completely wrong. Would you be able to advise where best to go to have it looked at?
I have some photographs, but no means to post them here, if anyone wants a look to try and identify it?
Jakdaw - 12-Apr-15 @ 4:52 PM
I found what I believe to be a very old cutting tool made from Obsidian I think.....Was wondering if you could give me some info on how to go about getting this verified? Maybe email someone here with a picture
Ral1962 - 12-Jun-14 @ 10:38 PM
Looking at a post from recneps back in Nov 11 relating to tools found with x s marked on them I've have found a a number of tools with markings and x markings. Did you manage to date the or get any info
coillte1 - 7-Jun-14 @ 11:08 AM
hello i have a venus statue the london muscum said it look like its over 15 000 years old they told me it needs to be certifed who can do this for me as i need it for to get valuereguards tony
dublin402000 - 2-Dec-11 @ 4:54 PM
I have found a flint tool with a knapped image of the head of a deer?in one corner,
and another with a drawing of a hunt scratched into the percusssion bulb.
Also there was X or cross marked seperately on each piece.
Have there been other artifacts flint tools found with images on them.
Thanks for any help.
recneps - 17-Nov-11 @ 8:47 PM
Hi I have dug up a stone which looks like an ancient scraper but it is made of lead or a lead alloy can anyone help. I submitted a picture on the ask a question page. Thanks David
Dave - 5-Sep-11 @ 10:20 AM
i have some pictures of possible flint tools i have recenly found wondered if someone could give me their oppinion.
gow - 2-Aug-11 @ 3:40 PM
I have a stone that seems to be worked but it is made out of rutilated quartz.To me that is odd, I want to shape the stone into jewlery but am worried if i am damaging an artifact.How can I tell?
rspyder - 26-Jun-11 @ 8:00 AM
If I sent you a picture of 3 stones would you please tell me what I have and if they are stone tools.
Gunter - 5-Jun-11 @ 4:50 AM
How can I verify if something I have found is a stone tool? It almost has to be, there are finger markings and it's so smooth.I have pictures, please contact me if you can help.