Common Stone Types and |
Northeastern Lithic Technologies
A Presentation of NativeTech:Native American Technology and Art
© 1994 - Tara Prindle
|<-- Click on the tabs or the stones to identify samples in the categories of lithic materials in the Northeast.|
Stone tools have been part of human technology for literally millions of years, and the Northeast Woodland region offers a unique assemblage of raw lithic materials for stone tool technology. Different materials and tools manufactured, used and left behind at a location can tell us a great deal peoplesí activities there. Looking at the distribution of lithic materials and tool types through time, you can start to get a picture of peopleís changing settlement patterns, how they used the natural resources across the landscape and glimpse into distant trade routes.
A wide range of approaches can be used to study lithic technology. The approaches study the various stages of how stone is acquired, used and disposed of and also how stone is distributed and exchanged. Minimizing costs and using logical efficiency in the acquisition of stone, the patterns of its procurement and consumption show how the economics of lithic technology are tied to other systems of subsistence and social organization.
Stone is composed of minerals and can be classified into material types according to how they formed: Mineral growth, Sedimentary, Metamorphic and Volcanic. Sedimentary rocks are form through the deposition and compression of particulate matter, Metamorphic rocks are changed from the effects of extreme temperature and pressure, and Volcanic rocks are cooled from molten igneous magma. Stone types have unique textures and fracturing characteristics due to their mineral composition and formation processes which make them more or less suitable for the various methods of working stone in Northeastern lithic technology.
Stones with an even fracture are ideal for flaked stone tools and percussion or pressure flaking results in smooth concave-convex faces. The fracture is associated with rock types which have mineral grains which are too small to be seen with the unaided eye. This category includes those rocks which are not layered or fissile (systematic planes of weak bonding). Stones with even fractures include the glassy, porcelain-like and non-platy textures exhibited by chalcedony, chert and flints.
Other rocks have a rough surface and are uneven or irregular when fractured. Their mineral grains are usually macroscopic, visible to the unaided eye, and may have non-oriented granular structure. Commonly associated with tightly packed mineral crystals of igneous or metamorphic rocks, or the cemented grains of sedimentary rocks, these rocks are not always ideal for flaked stone tool making. The hardness and resilience better suit these rocks to hammer-stones, pecked and ground tools, or cooking hearths.
Some stones split into even planes when fractured. Commonly associated with shale, slate, schist, and graphite, these rocks have cleavage planes in one direction. These rocks usually have a fine grained texture, due to clay or platy minerals, and the general softness made it less desirable for flaked stone tools but more appropriate for fine ground stone tools, pottery temper or mineral pigments. Steatite, with itís unique mineral composition, has a fibrous texture and fractures with an uneven hackly appearance. The material is ideally suited to pecking and carving and polishes to a high luster.
A good understanding of lithic technology, requires not only knowing how tools are made and used, but also knowledge of the types and material characteristics of stone available to people either locally or through long distance trade.