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Morphology of Lithic Artifacts: Experimental and Morphometric Approaches

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MORPHOLITHEX (Morphology of Lithic Artifacts: Experimental and Morphometric Approaches)

Reporting period: 2017-10-01 to 2019-09-30

MORPHOLITHEX project set out to better understand how prehistoric people made stone tools. Flintknapping is a complex motor skill and involves various actions by the knapper: shaping the geometry of the core, the angle of the platform edge, how deep into the platform a core is struck, the angle of the blow, the softness of the hammer. Archaeologists know, from decades of replicative experiments, that all these variables knappers can control and they can also estimate how each affects the outcome of the flake. However, this process is so internalized that, for the knapper, it is very dificult to evaluate objectively the exact effect of each of these variables, especially how they interact with each other.

This project uses simulated knapping setting that makes it possible to control several variables relevant for flintknapping and thus evaluate their importance – independently and in interaction with other variables - in the final size and the shape on an artifact. Cores made out of glass are knapped in a machine that uses pneumatic cylinder or hydraulic press to remove flakes, thus imitating flintknapping. In this setting, it is possible to control many if not all the variables that are under control of the knapper: core shape, platform angle and depth, angle od blow, hammer type. Flakes coming off the cores in this experiment will be 3D scanned and advanced methods are used to analyze the data: 1) 3D geometric morphometrics to better capture size and shape, 2) advanced statistical modeling to investigate the simultaneous effects of different variables, and especially their interaction.

This work aims to contribute to our understanding of how stones break. It will address the underlying rules of flake formation, that will further help archaeologist better understand how prehistoric people exploited these rules in the course of Prehistory.
The first experiment conducted in this project examined if the glass is the appropriate material to use in experiments involving knapping. Most controlled experiments conducted thus far used glass cores. Here we used different raw materials that knappers in prehistory used (basalt, obsidian, flint), to see if the results obtained with glass can be replicated. The results of the experiments showed that the raw materials knap in the same way as glass, confirming the validity of previous experiments and further supporting the continuation of the use of glass as a main material in experiments in lithic technology. The results of this experiment have been presented at two international conferences and published as open-access in a peer-reviewed journal.

Glass artifacts have been produced in the Laboratory for the Study of Ancient Technology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where the first part of this project is conducted, since early 2000s. This has been done in the course of several experiments that examined various variables affecting the resulting flakes. Most of this data has been analyzed with only metric attributes and with standard statistical methods. In the course of MORPHOLITHEX project, all the artifacts produced in this lab have been scanned and their 3D models generated. This will represent the foundation of the further analysis with 3D geometric morphometric analysis and advanced statistical tools.
This project already made significant contribution in the field of experimental archaeology by showing that the raw materials used in the past flake in the same way as glass. This validates the results of the experiments in archaeology that have been conducted in the past and supports the use of glass as a material in experimental knapping.

The virtual collection of 3D models of artifacts produced in controlled setting comprises nearly 1800 pieces. The 3D models will be published online and be available for researchers worldwide to use in addressing various research questions related to the production of stone tools. Furthermore, this virtual collection can be used in teaching settings in high-school or University-level classes.