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Heat treatment of chert

Prof. Dr. Berit Valentin Eriksen

A cultural marker in the early Mesolithic of southwest Germany?

In the Early Mesolithic of Southwest Germany local cherts were often subjected to heat treatment before the final processing to tools. From a technological point of view this evidences that the past flint knappers knew how to employ pyrotechnology in order to change and improve specific raw material properties during a tool production process. Moreover, it seems that the use of this extraordinary technological approach was chronologically restricted to the so-called Beuronian inventories (6500–8500 calBC). There is no indication that it was known or used by either the preceding Late Palaeolithic or the succeeding Late Mesolithic flint knappers. It may even be a fairly local or at least regional phenomenon, since we find only a few inventories from adjacent regions (Switzerland and Eastern France) displaying the characteristics of thermal pre-treatment. It may thus indicate the existence of a localized and unique flint knapping tradition within the region.

Beuronian related tool assemblages are known from sites throughout most of Central Europe. However, these inter-regional relationships are primarily based on observations with respect to morphological typology. It is stressed that Early Mesolithic morphological tool types were simple and easily shared. Sharing the technology behind may have been quite a different thing. Perhaps the evidence of thermal pre-treatment presents an indication that specific flint knapping knowledge was kept within the ethnic group, transmitted from one generation to the next over a few hundred years, but not shared with outsiders. This assertion is vital to any further interpretation and evidently has to be tested against a larger number of archaeological inventories.

The purpose of this ongoing project is to complete a contextual »chaîne opératoire« analysis of the heat treatment process in the archaeological inventories in question and to assert the resulting technological, socio-cultural and behavioural implications for our interpretation of the Early Mesolithic hunter-gatherer groups in Central Europe. To accomplish this, it is very important that systematic heat treatment may leave quite distinct marks on the artefacts in question. Thus, non-anthropogenic or accidental heat influence will usually result in merely a large proportion of burned and shattered pieces, whereas a carefully controlled heat treatment is discernible through the systematic occurrence of significant changes in flaking properties, colour and appearance of the lithic artefacts in question.

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