Lithics Analysis Laboratory

Lithic analysis is a key-element in all projects related to the study of prehistoric hunter-gatherers and will remain so in future Stone Age research. The approach employed in modern lithic studies emphasises a dynamic technological analysis of primary production sequences based on experimental flint knapping and refitting of inventories. Functional analysis provides a basis for addressing the handling and use of flint tools. Sourcing and provenance analysis provide a basis for discussing the acquisition of lithic raw material in relation to other socioeconomic activities, such as scheduling, control and management of resources as well as mobility patterns and communication networks. For this reason, the establishment of a „Lithic Analysis Laboratory“, well-equipped with facilities for experimental studies, use-wear analysis, comparative raw material analysis, etc., is a designated priority of the ZBSA Stone Age department.

Current ZBSA lithic studies research projects span from „Technological approach to Hamburgian lithic assemblages as a means of re-evaluating its relationship with the Magdalenian“ and „Riesenklingen als Anzeiger von Fernkontakten? Ein technologischer Vergleich zwischen Ahrensburger Kultur, Belloisien und Long Blade Technology“ over „Heat treatment of chert as a cultural marker in the early mesolithic of southwest Germany“ and „Bronze Age lithic technology“ to „Crafts apprenticeship and transmission of knowledge in prehistoric flint working“. Events carried out in 2011 and relating specifically to lithic studies included the organization of an international workshop for members of the „Nordic Blade Technology Network“ in Schleswig in March 2011, as well as a session at the 17th annual meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists in Oslo in September 2011 on „Prehistoric flint daggers in Europe (and beyond?)“. Other activities focussed on establishing the laboratory facilities needed for carrying out in particular functional analysis and lithic raw material analysis.

Facilities for functional, i.e., use-wear, analysis were established during the winter 2010–2011. Our laboratory is now equipped with a stereoscopic (Olympus SZX10) and a metallographic (Olympus BXFM) microscope, both with reflected light for use-wear analysis. The microscopes are also equipped with a digital camera (Olympus SC30) in order to ease the process of analysing and storing data. In February 2011 Prof. Dr. Alfred Pawlik (University of the Philippines, Archaeological Studies Program) spent a very intensive week in the laboratory teaching a hands-on seminar on lithic use-wear analysis for ZBSA scientific staff and (associated) doctoral students.

With the help of experimental archaeologist Harm Paulsen we have also started building up a reference collection with experimentally manufactured flint tools, which were and are being used to perform tasks possibly executed in the past. This reference collection is in the making, but will be systematically developed in connection with various relevant research projects.

Another priority in 2011 was the establishment of a systematic „Raw Material Comparative Collection“.

Tool stone such as flint and chert was used for the majority of prehistory for a wide variety of tools for both everyday use and as status items. In the Baltic region high quality flint was a very important resource. A great deal of information can be gained by knowing the source(s) used by different prehistoric populations as well as the general properties of the materials available to different culture groups. Inferences can be made about socioeconomic issues such as trade, mobility, and degrees of social complexity.

Pinpointing the exact source of lithic materials can, however, be complicated as material can come from primary and secondary geologic contexts or different outcroppings of the same formation. Therefore, a good lithic comparative collection is an invaluable tool for making a first general classification of materials and can also serve as a learning tool for new students and a reference tool for more experienced researchers to gain a broad picture of raw material variability and specific raw material types.

The private collection of Harm Paulsen contains samples of flint, chert, quartzite, jasper, obsidian, and radiolarite from around Europe, but with a particular emphasis on local Baltic flints. This collection was offered as a permanent loan to the ZBSA to form the basis for a teaching and comparative collection as a part of the developing lithic analysis laboratory. The primary focus in 2011 has been to create an inventory of basic description of the samples with attributes including point of origin, availability prehistorically, colour, glassiness, and texture. The collection also includes samples which demonstrate different types of patination as well as technological and geological phenomena. A bibliography was generated for major tool stone sources to accompany the database. More samples will be added as they become available. The data was gathered by visiting intern Karin Johannesen from the University of Aarhus.

Many variables traditionally used to describe lithics are subjective, creating a need for such comparative collections. As researchers focus on a given area or collection it is easy to forget the wide variability of lithic materials. Based upon the experience of Harm Paulsen, noted flint knapper and experimental archaeologist, the relative glassiness of a material plays an important role in the choice of material for specific tool types. To create a baseline for use within the ZBSA that relies completely on macroscopic criteria, a physical scale was created consisting of different flint types representing a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 as the most fine grained, and 10 the most coarse flint. This scale can be used to evaluate archived museum collections to look at raw material choice for specific tool types to determine if there were consistent preferences in prehistory.

Research clusters

Man and Artefact

Research Priorities

Technology – Tradition and Innovation


PD Dr. Berit Valentin Eriksen, Dr. Mara-Julia Weber