A SIMPLE GLOSSARY OF LITHIC TERMS
If there is a term we have used that you would like us to define, please send us a message here.
The Bronze age is the period succeeding the Neolithic and Chalcolithic. It is commonly associated with the adoption of copper and bronze as a primary material for implements. In Britain, archaeologists generally interpret the period as commencing with the appearance of the Bell beaker burial rite around 2500 BC and ending around 800 BC with the advent of the Iron Age (Bahn 1992, 71; Roberts 2008, 63). While metalwork occurred during the period, the use of lithic materials for artefacts was also commonplace. For a general introduction to the period as well as more detail and discussion, see Bahn (1992, 71), Roberts (2008), Parker-Pearson (2005).
The word Chalcolithicliterally means ‘copper stone’ and the term used to mean the ‘Copper Age’: a period just prior to the Bronze Age. Traditionally it was used to refer to cultures that were essentially Later Neolithic in character but had begun to adopt the use of copper and gold for the manufacture of objects. Consequently, some archaeologists use the term to specifically mean the ‘Metalworking Neolithic’ otherwise known as the Eneolithic or Aneolithic. Generally, in this sense, this meant the manufacture of copper and gold objects through beating (percussion) the ores and mild heating (as opposed to smelting proper per se) as if it were stone. However, others would argue (depending on the region and especially the Near East) that societies who used pyro-technology to separate (i.e. smelt) the copper from the ore (usually but not always Malachite) would fall into this categorisation. In contrast, some argue it reflects a distinct period after the Neolithic but before the Bronze Age, while others argue it should be at the beginning of the Bronze Age (Bahn 1992, 157; Roberts 2008, 63). Indeed, some authorities question if it even occurred in Britain. Whichever classification, the use of chipped and ground stone lithics was still commonplace. See Bahn (1992, 71), Roberts (2008), Parker-Pearson (2005) for a general introduction to the period/sub-period.
Chipped stone lithics are those artefacts that were manufactured using intentional induced conchoidal fracture (also known as knapping or flaking) (Hranicky 2013, 146; Inizan et al., 1992, 90).
Chaîne opératoire (literally operational chain) is a crucial concept that is the basis of the study lithic artefacts. In simple terms, it is the attributes of a lithic artefact that reflect its life history or ‘life cycle’ (Inizan et al. 1992 11-12, 1999, 14; Preston 2012 29-30).
Geologists, otherwise known as Earth Scientists, specialise in the study of the Earth. They study the physical, chemical, and biological processes and products to understand the origin, history, and structure of the Earth (Bahn 1992, 180; Lapidus 1987, 243). Many of the specialised sub-disciplines of geology such as petrology, lithology, petrography are important both methodologically and theoretically in interpreting archaeological remains, and this is especially the case for lithic implements.
Geochemistry is the study of the various elements and compounds in the rocks and minerals (Luedtke 1991, 37). On a macro-scale, this is the specific mineral compounds present in the rock, and on a micro-scale, it is the analysis of specific impurities and trace elements. The analysis of the mineralogy and the trace elements in each rock can potentially help archaeologists identify the source of the material. In turn, the results may help the archaeologist make interpretations about procurement strategies, mobility or trade and exchange networks to name a few.
Theselithics are those stone artefacts that are manufactured predominantly through grinding and polishing. Some early stages of manufacture may involve knapping, but the evidence of this removed through the grinding or polishing stages of manufacture (Frieman and Bray 2008, 424-434).
The word lithic is derived from the Greek word for stone, archaeologists and especially lithicists use the term to refer to humanly modified stone artefacts or tools (Bahn, 1992, 293) whether made through knapping (induced conchoidal fracture) or grinding and polishing. Sometimes the term lithics and specifically chipped stone tools are known as flints (see Shepherd 1972 for a discussion), although many archaeologists often reserve this term for those tools that are made explicitly of Cretaceous Flint (from Chalk) to differentiate those made from another material (such as Chert from Limestone). This distinction, however, is not universal. Moreover, some researchers (e.g. see Hranicky 2013, 322; Odell 2003, 4) reserve the term for stone objects in a more general sense.
Lithicists are specialist archaeologists who research lithic technology and analyse the stone tools of past cultures
Lithology is the characterisation of a rock by its macroscopic visual physical properties (such as colour, texture, hardness, grain size, and mineralogical composition amongst others) using both macroscopic observation and very low power magnification with a hand lens (Mackenzie & Adams 2011, 7; MacDonald 1963, 368). Thus, lithology contrasts with petrography which characterises the macroscopic attributes of rocks.
The term Mesolithic literally means ‘Middle Stone’ with the word ‘Age’ implied. However, the Mesolithic should never be referred to as the ‘Middle Stone Age’ because this term is reserved for a different period (i.e. the middle phase of the Palaeolithic between the Lower Palaeolithic and the Upper Palaeolithic in various places, especially in Africa). In Britain, the Mesolithic is recognised as the distinctive hunter-gatherer cultural adaptation to the post-glacial environmental conditions and part of a developmental continuum from the final Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer groups to the food-producing sedentary communities of the Neolithic (Preston 2012, 92-3, 2008, 25). The beginning of this period is considered to be around to be 9650 Cal BC or 10,000 BP (11,600 Cal BP), and it ends around c.4050 Cal BC (6000 Cal BP or 5000BP) (Barton & Roberts 2004; Preston 2012, 2008; Rozoy 1989; Tolan-Smith 2008). For an introduction, characterisation and discussion on the Mesolithic See Preston (2008), Wymer (1991), Barton and Roberts (2004), Milner and Woodman (2005), Bailey and Spikins (2008), Conneller and Warren (2005) and Saville (2004).
This is the study of the attributes of the rock that can be seen with the eye or a low power hand lens. For example, the colour, texture, hardness, grain size of a rock. See also lithology.
Microfossils are the remains of organisms that are fossilised in rocks and are only visible using high powered magnification (Lipps n.d.). These organisms may include invertebrate animals, pollen/plants, diatoms, foraminifera, bacteria, and fungi to name a few. The study of microfossils in stone tools is useful to geologists and archaeologists to identify the source rock and hence make inferences about trade and exchange or mobility etc.
The term Neolithic literally means ‘New stone’ with the word age implied. It is the latest period of the Stone Age succeeding the Mesolithic. The period is characterised, though not exclusively, by food-producing (plant cultivation and animal domestication) more sedentary communities and is usually associated with the beginning of the continued use of chipped stone technology (usually with new forms), and the adoption of ground stone tools and pottery (Bahn 1992, 351; Pollard 1997, 5-7; Pouncet 208, 37). In some places such as the Near East it is divided into an aceramic or pre-pottery Neolithic – where pottery was not yet used; and a ceramic Pottery Neolithic (where the use of pottery had been adopted (e.g. see Bar-Yosef 1998; Clark 1980; Cauvin 2000; Gopher 1998; Maisels 1990). In Britain, however, this distinction generally does not exist, and the Neolithic commences around 4000 Cal BC with the full ‘Neolithic package’ (noted above including pottery). In Britain, it was succeeded by the Bronze Age around 2500 Cal BC. For an introduction and characterisation of the Neolithic in Britain see Pollard (1997), Thomas (2005), Malone (2001), Cummings (2017) and Parker-Pearson (2005).
The Palaeolithicliterally means ‘Old Stone’ with ‘Age’ implied. It is the period in prehistory from the first appearance of the tool using Humans (i.e. human species belonging to the Genus Homo) till the end of the Ice age and the advent of the Mesolithic around 10,000 BP. However, some archaeologists would use the term also to include the earlier archaeology of assumed to be non-tool using Hominins (e.g. the Australopithecines and Paranthropines are assumed by many not to have made stone tools). The onset of the Palaeolithic varies from region to region. The earliest stone tools appear sometime just before 3 million years ago in Africa. However, in Britain, the earliest known tools date to around 700,000 years ago. For an introduction and characterisation of the period see Barton (2005), Lang and Preston (2008), Pettitt and White (2012), Stringer (2006, 2011), Klein (2009), and Gamble (2008) amongst others.
How to Cite
Preston, P.R., 2020. A Simple Glossary of Lithic Terms, Lithoscapes. Last Modified <the last modified date shown below>, Accessed <the date you last accessed this page>, URL: lithoscapes.co.uk/glossary/
Last Updated 13/07/2020