Friday, October 06, 2006

Quartz Time

Do you know what's in this picture? Click on it to get a bigger version. Check out the details.

Fredrik Molin sent it to me. He's a field archaeologist and Mesolithic scholar working in Östergötland. Together with Magnus Rolöf and other colleagues, he's excavated a Stone Age quartz quarry at Stjärneberg right outside Linköping.

As mentioned here before, quartz is a tricky material to knap, not at all like flint. You get loads of debris, and your actual products are pretty ugly. But it works, and in much of Scandinavia quartz was the number one tool-making material for millennia.

At Stjärneberg Fredrik and the others have documented a small quarry looking pretty much like it did on the last day that somebody used it. The date of use is still uncertain, and the site may have seen repeated visits for centuries or millennia. But there was a knapping floor nearby displaying a bipolar knapping technique particularly common during the Mesolithic, and post-glacial shoreline displacement sets the earliest possible date for the quarry's use to the Late 7th Millennium BC. This is the date that Fredrik suggests: at the time, the site was at the shore of an island with good access to marine resources. Hopefully, radiocarbon from a nearby hearth will settle the issue.

Molin, Fredrik; Rolöf, Magnus & Wikell, Roger. Manuscript. Mesolithic quartz quarrying in Eastern Middle Sweden in the light of a newly excavated quarry at Stjärneberg, Linköping.
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Blogger Karen said...

I see a house on blocks and an "X" which usually marks the spot. I've only tried knapping once, during my field school, we were fortunate to be given a bunch of obsidian. Holy crap! It was suh-weet. Probably not the best thing to give a bunch of kids in the early 20s who've never done it before. There was a massive run on bandaids that evening.

06 October, 2006 22:15  
Blogger Martin said...

There must have been so many one-eyed people back in the age of lithics. Knapping flint, you have splinters flying all over the place. And they had no protective glasses.

06 October, 2006 22:19  
Blogger Karen said...

Flint knapping pirates....cooooool!

07 October, 2006 05:46  
Blogger Carl said...

Cool. I never knew that about quartz! It must have been a pain to knap. In your linked post, you say "people just bashed at quartz until producing something sharp." Were there any quartz lithic forms that routinely show up, or is that comment about as accurate as it gets?

08 October, 2006 02:16  
Blogger Martin said...

Quartz lithic forms are rare, though transverse-edged arrowheads do occur. But if you have enough debris from one knapping event, you can (that is, people with the kind of insight I lack into these things can) identify the basic technique used.

In Sweden it's either freehand percussion, anvil percussion or bipolar, where you rest the core squarely on the anvil and direct the force through the core into the anvil. And these techniques are chronologically relevant. But, as I said, the details are all Greek to me.

My lithics friends use a cute expression: "this quartz has been bipped".

08 October, 2006 08:49  

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