Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stop being such a flake

Now that we have brushed up on our flake basics, it is time to go into a little bit more detail about how Anne and I identify and catalog flakes in the lab.

The five general types of flakes are pictured above (save for flake shatter, which generally appears as a broken flake or a blocky chunk), beginning with a decortication flake and ending with tertiary flakes. The following descripions correlate with the image. The first type is called a decortication flake. This flake still has cortex, the outer surface of a stone, visible. The second type is primary, which, when viewed from the side, typically presentes a triangular cross-section (see the image to the left). These flakes usually have not been modified at all as they are the first flaked removed to set up the rest of the stone for tool-making, and are generally discarded. These primary flakes often still have generous amounts of cortex present, and as such a flake can both be a primary flake and a decortication flake. This type is followed by the secondary flake. When viewed from the side this flake is more lenticular than triangular, and is very often curved (see the image to the right). The purpose of removing this type of flake is to further shape the the stone (core) intended for tool making. The fourth type is the tertiary flake, which is a rather small flat or curved rectangular flake. This is the final type of flake removed as part of the process to shape, sharpen, or rework a tool. This type of flake is also produced when tools, such as projectile points, are being resharpened. Finally, the fifth flake type is shatter, which is debitage from stone tool production that shows no clear evidence of having the typical attributes of a flake, though it could be a broken flake. Of course, within these four types there are more specific varieties, and in some cases it is not always clear exactly which category a flake falls into.

I know that is a big chunk of information to absorb...but no worries, I do not expect you to be able to regurgitate all of that in the field! I just hope that at least some of the mystery surrounding flake identification has been solved so that next time you come across a possible flake you will have an idea of what to look for.

Have a great weekend everyone--stay warm and dry!

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