Prehistoric Flintknapping Tool Research for Experimental Archeology by Christopher W. Ringstaff

Christopher W. Ringstaff is a visiting researcher from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). This article is part of the March 2018 TARL Newsletter.


For the past several months, I have been looking at prehistoric flint knapping implements in the collections at TARL. As an experimental archeologist, having the best understanding of prehistoric tool kits used in chipped-stone tool manufacturing improves the quality and resolution of my research. The following is a brief overview of this research discussing sites, tools, and replicated tools.

I examined collections from sites spanning three regions of Texas: Central Texas, the Lower Pecos, and the Coastal Plain. Sites studied included Gault (41BL323), Fate Bell (41VV74), Eagle Cave (41VV163), Morhiss Mound (41VT1), and the Crestmont Site (41WH39). The sites range in age from Early to Late Archaic. The items from Gault may be older but are from the Pearce Collection, an impressive but poorly provenienced collection made by one of the earliest investigators of the site. The site types from which these knapping implements were recovered are varied and include open campsites, rock shelters, and burial sites.

The knapping implements reviewed included antler billets for direct percussion, antler tines for pressure flaking, and antler segments commonly referred to as punches or drifts for indirect percussion. Although many of the specimens were utilitarian and were apparently discarded, in the case of Crestmont and Morhiss Mound, some items were found together as knapping kits interred with deceased individuals as grave goods. Notable are the knapping kits found with burials associated with Features 4 and 9 at the Crestmont Site, which included an array of well manufactured punches. Also remarkable was the knapping kit from Burial 119 at Morhiss Mound that included a wide range of knapping tools including billets, tines, and possible punches. All of the Burial 119 artifacts remain covered in ochre.

Figure 1. White-tail antler billet for soft-hammer direct percussion from Fate Bell Shelter (41VV74).
Figure 2. Experimental white-tail antler billet for soft-hammer direct percussion.

The attributes of these artifacts were used to model experimental knapping tools for replication and comparative use-wear. As an example, the size and weight of the antler billet from Fate Bell, among the larger ones thus far observed, was used to model an experimental billet as shown in Figures 1 and 2. Of particular interest during the course of this research were the punches used for indirect percussion. From the attribute data collected, replica punches were made and used in extensive experimentation. Initial results show consistency in use damage between the actual and experimental tools as shown in Figures 3 and 4. Results from this research should be completed in time to be presented at the 2018 TAS annual meeting.

Figure 3. Probable punch for indirect percussion from the Gault Site (41BL323). Note impact spall.
Figure 4. Replicated punch used for indirect percussion experiements. Note impact spall from use.

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