Raw material patterns in tool production

The question of apparent links or relationships between particular kinds of raw material and particular forms of retouched tools in Middle Palaeolithic contexts has been raised several times in the literature (e.g. Tavoso 1984; Geneste 1985: 526-37, 1988: 460, 487-9; Otte et al 1988: 96-8; Dibble 1991a; Dibble & Rolland 1992; Binford 1992). As yet, only limited attention has been devoted to these patterns and systematic analytical data to support the claimed correlations between tool morphology and varying raw material types remain relatively sparse. Some of the potential correlations and explanations advanced to account for these patterns can be summarized as follows:

1. The pattern which has attracted the most comment in the earlier literature is the tendency for some of the more morphologically complex and extensively shaped tool forms (most notably various forms of racloirs, points and bifacial hand-axe forms) to be manufactured preferentially from the more fine-grained and high-quality raw materials, and for the morphologically simpler and generally smaller tool forms (principally notches, denticulates and related tools) to be manufactured predominantly from poorer-quality materials (e.g. Tavoso 1984; Geneste 1985: 527, 1988: 460; Otte et al. 1988: 96-8; Dibble 1991a: 35; Binford 1992). The available data are sparse, but as summarized in Fig. 4.31 provide some support for this suggestion.

Insofar as this pattern has been discussed at any length in the literature the assumption has generally been that the variable use of different raw materials most probably reflects the particular economic or social contexts in which the different tool forms were employed. Geneste (1985) has suggested that the use of poorer quality materials for the manufacture of notches and denticulates may reflect the essentially ad hoc nature of these tools, generally made from what lay immediately to hand during the course of very brief episodes of activity on particular sites and subsequently discarded either at or very close to the point where they were made. By contrast he argues that the use of better quality materials for the various forms of racloirs, points and bifaces may well imply that these were extensively transported tools - that is, tools made from the best available raw mate

Coite de St Brelade

Grotte Vaufrey

Grotte Tournai

L ' Hortus

Quartz Flint

Quartz Flint

Coite de St Brelade

Grotte Vaufrey

Grotte Tournai

L ' Hortus

0 20 40 60 80 100 % percent

Quartz Flint

Local flint Distant flint

Quartz Flint

Jurassic flint Eocene flint

0 20 40 60 80 100 % percent

Racloirs / points li|l| Denticulates /notches

Figure 4,31 Relative frequencies of racloirs versus notched and denticulated tools manufactured from different raw materials in a range of Middle Palaeolithic industries. Note how in all the assemblages racloirs tend to be manufactured selectively from the better quality raw materials (usually obtained from more distant sources) while notches and denticulates tend to be manufactured from poorer materials, usually derived from sources closely adjacent to the sites. Data from Callow & Cornford 1986 (Cotte de St Brelade); Geneste 1988 (Grotte Vaufrey); Tavoso 1984 (Grotte Tournai); de Lumley 1972 (Grotte de VHortus); Girard 1978 (Grotte de l'Hyène, Arcy-sur-Cure).

rials at some distance from the point where they were eventually discarded and probably deliberately carried over the landscape with these future uses specifically in mind (Gen-este 1985: 526-37; 1988: 487-90). Binford (1992 and personal communication) has toyed with a broadly similar model for the variable use and production of racloirs versus notched/denticulated tools. His view, in essence, is that the notches and denticulates were probably used in the course of very short-range foraging activities - mainly for collecting and processing plant foods and probably carried out by the females in the Neanderthal groups. As a result materials tend to be from the most immediate flint outcrops rather than better quality materials from more distant outcrops. He suggests that racloirs, points and bifaces by contrast were probably used for much wider ranging activities related mainly to the procurement and butchery of animal carcasses, which allowed access to more distant and often much better quality materials. For both Geneste and Bin-ford, therefore access to varying types and quality of raw material supplies is a direct reflection of the specific activities for which the tools were employed and the extent to which the different economic activities involved varying degrees of mobility.

2. I would suggest that there is a simpler and more pragmatic explanation for this pattern, which relates the use of different types of raw material more directly to the particular technological constraints involved in tool production. Where a flint worker had to manufacture large and more complex forms of tools there would inevitably be a strong incentive to select the best quality raw materials available, to allow maximum control over the precise form and relative finesse of the finished tools. The manufacture of most forms of notches and denticulates, by contrast, imposed far fewer demands on the skill of the flint worker or the quality of raw materials employed. A notched or denticu lated tool can be produced easily and effectively from almost any kind of raw material. More simply, if a flint knapper has access to two or more varieties of raw material of sharply varying flaking quality, he/she will almost inevitably select the better quality material for the production of the technologically more demanding forms and presumably reserve the poorer quality material for the morphologically simpler, technologically less demanding forms. This assumption need not imply any great foresight or planning on the part of the Neanderthal flint workers and merely assumes that any experienced craftsman will inevitably have some astute appreciation of the variable qualities of different raw materials for particular technological procedures. To use a woodworking analogy, one would not expect a carpenter to manufacture survey pegs or clothes props out of expensive, fine-grained mahogany when cheaper and more readily available pine or other softwoods would suffice equally well for the task in hand.

3. A similar interpretative dichotomy can be envisaged for some of the other correlations between the relative complexity of retouched tool forms and the selective use of different raw materials which have sometimes been claimed in the literature. The apparent tendency for the more complex forms of multiple edged tools, such as double, convergent and dejete racloirs, to be manufactured more often from the best quality raw materials than the simpler forms of single edged racloirs (e.g. Niederlender et al. 1956: 225-6; Tavoso 1984) can be interpreted in at least two different ways. One is to invoke essentially the same reasoning as in the preceding paragraph. A second view would be to invoke the notion of repeated resharpening of retouched edges along the lines suggested by Dibble and others. In this case one could argue that the best quality raw materials might not only be more amenable to effective, repeated resharpening of the retouched edges, but that the greater economic or conceptual 'value' attached to the better quality materials might serve as a further incentive to extend the use life of the material for as long as possible (see Meignen 1988). In either case the incentive to retouch the maximum number of different edges on the tools was to some extent dictated by the character and quality of the raw material itself.

These speculations could no doubt be pursued further. The implication is that whilst certain broad correlations between the use of different raw materials and the overall morphology of the associated tools can be documented in Middle Palaeolithic industries, the precise mechanisms for these correlations are by no means self-evident. In addition to the points discussed above, there is of course the intervening factor of the effect of varying raw material quality, as well as the shape and size of the parent nodules, in influencing the selection of alternative flaking strategies for the production of the primary flake blanks from which the retouched tools were made (see Chapter 3; Dibble 1985). Any raw material effects of this kind could impinge directly on several aspects of the overall forms of the eventual tools by influencing, for example, the relative frequencies of elongated versus broader flakes, the relative thickness of the flakes available for tool manufacture or the relative frequencies of cortical and non-cortical flakes (Mellars 1964: 231; Kuhn 1992a). The study of these questions of the specific relationships between tool typology and technology and the varying character and

Figure 4.32 Cumulative graphs of the tool assemblages manufactured from flint (continuous line) versus quartzite (dashed line) in the Quina-Mousterian assemblage from Mas-Viel (Lot). The only significant difference between the two assemblages lies in the higher ratio of double to single-edged racloir forms in the series manufactured from the better-quality flint. From Niederlender et al. 1956.

Figure 4.32 Cumulative graphs of the tool assemblages manufactured from flint (continuous line) versus quartzite (dashed line) in the Quina-Mousterian assemblage from Mas-Viel (Lot). The only significant difference between the two assemblages lies in the higher ratio of double to single-edged racloir forms in the series manufactured from the better-quality flint. From Niederlender et al. 1956.

quality of available raw material supplies is still in its infancy and clearly deserves more systematic attention and analysis.

Finally, most of the illustrations and examples discussed above derive from contexts where the stone workers had access to two or more different raw materials and where the central issue concerns how they were selected and used for different forms of tools. Whether these patterns imply that different raw materials automatically demand or dictate the production of significantly different tool forms is an entirely separate and far more debatable issue. Bordes addressed this issue on several occasions and was adamant that variability of raw material could account for only an extremely limited part of the total range of technological and typological variation documented within the Mousterian complex, pointing out that effectively all the different Mousterian variants documented within the French sites can be shown to have been produced from widely differing materials. Arguably one of the most striking illustrations of this point was provided by Bordes' own analysis of the typical Quina-Mousterian assemblage from the site of Mas-Viel in the Lot (Niederlender et al 1956).

Here, Bordes was able to demonstrate that although the assemblage was manufactured in roughly equal proportions from two different raw materials (i.e. high quality flint versus more coarse-grained quartzite) the composition and frequency of the tools made in the two materials were effectively identical and in each case conformed closely to the classic definition of the Quina variant (Fig. 4.32). The only significant point of contrast lay in the lower percentages of more complex forms of double, convergent and dejete racloirs, as opposed to single edged racloirs, made from the poorer quality quartzite, than in the series made from the better quality flint Niederlender et al 1956: 225-6). The possible explanation for this has been discussed above, but as Bordes stressed, this particular feature has no effect whatever on the overall diagnosis of the assemblage as corresponding to the typical Quina-Mousterian group. While these patterns of raw material variability are of considerable interest, therefore, there is no reason to think that they take us more than a small way towards explaining the bewildering degree of variation in tool production patterns which characterizes the Mousterian complex.

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