Prehistoric Lithic Artifacts in Mississippi: The Study (Part II)

How do archaeologists identify what activities produced lithic artifacts or the tasks in which they were used? This is a difficult and at times complicated task, but models explaining how stone artifacts were produced and used have been and are continuing to be developed primarily through written records describing modern hunter-gatherers who still use/used stone tools and scientific experimentation. The modern-day production of stone artifacts has helped archaeologists understand what kind of debris or waste is left behind. In addition, modern replicas can be used to do certain task like butchering a deer, so that the use-wear produced on the experimental tool can be compared with artifacts. These kinds of studies allow archaeologist to identify how certain prehistoric stone tools were used. In addition, the design of stone tools can provide clues about the people who made and used them. A good modern example can be made between a plastic set of disposable utensils, a fine set of silverware utensils, and a Swiss Army knife containing a fork, knife, spoon, etc. These sets of utensils can all be used to eat, but the situations in which they are used are different. Like people today, prehistoric groups made tools that fit their lifestyle, so groups practicing very different lifeways should possess tools of differing design.

The final question that was listed above is what clues do lithic artifacts provide concerning the lifeways of the people who produced and used them? In fact, many of the clues archaeologists use to answer this question have already been presented. We already know that a prehistoric group’s territory can be partially understood through looking at where the lithic materials originated, activities that stone tools were associated with can be identified through comparison with modern-day replicas, which allow inferences concerning site function to be made, and the shape of the tool can help in determining how old it is.

Archaeologists around the world use artifacts, including lithics, to reconstruct a variety of cultural jigsaw puzzles that represent views of the past that are not recorded in any history book. In Mississippi and other regions, trying to piece together the past is a difficult task because so many sites have been destroyed by modern development and farming. Another factor in the destruction of archaeological sites is the undocumented collecting of artifacts, like “arrowheads”. If certain data are not recorded, such as artifact provenience, much of the information embedded in these artifacts is destroyed. So, if you are interested in archaeology and lithic technology, get in touch with an archaeologist in your area for guidance to insure that you are not damaging the prehistory of Mississippi.

A glossary of lithic artifacts found in Mississippi is provided, including illustrations. The glossary is very general including only a sample of the lithic artifact types recovered from the state. For those of you interested in lithic technology, here are a few references on the subject.

The Glosary... will be on the next post...

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