So You Want To Be An Archaeologist? - Typology
Lithics, Classification, Tool Cultures, Chaîne Opératoire, Acheulean & Levallois
When you boil it down, archaeologists study things, objects, artefacts. Material stuff like pottery, metals, coins, tools, jewelry, stone and wood. This is the bread-and-butter of the field and separates it from history and anthropology. At the most basic description, stuff changes over time, and the way people make things changes over time. These objects are the product of a culture, where a person or persons, embedded in a particular way of living in the world, made something. The process of deducing age has always rested on the changes to these artefacts. Hesiod’s Five Ages of Man uses the Greek social awareness that their ancestors used bronze, whereas moderns use iron. Pausanias’ Description of Greece remarks on how Achilles’ spear, kept in the temple of Athena at Phaselis, was made of bronze, a point of significance to his readers. The philosopher Han Fei Zu of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty assembled recovered Neolithic pottery and inferred that these sherds were from an older period, but were culturally identical to his time. Many more such examples exist. As we’ve discussed previously, in the absence of modern dating methods the most reliable approach is to lay out your artefacts and create a typology for the construction, decoration and use. Building up a classification schema starts the process of chronology, which is the ultimate goal - to construct a timeline from your artefacts with all their corresponding changes and alterations.
The best and probably most studied material in typology is stone, most commonly flint. Flint and similar stones are the main source of information for 99% of human history, since not much else survives until the development of pottery, glass and similarly long-lasting substances. The changes in stone tool manufacture and form are the bedrock of prehistoric archaeology, they are the skeleton on which modern methods hang their flesh. The aim with this piece is to show how this works, how stone tools can be classified and described, ending with two key examples: the Acheulean Handaxe and the Levallois Technique.
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