Tag Archives: use wear analysis

Hafting microliths II – North and south of the Alps

Some things change, some things stay the same. The latter is true for archaeologists as well. And so, for us microliths are still the superstars of the Mesolithic; the fascination they hold as arrowheads of the intrepid Mesolithic hunter, and their use to archaeologists as a finds group that can help them (relatively) date sites or occupational phases of sites. Archaeologists do this by comparing their form and how they are made with those found on sites with known absolute dates, often obtained through radiocarbon dating. Some time ago, it became apparent to me that I knew only of very few microliths from the Alps with evidence of how they were used. They are typically seen as arrowheads, but is that really true? Don’t you agree they, for example, also resemble the blades of Stanley/Japanese/utility knives?

Since then, I have learned about of a group of microliths from the Gaban rock-shelter in the Adige valley, northern Italy. And I have been able to study the microliths from Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland as well. The artefacts from both sites tell us a lot about how these enigmatic microliths were used all those thousands of years ago. The tools from the Gaban rock-shelter were already studied some years ago by E. Cristiani and colleagues (2009) using two main methods, both involving microscopy. First, they were able to use macroscopic and microscopic traces of wear caused by the tools’ use to determine that the majority of the microliths at Gaban, these are so called trapezes, were used as projectile points. Secondly, the researchers recognised residues on them and they interpreted these as elements of the mastics used to fix the flint tools in the arrow shafts. Two kinds of residues were recognised. A brown residue turned out to be a mixture of bitumen, probably birch tar, and beeswax. The other, red residue turned out to be ochre. The location of theses residues on the tools seems to show how the tools are fixed into the arrow shafts (Cristiani et al, 2009).


Residue distribution and reconstructions of the use of the trapezes. A) Trapeze position as an element of a composite arrowhead. B) Use of the trapeze on a single distal point. From Cristiani et al., 2009 Fig. 8 and 10.

The work on the microliths from Arconciel/La Souche is not yet completely finished, but it is already clear that both strands of evidence for the use of the artefacts from the Riparo Gaban are also present at microliths from Arconciel. Arconciel/La Souche lies at the foot of the Prealps, north of the Alps. Not exactly near the Dolomites. Their date is similar, though, and we know similar looking microliths were produced in much of Europe during the end of the Mesolithic. It is thus interesting to compare the findings of the research into the use of the microliths from Gaban and Arconciel. And indeed a number, but not all of the microliths from Arconciel/la Souche have been used as arrowheads as well, but apparently not in exactly the same way as the arrowheads from Gaban in Northern Italy. The way they were fixed in arrow shafts also differs.

But many questions about the exact use and function of this type of tools are still open. What did people in the Mesolithic hunt with these arrows? And how? And why do some of the microliths show they were used for other tasks, even though they seem to look exactly the same as those used as arrowheads? And why does it differ so much between sites? And if they are used differently, can we still use these tools to date sites? I guess, our growing knowledge of the role microliths played in the lives of hunter-fisher-gatherers living in central Europe eight thousand years ago will probably only increase our fascination with them!

Cristiani, E., Pedrotti, A., & Gialanella, S. (2009). Tradition and innovation between the Mesolithic and early Neolithic in the Adige Valley (northeast Italy). New data from a functional analysis of trapezes from the Gaban rock-shelter Documenta Praehistorica, 36 DOI: 10.4312/dp.36.12

A blogpost about conferences and The Inevitable! Including some cheeky begging for beer and cheese, as well as some hidden advice for PhD-students.

The inevitable has happened. Last week the funding for the Gestures of Transition project, and thus for my PhD research, has run out and I’m still at it. And I will be for some time. Anyone who wants to buy me a beer or invite me round for a cheese fondue the coming months or send me a postcard with encouraging words, do get in touch! Eternal gratitude will be your share.

Still, my project partner and I have gotten on well with our work the past few years. Also, I am enjoying the research and all the other little things more or less related to it very much and will continue to do so. One of the most fantastic things about doing PhD research must be that you get to be completely geeky and spend an extraordinary amount of time working on a subject you love. And you better love it, because there will be times when you really need that love to keep going and to keep sane!

One of the ways of revelling in your self-chosen topic of geekery are conferences. At the moment conferences and workshops etc. on the Mesolithic and related topic seem to come flying left, right and centre. There was MesoLife June 2014 (to be published soon in special issues of Quaternary International and Preistoria Alpina. Hey-hey!) The highlight of the Mesolithic year 2015 must have been MESO2015 in Belgrade. That was fantastic and worth it just for the enormously long and hot bus ride to Lepenski Vir! LEPENSKI VIR! I really enjoyed meeting new and old friends and colleagues as well as the breadth and variety of the presentations from all over Europe (and the Near East). Although the 10min rhythm of presentation was quite relentless. Together with my project partner, I presented some of the results of our research on the chipped stone technology and use wear of the assemblages from Arconciel/La Souche (CH) and Lutter/St. Joseph (FR).
table ronde Méso Strasbourg_Seite_1

I had to miss out on e.g. CHAGS, the use wear conference last May in Leiden and the Knappable Materials conference in Barcelona, though, and there have been quite a few more. But early November the fun continues: There will be a two-day table ronde on Late Mesolithic archaeology (7th – 5th millennium BC) in Strasbourg. You’ll find the program and flyer here. I will be contributing a little to a paper on projectile points from Arconciel/La Souche and Onnens/Praz Berthoud. I also saw a flyer somewhere on a workshop, I think about Mesolithic structures in northwestern Europe in Paris, early 2016. And, of course, there are the AG Mesolithikum in Krasna Lipa in March 2016 and the raw materials-conference also in March 2016. Does anyone know of any more conferences for Mesolithic researchers coming up soon? Why not leave a comment or get in touch on twitter (@dropsofhazel).

I’m not sure yet whether I’ll show up at the AG Mesolithikum or any other conferences in the next half year or so, as from now no my focus will be on really cracking on with my PhD research as efficiently as possible. Because as somebody wisely said to me not too long ago:

“The only good PhD-thesis is a finished PhD-thesis!”

My Day of Archaeology 2015 – Reminiscing about archaeology and the Tour de France

July 24th 2015. It’s the Day of Archaeology again. A day for some mundane work and reminiscing. Go and have a look at the many fantastic insights archaeologists the world over give us into their work. And here you find my day of archaeology 2015.  It starts so:

You know what? My day of archaeology will be archaeology, but it will also be a very normal summer’s day. I am a Dutch archaeologist. I don’t live or work in the Netherlands, I’m in Switzerland, but there are certain things that I still enjoy doing the Dutch way. Let me explain. My day will consist of writing a few longer emails to colleagues who have asked for information. I will also be gathering and checking my use wear lab equipment for next week. Have I still have enough forms, are the photos and sketches that I need ready, where are my – plastic! – callipers? (Don’t ever let me see you use metal calipers on chipped stone artefacts!) Such things. Oh, and I promised my wife to get some ice-cream: There are ripe raspberries in the garden.

Nothing terribly exciting, but that’s okay because…


The “Gestures of Transition” circus tours Switzerland

It’s been a busy few weeks for Laure, my project partner, and me. We’ve been doing a bit of a tour of Switzerland, presenting and discussing our research. Back in February I did a so-called “lightning talk” (6 min) on Late Mesolithic scrapers at a colloquium for PhD candidates in Archaeology of the Universities of Basel, Berne and Zürich in Basel. It’s an interesting format, forcing you to focus on what is essential in your research. It provides a nice challenge for the speaker in that she/he has to really think about what are the most important points she/he wants to get across to her/his audience and how to do so. As a listener they are pleasant to listen to, as they are meant to have a good narrative, focuss on a single or few main points and leave out lots of secondary material. I think a lot of conferences/round tables etc. would benefit from having at least some presentations being held in some form of short presentation.
Last week, those researchers involved in the post-excavation analyses of Arconciel/La Souche met in Fribourg to share their first results and discuss how to continue. We were able to see a selection of finds, such as the bone and antler tools and Laure showed us briefly how she is dealing with 25,000 lithic artefacts. It’s nice to see, that besides Laure’s and my work on the lithic artefacts, other work is also getting underway. Patricia Vandorpe is studying the archaeobotanical macro-remains. Luc Braillard has been studying the sedimentological thinslides, providing new evidence on sediment ontology in the rock-shelter. And Aurelie Guidez is getting the first interesting results on the faunal remains from the younger occupation at Arconciel/La Souche.

After a fruitful meeting in Zürich on Wednesday with Prof. Ph. Della Casa, project PI and one of my PhD supervisors, Laure and went to present our methodology and first results to her colleagues at the Université de Neuchâtel. I had been to Neuchâtel a few times before, but had always had bad weather. So, not only have I come back from Neuchâtel with happy memories of interesting discussions, but I am also very chuffed to have finally seen the beautiful Lac de Neuchâtel and the view of the Alps from there!

View over the Lac de Neuchatel towards teh Swiss Alps.

View over the Lac de Neuchatel towards the Swiss Alps.

So, thanks to everyone we met, who listened to and discussed with us and for the invitations! But, after meeting so many colleagues all over Switzerland and after all the stimulating discussions, I have to say I am keen to once again get on with my research and get writing again!

Going down the Danube – Meso2015

Last week we received confirmation our abstract for a paper at the 9th International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe (Belgrade, sept 2015) has been accepted. The program is now online as well. See you in Belgrade!

Late Mesolithic artefact biographies. Integrating technological and use wear analyses of the chipped stone artefacts from Arconciel/La Souche (CH) and Lutter/St-Joseph (F).

This paper presents the results of our combined technological and microscopic use wear studies of the chipped stone assemblages from two multi-occupational sites dating between 7000 and 5000 BC located north of the Swiss Alps.
These sites, Arconciel/La Souche (CH) and Lutter/St-Joseph (F), are situated in the Sarine Valley at the foot of the Swiss Prealps and in the French Jura mountains respectively. Recently excavated and well-stratified, they allow new insights into the still relatively poorly understood developments at the end of the Mesolithic on the Swiss Plateau. The sites are located within different geographical and archaeological contexts. Whereas Lutter/St-Joseph is situated on the edge of the known LBK occupation of the Alsace and southern Germany, Arconciel/La Souche is located on the Swiss Plateau, between influences from the Rhone and Rhine valleys.
The integration of these two methodological approaches leads to an increased and more comprehensive understanding of artefact biographies, of the development of production techniques and artefact use, during the end of the Mesolithic and the transition to farming in the research area. It also allows further interpretation of the Mesolithic occupation and the transition to the Neolithic on the Swiss Plateau in general.

Marcel Cornelissen, MA
Universität Zürich
Insititut für Archäologie, Fachbereich Prähistorische Archäologie

Laure Bassin, MA
Université de Neuchâtel
Chaire d’archéologie pré- et protohistorique

Day of Archaeology 2014

Eingebetteter Bild-Link


Last Friday, the 11th of July, was the annual Day of Archaeology! It is when we archaeologists creep out of our offices, labs, archives and trenches and share with you what our day, a normal Friday in July, looks like. Want to know what archaeologists do all day? Go and have a look at the Day of Archaeology website, or follow the day of archaeology on twitter with hashtag #dayofarch.

Here you can read about my Day of Archaeology 2014. However, do check out the many other contributions as well, especially this contribution: the archaeology of early tourism in the Swiss Alps.

MesoLife – Scrapers, lithic technology and use wear and the Mesolithic of the Swiss Alps

What better way to celebrate the beginning of summer, than to spend a few days relishing the combined joys of the Alps with the Mesolithic? I will be deep in the Dolomites this week, at the MesoLife conference in the Museo Vittorino Cazzetta, Italy. Together with Laure Bassin I have made a poster with some of the first combined results of our PhD research. We have looked at the technological aspects and the microscopic use wear of scrapers from the Late Mesolithic site of Arconciel/La Souche. Below you find the abstract and you can download a pdf of the poster.

Microscopic use wear traces on three Late Mesolithic scrapers from Arconciel/La Souche, CH. Left to right: Radiolarite, fine-grained quartzite and flint.

Microscopic use wear traces on three Late Mesolithic scrapers from Arconciel/La Souche, CH. Left to right: Radiolarite, fine-grained quartzite and flint.

Together with Thomas Reitmaier I will also present a talk summarising the recent work and new Mesolithic finds in the alpine parts of southeastern Switzerland. Either one of us was involved in almost all of the new discoveries. This is quite something, as less than a decade ago hardly any sites were known here. Do have a look at the abstract at the end of the post. We hope to get a synthesis published sometime in the near future.

Alpine raw materials and the production and use of scrapers at the Swiss Late Mesolithic site of Arconciel/La Souche
Due to their abundance, scrapers can be regarded as the typifying tool category of the site of Arconciel/La Souche, a rock shelter with a well stratified, multi-phased Late Mesolithic occupation (7000 – 5000 cal BC).
The site is located in the Sarine valley, on the edge of the Swiss Plateau at the foot of the Prealps. Much of the lithic assemblage is produced on raw material which originates from these nearby Prealps. The remainder of the artefacts are made from raw material brought here from further afield, e.g. the Jura mountains, the Geneva region and eastern France.
A large majority of the tools found at Arconciel/La Souche are scrapers (46% of the tool assemblage). Chaînes opératoires studies and microscopic use wear analysis are combined to investigate how the variety of local and non-local raw material relates to the production and use of the scrapers. As well as determining whether tool use might have varied according to raw material, these studies raise questions relating to the possibility of foreign techniques being imported along with the raw material. This will not only aid the interpretation of one of the most important Mesolithic sites in Switzerland, it might also provide insights into the developments at the end of the Mesolithic on the northern edge of the Swiss Alps.   –   Laure Bassin (Université du Neuchâtel) & Marcel Cornelissen (Universität Zürich)

Alpine raw materials and the production and use of scrapers at the Swiss Late Mesolithic site of Arconciel/La Souche (PDF)

Filling the gap – Recent Mesolithic discoveries in the Swiss Alps
Until less than a decade ago, it seemed that – unlike in the surrounding part of the Alps – no sites dating between the end of the LGM and the Middle Neolithic existed in the alpine regions of central and south-eastern Switzerland. A number of recent rescue excavations, research projects and single finds have now proven the presence of people in these parts of the Alps from the 9th Millennium cal BC onwards. The majority of the currently known sites date between 7500 and 6500 cal BC. Both open-air sites and rock shelters are represented. Many sites lie above the valley floor, in the upper subalpine or alpine zones, and on routes to minor as well as major passes.
Together with new palaeoenvironmental data, these archaeological finds allow us first insights into the nature of interaction of Mesolithic people in the south-eastern Swiss Alps with their social and natural environment and into their relationship with regions further afield. Furthermore, the finds allow us to think about future research into the early prehistory of the south-eastern Swiss Alps.   –   Marcel Cornelissen (Universität Zürich) & Dr. Thomas Reitmaier (Archäologischer Dienst Graubünden)