Flakes, Cores, and Groundstones Oh My!

Thanks to the generous support of the Field Museum's Women's Board, I have been able to purchase a high-powered microscope to conduct micro-analysis of stone tools from the Late Archaic (3,000-1,800 B.C.) site of Huaricanga in the Fortaleza Valley of Peru's north-central coast. The Late Archaic is also known as the Late Preceramic because it was a epoch BEFORE the advent of ceramics in ancient Peru. Therefore, stone tools represent the predominate artifact recovered from archaeological digs.

This period is very important to Andean prehistory because it was during the Late Archaic that the first monumental architecture in the New World appeared and the hallmarks of a truly Andean civilization emerged along Peru's north-central coast. Unfortunately, little is known about the lithic technology in the region. Last year, my adviser Dr. Jonathan Haas and I petitioned the Women's Board's Field Dreams program to support us in our endeavor to purchase a microscope to study microwear on the edges of stone tools. Using high-resolution magnification we can see how ancient tool use affected the lithics. In other words, we can tell if a particular flake of stone was used to grind corn or to chop meat.

Thus far, the microscope we acquired has gone a long way in helping us to create the first stone tool typology for the region and time period. Furthermore, we can understand what stone tools were used in domestic contexts and which were used for religious rituals and ceremonies. What has been most interesting and rewarding for me has been the discovery of new stone tool types and lithic patterns. For example, the stone tool pictured below is a particular form found in several archaeological contexts. It is a triangular flake with a retouched edge that would have been used as a chopper. This stone tool type is unknown in the archaeological literature until now! To learn more about this and more exciting discoveries encountered during my current dissertaton project, please visit my research website.

Of course, you can also see a picture of the new microscope here.