Controlled experiments in the production of flake attributes

Andrew Walter Pelcin, University of Pennsylvania


Archaeologists study lithic artifacts in an attempt to uncover and learn from what little evidence remains of man's prehistoric existence. By recovering stone tool production technology and the techniques of prehistoric tool use, the archaeologist can develop a greater understanding of prehistoric life. This dissertation contributes to this body of research by examining, through controlled experiments, the independent variables of flintknapping previously observed as influencing flake attribute formation.^ The research design for this dissertation consisted of an experimental archaeology program which examined flake formation in order to observe the relationship between specific independent variables and the resulting dependent flake attributes. Rigorous control of the experimental environment allowed for the manipulation of a single independent variable while the others were kept constant. The effects of force, angle and velocity of blow, indentor type, indentor diameter, exterior platform angle, platform thickness and surface morphology were thus isolated.^ Seven hundred seventy-seven experimental flakes were produced to examine nine independent variables and fourteen flake attributes. The experimental design consisted of retesting previous controlled experiments and conducting new ones. The overall results were then compared with four samples of flintknapped flakes produced by professional, skilled, novice and prehistoric flintknappers.^ One of the major limitations of controlled experiments has been the inability to compare the measurements between the symmetrical, smooth experimental flakes and flintknapped flakes which may have bumps, strange cortex formations and scars from previous flake removals. This problem was successfully overcome by a new measurement of exterior platform angle and theoretical platform thickness which was developed to compensate for the irregularities in core surface morphology.^ Two main conclusions were drawn from this research. First, it was demonstrated that because more than one independent variable can produce the same flake attribute, it is impossible to use a particular flake attribute as evidence for a specific flintknapping action. It was also determined that flake mass is the common denominator in the understanding of the flake attributes examined in this study. Flake mass is the only attribute for which the effects are clearly understood for all independent variables. ^

Subject Area

Anthropology, Archaeology

Recommended Citation

Pelcin, Andrew Walter, "Controlled experiments in the production of flake attributes" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9627983.