Dig Diary: Stone Tools
by Dr. Joe Watkins
Stone tools are neat! Imagine not having a steel knife to cut meat, whittle wood or trim pieces of skin. Before metal tools, stone tools were used for all these purposes and more by civilizations around the world. From the archaeologist's viewpoint, stone tools are important because they are preserved relatively unchanged from the time they become a part of the archaeological record until they are collected and recorded by the archaeologist. Many items from the archaeological record require very special circumstances in order to be preserved over time: wooden tools break and rot quickly; bone items are subjected to chemical forces that dissolve or crush them; items made from vegetal fibers (such as baskets and string) or animal skins (clothing, pouches and bags) also rot and decompose quickly and easily.
Archaeologists examine stone tools to gain insights into the technology used by human groups to construct their cultures, and some archaeologists make stone tools to better understand the ways the tools MIGHT have been used. At Topper, I used stone tools to make a throwing stick that might have been used to hunt small game. The "experiment" was not meant to PROVE that stone tools were used to make such items, but only to demonstrate a way that such tools could have been used. It is important to remember as well that we do not know whether Topper occupants actually used wooden throwing sticks, but we know about many tribal groups that used such implements to hunt small game.
The piece of stone I used to shape the wooden throwing stick was similar to a tool found in excavations at the Topper Site. Nothing about the tool's shape and size indicated it was a woodworking tool, but previous experience in using stone tools led me to believe that the tool would be useful in chopping and scraping away excess wood. The tool worked very well once I gained experience in using the most efficient angle of contact between the stone tool edges and the wood. Metal edges would have worked faster and more efficiently, but the stone tool was more than adequate to produce a useable throwing stick within our three-day visit to Topper. I gained a healthy respect for the Topper occupants, as well as a large blister in the palm of my hand!