Uwharries Lithics Dr. J. Ned Woodall

Friday Evening
February 26, 1999
7:45 - 8:45
Panel Discussion on Key Issues

Presentation by Dr. J. Ned Woodall
Wake Forest University


Woodall: Okay, that means I'm first, I guess. My issue has to do with the currently employed classification schemes and are we happy with them or should we standardize the terms and so forth.

I think that in classifying lithic materials there are two major approaches, strategies, or bases for forming categories: one based on raw material and one based on form.

I know Randy Daniel is going to talk about raw material so I don't want to get into that. But by form, I mean all the variants that we typically subsume under debitage as well as incomplete, aborted, and complete tools and also changes in the raw material created by heat- treating, recycling, and patination.

These formal categories, in my opinion, certainly need definition. This is especially true of residue of reduction processes-thinning flakes vs. retouch flakes, various kinds of cores and so on. And I think that we can standardize those terms without standardizing the classification schemes. We can agree on the definition of attributes which I think is essential but without committing to any typological scheme which standardizes those sets of attributes into formal types, say debitage, of course, because classification depends on what we want to know.

An organization of the data base should be driven by the questions we're asking. Some observations I've made on materials from my area in the northwest piedmont allow me to state with conviction--although I haven't quantified these data--that during the several phases of the Archaic in the northwest piedmont there are clear shifts in the frequency of certain types of raw material as represented by hafted bifaces, for example. In the Late Archaic we get a lot of this very coarse-grained porphoritic rhyolite, metarhyolite. In the Early Archaic we get this fine-grained flowbanded rhyolite and jasper. On Late Woodland sites there is a very high frequency of aborts as we call them--these unfinished projectile points with a lot of hinge fractures and a stack in the middle--that have been discarded. On Archaic sites of the same area these aborted bifaces are very rare. Why would this be the case? Are they created by raw material differences or different strategies of tool production…one at the quarry versus the late Woodland at the base camp. So, my point is, there is patterned variability in the archaeological record, of course, but in order to understand the causes of that variability, we need to frame our questions carefully and from those questions, derive the appropriate classification scheme. For example, if we were worried about some of these questions I just posed, should flakes be categorized by raw material, by size or weight, by primary, secondary, or tertiary shape, complete or broken, platform preparation or none--what should we look at for forming our categories?

It seems to me dependent on what we want to find out. What are the relevant variables? Those need to be established for answering questions.

One question we might ask is-what was the nature of the social organizations present through the Archaic and Woodland both at the intergroup and regional level? How were social relations structured and maintained? Data bearing on that question may have to do with the acquisition of raw materials and the subsequent distribution of that material, quantified by raw material type both at the regional level and intersite. Or we might ask how did the forms of social organization and population size and mobility affect reduction strategies and tool form? That is, what correlation's can we discover between social and demographic variables and reduction strategies measured along a continuum, say of reduction strategies from extreme conservatism to profligacy. The reuse or recycling of debitage or older tools that are being recycled, heat treating of raw material--these may be important variables,as might the size of finished specimen. How did the social and demographic processes alter the social value and use of raw materials and ultimately the basic adaptive systems in the social order?

Data bearing on these questions might involve the size of primary and secondary flakes as a product of distance from quarry sites; size of abandoned cores; the frequency of blade production as opposed to flakes as a conservation method; frequency of heat treated materials or differential patination on tools or the intersite variation in the occurrence of debitage of various sorts perhaps ranked from very good to poor in regard to its knapping characteristics. I'm thinking here of a social segment within a site that might have differential access to high quality raw material and use of that raw material as a way of leveraging themselves into power or maintaining some sort of hegemonic enterprise. So my point is, and my time is almost up, I don't think the classification should come first, and I don't think that we should create a classification system and I don't think there should be ever just one scheme. I think the questions or hypotheses under consideration should drive the classification schemes. There should be as many as necessary for the different questions. This is like to entail the continued use of lithic materials that are in our repositories now, returning to these again and again, reshuffling, re-catagorizing things to meet new needs and new questions. We're going to talk tomorrow morning, I think, about materials in our repositories so perhaps we can explore some problems inherent in curation at that time.

Thanks.