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Studying stone tool assemblages in Australia

Just a brief post to point you all to a very nice write-up by Jacqueline Matthews (@archaeo_jacq on Twitter) for the Australian Archaeological Association on the use of a particular method for studying lithic (stone tool) assemblages, called MANA: Minimum Analytical Nodule Analysis. This method goes one step beyond grouping tools by stone type, and uses the subtle differences within raw materials to identify artefacts that came from the same original stone nodules.
I've used MANA previously in a basic way during my PhD research, and more recently while working on the Late Pleistocene lithics from La Cotte de St Brelade, Jersey. Some of the flint from this massive collapsed cave site has extremely distinctive banded colours, which I was hoping that I could use to find some refits- different flakes which fit together because they were part of the same core that was knapped by a Neanderthal.

Lovely stripey stone artefact from the upper deposits at La Cotte de St Brelade, Jersey

As Jacqueline says in her article, MANA is especially useful for trying to understand open-air lithic accumulations, where the residues of many different occupations can become mixed up. This is different to assemblages in caves, which often (although not always) have at least some natural layering, separating them into different groups that are easier to work with. Of course, these can also result from more than one occupation. Plus things are can become complicated by sneaky stones moving between levels, due to various factors like erosion or hyaenas or cave bears digging while using underground sites as dens.

The work I'll be starting (very!) soon for my Marie Curie fellowship at Universite Bordeaux is on just the kind of sites that MANA is particularly suited to: Middle Palaeolithic (Neanderthal) open-air scatters of stone tools from the Massif Central foothills in south-eastern France. I'm going to be writing about my project prior to starting it in the near-future, so look out for more on this!


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