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Heat treatment significantly increases the sharpness of silcrete stone tools

Key, Alastair J. M., Pargeter, Justin, Schmidt, Patrick (2020) Heat treatment significantly increases the sharpness of silcrete stone tools. Archaeometry, . ISSN 0003-813X. (doi:10.1111/arcm.12619) (KAR id:83770)

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https://doi.org/10.1111/arcm.12619

Abstract

Humans were regularly heat‐treating stone tool raw materials as early as 130 thousand years ago. The late Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Late Stone Age (LSA) of South Africa’s Western Cape region provides some of the earliest and most pervasive archaeological evidence for this behaviour. While archaeologists are beginning to understand the flaking implications of raw material heat treatment, its potential functional benefits remain unanswered. Using silcrete from the Western Cape region, we investigate the impact of heat treatment on stone tool cutting performance. We quantify the sharpness of silcrete in its natural, unheated form, before comparing it with silcrete heated in three different conditions. Results show that heat‐treated silcrete can be significantly sharper than unheated alternatives, with cutting forces halving and energy requirements reducing by approximately two thirds. Our data suggest that silcrete may have been heat treated during the South African MSA and LSA to increase the sharpness and performance of stone cutting edges. This early example of material engineering has implications for understanding Stone Age populations’ technological capabilities, inventiveness, and raw material choices. We predict that heat treatment behaviours in other prehistoric and ethnographic contexts may also be linked to edge sharpness increases and functional performance concerns.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1111/arcm.12619
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Depositing User: Alastair Key
Date Deposited: 27 Oct 2020 15:27 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 14:15 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/83770 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Key, Alastair J. M.: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5576-1200
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